The appraisal is actually a very complex meeting because we’re trying to do so much in it: establish objectives, identify development needs, determine compensation, and so on. At its core, though, is an assessment of a person’s performance throughout the year, with the aim of providing a rating of some kind.
But providing accurate ratings is not as easy as it sounds. For example, we tend to provide uniformly higher ratings to the people we like compared to those we don’t. Feedback is also compromised by the fact that we will have to continue working with these same people after this meeting – which could affect our assessments.
In terms of receiving feedback, people vary along a spectrum. At one end are those who are interested in their self-development and welcome feedback, negative or positive; their approach is essentially one of improvement and learning.
At the other end are those who wish to be assessed only on their performance, and want recognition for their accomplishments. Task-orientated people are the most difficult to give feedback to, and they could possibly also be the most manipulative – if there is a possibility that they won’t achieve their goals, they will start lowering their targets.
On the feedback giving side, the more agreeable a manager, the more lenient they will be with their ratings. Their dislike of conflict and tension will lead to a reluctance to give honest, critical feedback.
Taking these two things together, then, the worst combination will be a highly agreeable manager giving feedback to a task-orientated under-performer. Both will be anxious – the latter because they don’t want to be seen in a poor light, and the former because they want to avoid conflict.
Quality conversations and communication
The possibilities for an unsatisfactory outcome, from an organisational point of view, are very real. Training or briefing on the appraisal process is important – and during it, the realities of the problems faced by managers need to be addressed.
A good appraisal system helps, of course, and the best ones have two basic characteristics: clarity and simplicity. Unfortunately, far too often there are a multitude of forms, pages of advice and unclear instructions. The essential point is that it is the quality of the conversations, not the quantity of the paperwork, that counts.