Is the appraisal dead?

Karen Seward

I’ve been thinking lately about the annual appraisal and whether it is fit for purpose. Giants like GE and Accenture have already publicly abandoned them. They have taken the view that the cost and time involved can’t be justified as it doesn’t achieve the ultimate goal of achieving a high performance culture. Is there something in this? I think there is.

It’s no secret that the millennials have other ideas about the performance appraisal. They grew up with social media where feedback is given within seconds with a “like”, “share” or comment. If it’s good or bad, it’s gone viral immediately. appraisal-300x121It would be unthinkable to wait for a year for a comment, be it constructive or otherwise. By then, the author has moved on and the context is no longer relevant.This generation needs constant on-the-job reassurance. Is this the management dream? Is a thumbs up or a smiley face is all that they want? Of course not, this generation is much more savvy than that. An emoji won’t work when it comes workplace feedback but nor does it want excessive form-filling and feedback-gathering, and stuff that takes too long to be meaningful.

But how would this work for some sectors, like financial services, which need to make an annual assessment of certified staff? Under the new senior manager and certification regime, firms are required each year to certify that those in scope are fit and proper persons. How would this be done without the annual appraisal? Wouldn’t it be a better system if continuing feedback about jobs and projects were fed into an aggregating/collating system by the relevant stakeholders. Training and competence elements could also be directed into the same system. What if this system was totally transparent, and each employee could view his own feedback, progress, and, of course, provide input? This sounds and feels like a more robust system likely to drive better performance because it assesses in real time, rather than historically.

My own view is that the appraisal is not dead yet. As a once-a-year assessment of performance it’s no Swiss army knife, and needs to be supplemented with regular informal feedback and discussions. Like a relationship or a conversation, performance review doesn’t work if only once a year something is said. It takes more. It takes quick chats, more in-depth serious discussions, and a dialogue. If the annual appraisal is the marker when these are consolidated, analysed and presented holistically, then it is far from dead.

Comments published on Employment Talk do not necessarily reflect the views of Allen & Overy.

Read comments below or add a comment
  1. Debbie Martin says:

    It’s great to see A&O thinking progressively about performance appraisals.
    Real-time feedback in additional to regular consolidations would be a big step in the right direction and go some way to addressing the generational gap in expectations.
    However, it isn’t just the process that needs to change. The giving of meaningful feedback in real-time requires a whole new set of skills for the managers/leaders within the organisation. Honesty and compassion need to sit alongside strategic vision and task allocation to make the process engaging and valuable for all involved.

    While a number of big organisations are revising the steps in the process, I think we are yet to see wide-spread change in the purpose behind appraisals. Rather than dictating “up or out” decisions or pitching team members against each other, successful performance reviews should enable our people flourish in their roles and perform at their full capacity for the good of the individuals, our clients and our organisations.

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