It is that time of the year. Most employees look towards it as a time to receive areas for development or feedback on what went wrong. They also worry about its implications on their career and growth. There are a handful of those who do look forward to that time, with a sense of anticipation. In some cases because there is a self-appraisal involved, it might also give an employee a sense of empowerment because he or she can share their own views.
In a nutshell, most employees worry about the appraisal process. The kind of emphasis that organizations have being laying on the process over the years, has resulted in creating a sense of uncertainty. Instead of being viewed as a process for development and growth, or a chance to discover new strengths, it is often thought of as a process to demonstrate the gaps in performance. The appraisal should create a sense of empowerment and control within employees, about how they have it in their hands to manage their own performance and career growth. In an SHRM India conducted survey, when asked about the one aspect that employees would like to change about the performance appraisal process in their organizations, the important aspects that came up were lack of transparency, presence of an archaic system like the bell curve, infrequent or lack of enough performance discussions. Many employees also felt that there is a bias that is present within the system and that also connects with lack of transparency.
As we can see there are a range of things that employees want to change about appraisal systems. In order to understand the kind of emotions they therefore experience, we asked a set of employees about what they felt before entering into a PA discussion with their manager. The responses ranged from being nervous to being confident. The good part was that many of them go into these discussions with expectations and excitement too. That is a big opportunity for managers to focus on using this discussion to become motivation centric rather than evaluation centric.
Let us take a look of the appraisal process from an employee’s perspective and get an in-depth understanding.
- Fear of negative feedback - It is obvious that all employees will not exceed expectations related to their performance. Most will fall within the bracket of mediocre performance wherein they are meeting their performance goals and KRAs. Even so, the fear of negative feedback can be paralyzing. It can result in high degrees of disengagement as well as lack of self-confidence. Many appraisal processes do not emphasize on the right way to communicate feedback. Organizations do not train their managers well enough to provide constructive feedback. That results in the managers coming in for the performance discussions in an unprepared manner and without enough data to back their assessment. Being honest, transparent and candid is important. This becomes even more important when poor performance is being spoken about. Instead of taking a developmental and mentoring approach, many managers take the reactive route and pinpoint examples. This results in employees ending up being unhappy and uninvolved about the next steps which can result in improvement.
- Impact on ratings and increments – There is a high degree of dependency on the appraisal process when it comes to overall ratings and the salary increments. Employees know about this linkage and they view the appraisal process as a sole determinant of these crucial aspects of their jobs. Engagement is one of the biggest drivers of employee performance. Yet by over-stating or over-linking the performance appraisal to every other people process, such as compensation, training, talent management and so on, organizations tend to create a sense of discomfort. It almost always leads to a degree of apprehension that if the appraisal process does not go entirely as per their expectation, the employees do not have a role or a future in their organizations.
- Sense of uncertainty – In many organizations, there is a lack of regular feedback process. Therefore, the appraisal, ratings and even the feedback on some aspects can come as a sudden surprise to the individual. He or she might be caught unawares since there has been no mechanism of being provided with immediate feedback, which possibly could have helped them in rectifying their performance right away. So employees approach and view it with a sense of skepticism because they think that there will be inputs being shared, which they had no inkling of.
- Some degree of anticipation – One of the positive feelings that an employee has, for this process, is that of anticipation. He or she looks forward to the process when they know that there is something in store, in terms of a promotion or development opportunity. The year has gone by with great projects and performance. As a result of that, they anticipate that perhaps that will translate into a better career opportunity along their lines of aspirations.
- Level of cynicism about bias – One of the biggest challenges that performance appraisal systems have is the presence of human bias. Many employees dislike ths process because they know or think that their managers will not be fair. They truly believe that the rating will not be carried out objectively. This is an organizational reality. There are managers who disregard good performance because of the employee’s gender, age, race and so on. Their qualitative feedback itself is sometimes enough to cause a serious concern about the authenticity of the process. While 360 degrees appraisals do try and rule such biases out because the feedback is collated from multiple sources, the immediate manager’s rating always carries weight.
The SHRM India survey also throws up a very critical issue of the performance appraisals being typically focused only on past performance. Most employees felt that it does not help in determining future high potential talent and is more relevant for past performance only. There are a few who believe that it depends on the appraiser, which is usually the direct manager.
In conclusion, we have tried to view the appraisal process from the employee’s perspective. Let us also understand a little bit about how organizations can address these.
- Regular tracking of performance should be built into the process. Frequent feedback and immediate one, especially when it is negative is essential for reducing some of the negative emotions that an employee feels related to this process. This is more important in the current context too since the younger workforce thrives on immediate feedback, as well as is open to revisiting their performance.
- The rating bias that worries most employees should be addressed by ensuring that there is a comprehensive process of collecting feedback from various sources. Not only that, there needs to be a transparent process of escalation, should an employee want to report a manager who has been biased in his or her approach. This should be stated and shared clearly even in policy documents so that the employees have a degree of trust in the process.
- Training managers to communicate effectively is important. This means that they understand the approach to apply when they provide constructive criticism and how to work with the employee on performance improvement. It also needs to include the fact that performance appraisal is not a report-card that needs to be read out. It has to be a two-way dialogue which allows for open discussion. Managerial ability to communicate can actually result in drastic performance changes, on either side of the spectrum.
- Past research has shown that managers and their moods are also responsible, for the performance appraisal ratings. While this is not within the organization’s control, sensitizing the manager and making him or her aware of the fact that this has an influence and should be kept in check when carrying out the appraisal, is the key.
- Many a times, employees and the managers do not take the goal setting process seriously. They undermine its importance with respect to the final appraisal. Ensuring that both sets of individuals understand and apply the required amount of attention, to goal-setting can enable the appraisal process to become more positive. It will also make the surprise factor lesser and create a clearer sense of purpose. The employee will be better prepared and will know exactly what they are accountable for. In turn the managers will also be setting the right set of expectations. This also reduces the bias elements to some extent, since it does not remain dependent on a manager’s personality or perception about performance.
Overall while the general trend is to worry or be skeptical about the appraisal process, it is within the organization’s capabilities to transform the appraisal process into a positive experience. The appraisal itself is a powerful tool to engage an individual and drive better results. Using it optimally is what the organization needs to train its managers to do, so that they are able to consciously put aside their bias and assess or evaluate consistently.