7 reasons appraisal schemes don’t work

In my experience appraisal schemes are one of the hardest HR activities to get right in an organisation. No doubt this is because they are one of the most crucial tools for creating a successful workforce and they touch every aspect of employment. But it’s not all doom and gloom; if we can understand why appraisal schemes fail, we can then know what to do to fix them. Read on for the key pitfalls and our suggestions for getting it right:


1. They are too complicated.

If the instructions alone run into more than one page, chances are the user will have lost the will to progress as far as the form itself, let alone have a productive meeting.

What to do:

Keep it simple. The simpler the form, the easier it is to understand, the easier it is to implement and the more it will fit with different kinds of employee.

An appraisal should have 3 objectives:

  • Set and review employee objectives, showing how they align to business objectives
  • Identify employee career development aspirations
  • Identify training and development the employee needs in order to achieve their objectives and career goals.

Keep it as that and no more so that it’s easy to understand and implement.

2. Managers are measured on how many appraisals they do.

So what happens? It becomes a tick-box exercise about the process rather than a valuable one-to-one discussion.

What to do:

Measure the value, not the process. Measure how well your succession gaps are covered or the number of justified training needs that are identified, for example. Top management should speak to staff to find out what they know about the performance of the business and how they are contributing to it. What gets measured gets done, so if it’s number of forms, the forms will be completed; if it’s staff being asked about their development and ideas for improvement, managers will ensure their teams can respond knowledgeably.

3. Managers don’t have time to do appraisals.

Managers are expected to complete their day job and manage a team. Yes, times are hard and organisations need to achieve efficiencies with their workforce, but operations tend to trump people management. It links to what is being measured, so if operational deliverables are the priority, people management will naturally be further down in the pecking order.

What to do:

Make time for the people management aspects of a manager’s role. If people management is the thing that is always deprioritised, there will be long-term losses when there is a lack of skills, or successors, or your talented employees leave because they don’t receive attention or development from their manager. It links back to the measures. If people management is seen as important from the top and discussed, it will receive priority attention.

3. Managers say they don’t have time to do appraisals.

If organisations are actually making people management a priority and giving time for the task, but it’s still not happening, there are other reasons for it. Managers know HR stuff is important. They know there are big implications of getting it wrong, and they don’t want to get the tough conversations wrong – so it’s just not broached at all.

What to do:

Training, development, coaching. Let’s give our hard-working people managers the knowledge, skills and therefore the confidence to be great people managers, with an ongoing programme of HR skills and knowledge training – starting with the lynchpin that is appraisals and performance management. By providing them with knowledge and testing-out skills in a training environment, managers can hone their skills and become great people managers in practice.

5. Some staff just don’t need to have an appraisal.

You know the ones. They are your steady Eddies. You can rely on them, they are rarely off sick, they turn up on time and you can depend on them to do a good job. They’re happy, you’re happy. They don’t have big career ambitions and don’t see the value in discussing development and career progression.

What to do:

Don’t flog a dead horse. If you have good open communication, you are able to let your people know how they are performing and how the business is doing on a day-to-day informal basis, then don’t waste your time and their time form-filling and going through the motions of an appraisal. Don’t make assumptions about the type of staff that don’t want appraisal meetings. They should always be the norm, but if it’s the case that some individuals opt out, still check in with them formally once or twice a year to ensure that they still don’t want anything more – sometimes circumstances change. Keep your one-to-one time for those that do get some value from it

6. Some staff just don’t want to have an appraisal.

They don’t really understand it, are scared of receiving poor feedback and see it as a big stick.

What to do:

Train staff on appraisals. It’s really important to invest in staff appraisal training in order to make a scheme successful. It’s the opportunity to set out the business case for the process and to set the expectation that it should be employee-driven. Staff should come away from a 1-hour session feeling in control and knowing it’s about ensuring they are contributing to the overall success of the business.

7. Feedback gets saved up for the appraisal.

No wonder some staff don’t want the appraisal meeting. 6–12 months’ worth of developmental feedback is dumped on the employee in one fell swoop, with positive feedback being saved in the same way – and likely little communication between employee and manager in between.

What to do:

Manage in the moment. Make your workplace a happy and productive place by giving feedback at the time of their performance. Timely positive feedback lets staff know they are doing a great job and can lift a whole team – and up productivity. Constructive feedback at the time of an incident taking place prevents the practice rumbling on and hey, guess what – can increase productivity too if addressed in the moment. On-going communication means happy staff, happy team, happy workplace, less people leaving, retention of skills, knowledge, innovation and booming business.

Check out our downloads page for a simple appraisal form (with short instructions!) to get started with.

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