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5 creative ways to carry out appraisals

The annual performance appraisal - traditionally carried out between worker and manager, probably in an impersonal meeting room or corner, involving a litany of complaints and problems, sandwiched neatly between a couple of thin slices of positivity, and finishing with an overall score or rating.

Or at least, that’s the cliché, the version that we all dread (including the manager).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Everybody wants to know how they’re doing… and very few people actually want to do a bad job… so, feedback on performance is important. However, maybe it can be delivered a little differently? What follows are five suggestions to get your creativity ticking when it comes to appraisal time.

However, before we go any further, whatever you do, don’t try to make appraisals “fun”. Apart from the fact that one person’s clown is another person’s recurring nightmare, just remember that any formal appraisal of a person’s performance will include both their successes and their areas for improvement. When you’re telling someone they need to do better in some aspect of their job, they need to hear specific, objective feedback that they can act upon – not a limerick.

1.Location

A simple – and fairly unthreatening – change might be the place in which you appraise. How about a slightly more relaxed atmosphere and not a conference room? You don’t even have to stay on the premises. Go out, drink a coffee, walk in the park, grab some lunch… Change the venue and remove a little of the formality and stiffness from the meeting. The main thing is to check that the person on the receiving end is okay with it (it’s their appraisal, after all).

2.DIY

Ask the ‘appraisee’ to write their own assessment before you meet to discuss it. Most people will include their negative points and need help from you to see all their positives – which is a much more pleasant conversation to be having! Better yet, both write a short assessment and then the discussion can focus on comparing and contrasting the two viewpoints.

Some managers take this to the extreme, effectively asking someone to prepare, conduct, and write up the whole thing. That’s not inclusive, that’s probably a manager trying to avoid a responsibility.

3.5-word appraisals

Apparently Kayak.com co-founder, Paul English has long delivered feedback to his reports in just five words. Yes, there will undoubtedly be more in-depth discussion around those words (examples or performance to justify them, etc.) but the essence of his appraisal technique is to give each person five words, three positive, two negative.

4.360 time

As techniques go, 360-degree feedback is not really such a super-creative idea. But it’s still a very alien concept to many businesses and the benefits are proven. By inviting feedback from peers, colleagues, other management, and even customers/clients, the appraisee gets a fuller picture, one that is more likely to uncover their strengths… and put any weaknesses into context.

5.Or, have none…

Yes, that’s right, just don’t do them. Stop the annual performance appraisal meeting. After all, quality guru W. Edwards Deming has been quoted as saying, “It nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, nourishes rivalry and politics.”

Which is not to say you should stop telling people how they’re doing at work, just find a different way to do it. One high profile example of this is software giant, Adobe who abandoned appraisal meetings in 2014, replacing them with a system of informal but regular feedback between peers and managers – more casual, more timely, more effective. In the past year or so, the likes of GE, Accenture, and Deloitte have all been reported in the press as doing likewise. There’s always another way to do anything.

One final caveat… not everyone is comfortable with the appraisal in the first place, and taking part in an unfamiliar process can be even more uncomfortable. Especially if you’re trying to make this stereotypically tense activity a bit more relaxed. As with any new idea, if you decide to lighten up your appraisals in some way, be gentle with the appraisee…

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