Enabling Managers to Conduct Performance Appraisals

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Enabling Managers to Conduct Performance Appraisals

In years of having led performance management systems, training the managers to conduct effective appraisals have been a constant factor in skill-building or the annual leadership programs.  There are number of articles written about what are the best ways of conducting appraisals, most managers know these practices cognitively as well. In this article sharing my experiences to enable managers for quality appraisals.

Let me start by sharing a story here of my learnings as a parent. I have a son who is 13. As a parent my “intent” is to ensure he becomes a good responsible human being, that his talents get the best opportunities, his values are shaped in a way that he can make decisions that don’t harm anyone. In this journey as a parent- we both keep succeeding and failing, having our wins/losses., there are times when he could be a better son, and me as a better parent.

The process which keeps us on course is the dialogues we keep having plus our feedback to one another on what works and what doesn’t.”

It was a dialogue with a counsellor friend where the realization that- “We are not perfect – just as you are learning your way as a child, can you also help me as I learn to be a parent- this is my first time as well” – this helped me too to ask my child the permission to fail, and yet get better…

This journey taught me a few important lessons as a manager. While parenting and manager are different in their inherent nature of relationships, and I don’t advocate at of manager acting as a parent – I do find some similarities.

  • As a manager- one needs to have “intent” of developing people and taking them ahead, seeing them grow.
  • The process of candid dialogues, observing and letting go of control.
  • Learning to manage people and shape performance is a “continuous process” and not a perfect one. There are days you fail, and days you succeed, and it is all OK.

At a systemic level the below 4 are suggestions for what may help- as you create a culture of enabling managers:

Create the Intent; create the need in the managers about why they should invest in the process

This intent is a critical part of “Start with the why” in the words of Simon Sinek. It is here that the managers need to understand that it is a crucial part of their transition from Manager of Self to Manager of Others that they need to learn the skill, and if not learnt they end up stalling their own growth, and the organizations’ leadership pipeline. As they grow up the ladder, managers need to learn that creating a culture of appraisal/feedback is crucial for talent management and for driving business strategy. Often any amount of skilling interventions will fail if the why is not created. So, if you are the HR manager and prepping for the appraisals starting- small things you could do is it will be great to have intent messaging from senior management, communication on why it is crucial being consistently sent. In the larger context- do create clear role expectations woven in the KRA’s and the competencies so that managers know that investing time in appraisals isn’t a “nice to do “but “required to do” as a role and not just a task.

Support the Intent;  support the intent or the lack of it, with a SIMPLE and CONSISTENT process

Quoting from Marc Effron-A great process is superior to good intentions. Let me give an example here of a Fortune 500 organization I worked with who had launched a performance management system a few years ago. The organization is very process-driven and extremely people-focused. The way process was designed including the ethos of the company, the DNA and therefore was easily accepted. What was beautiful was the INCLUSIVENESS of the process, SIMPLICITY of it and most important the CONSISTENCY of the process. Since the launch for over 2 years- nothing changed/tweaked in the process. Everyone from the senior to the junior management followed the same process- at the same time- every half year. The questions asked on the quality of the process/ the timeliness of the process didn’t change- so all managers knew exactly what to expect- and what was right or wrong in the appraisal process- till they corrected in the next cycle.

All organizations may perhaps not be so process-oriented, or may not be as predictable, however, if the idea is for managers to learn and enable a quality process- the 3 principles of Inclusiveness, Simplicity, and Consistency remain the same. The process of frequent check in’s, dialogues needs to be part of the overall performance management process.

Demand the change in behavior and create an environment for the change

Any behavioral change can be brought in by managers only if we demand it from them and continue reinforcing it. So, enough attention needs to be paid to who is asking for this change.  

What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” – Stephen Covey, Author & educator

Are the senior managers asking about the quality of appraisals, quality of dialogue? Are they investing time in the feedback themselves? The fortune 500 I mentioned above- the entire global senior management ensured that the appraisals were calendarized and time was scheduled. The MD of the Indian counterpart ensured she finished all her direct report appraisals before they finished for their teams and enough surveys were on quality of the process. So, if managers are to be enabled in doing appraisals- there must be demand in the system. As you start prepping for the forthcoming appraisals what may help is ensuring that senior management plans their appraisals or feedback sessions. Enough updates are shared with different levels for how the process is running, along with pulse surveys on the quality of the process.

Invest in consistent skilling and feed forward for managers

As mentioned earlier, there are enough ways of skilling managers through online/offline workshops for the way goal setting can be done, or quality of dialogue, frequency of dialogue. Investment is needed in eliminating bias from performance appraisals. The key here is what is consistently mandated/practiced or is skilling optional. Managers see the actions- what is being done, said and not said.If skilling is optional and they don’t see enough people in senior management attending it or asking about it, soon it will lose the steam, and will be treated optional.

Let me share this example from a client from a large real estate company where the CHRO wanted everyone in the organization to get better at conducting appraisals and goal setting. A lot of time was invested in conducting programs for employees of different levels. What was interesting was, a lot of senior management didn’t attend the programs and never invested any time in goal setting or appraisals. The CHRO himself didn’t finish appraisals for the team and had not set any goals. The employees raised these questions in the workshops, and while they absorbed the knowledge of how to do appraisals- they knew that this was strictly a tick mark activity, and no one will be demanding this behavior from them. It was evident here that no amount of skilling will change what’s wired in the culture.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. – Alan Watts

In summary, enabling managers has less to do with just skill-building and a lot to do with the smell of the place or the cultural push which happens around them. I believe that every person wants to do their best- everyday- provided we create conditions for it. So while planning the journey of evolving the performance management system or preparing for the appraisal season- do ensure that there are enough demands created for the change we expect. 

References- HBR – Appraisal of What Performance?-Harry Levinson. From the July 1976 Issue, A Faster Way to Remove Bias from Performance Management- Marc Effron Talent Strategy Group.

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