Staff meetings that work - the cure for performance appraisal phobia!



People hate performance appraisals. Okay, maybe that's a generalisation - there might be 1% of people out there that get excited about sitting down for that typically 6 monthly or 12 monthly review of their performance with their manager. And there's probably 1% of managers who also look forward to conducting performance appraisals with their team members. But performance appraisals are one of those 'must do' activities that both managers and team members tend to dislike.

To counteract this, we often focus on the performance appraisal process and content. Making sure we look not just at results ('what' they achieve), but also 'how' the person approaches their work and interacts with customers and colleagues. We might try to gather feedback from multiple sources. We might try to balance discussions about the year past with time to think about the year ahead. But we still tend to run into these pitfalls:

  • The appraisal is a high stakes 'event' which tends to add pressure to both the manager and team member
  • The manager and team member haven't built a strong relationship, which tends to reduce the quality of feedback and the likelihood of acceptance
  • There's a lack of focus and unclear goals around the job - by the time we discover this during the appraisal it's too late to do anything about the year that has gone by
  • It's a one-way conversation with too much pressure placed on one person - typically (but not always) the manager - to drive the process
  • Feedback isn't balanced - we either focus too much on the positives or on constructive/corrective feedback
I think the answer is actually pretty simple. It's about having 1:1 meeting structures that make performance discussions a more frequent occurrence, and that address the issues above. 

I recommend having monthly 1:1 meetings with team members, along with monthly team meetings as a group (more on the team meetings another time). I scheduled these meetings in our calendars and they took priority over the other day-to-day issues that might come up.

The structure for 1:1 meetings below is what I've found to work with people and teams that I've managed. You might want to vary this structure, but hopefully it will provide some ideas for you to think about.


1:1 Meeting Agenda

Performance:
  • What you're currently doing well
  • What you think you need to work on
Priorities

Training and development

Other

Action items
  • Review previous month
  • Any new items

The expectation with this monthly 1:1 meeting format is that both the manager and the team member come to the meeting prepared. Both will think about performance - what's going well, and where the person might need to focus more attention. The meeting provides a chance to discuss these areas. We can also focus on the priorities that we see for the coming month. This often helps to clarify differing expectations. Sometimes the team member might highlight a priority the manager wasn't aware of. Sometimes the manager might be able to clarify a priority that the team member isn't placing enough emphasis on. Each month we can look at training and development - not just formal training, but opportunities to be exposed to new parts of the business or to shadow another team member in their work. 'Other' really covers anything else the manager or team member want to discuss. It might include frustrations or challenges the team member is facing that the manager can help to 'unblock'. It might include updates needed to the position description to reflect changes in the accountabilities of the role. We then discuss any action items noted from the last meeting, or add any new items that the manager or team member need to follow up. 

After each meeting I then typed up some brief notes under each of these areas and shared these with the team member in a document. This document grew across the year, with each meeting as a new page. This document formed the main input into the formal performance appraisal. By doing this, the annual performance appraisal became little more than a confirmation of what had been discussed through the year. Any areas that weren't clear had already been discussed. It reduced the pressure on both me and my team members, and helped us to explore career and development opportunities on a more frequent basis.

I found these monthly 1:1 meetings something to look forward to. They were a great chance to better understand my team members that I relied upon to produce results. I hope you find these ideas helpful in improving your ability to manager performance of your team members across the year.