Why appraisals are a waste of time

Appraisals are indeed a waste of time if what you would rather do is fill in paperwork (and complain about it) than talk to somebody eyeball to eyeball, motivating, acknowledging, coaching and training them face to face. Here we suggest a way you can scrap your appraisal system!

What do you think when you hear the word ‘appraisal’? Probably some version of ‘boring’, ‘meaningless’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘bureaucratic’, ‘time-consuming’ etc.

Well, we agree with you. Appraisals are a waste of time. And yet we spend an awful lot of our consultancy time encouraging leaders to plan work, set goals, have regular one-to-one meetings with their employees, and conduct performance reviews. So what’s the difference?

The difference is in the personal time and attention you are willing to give to your staff, helping them to create meaningful goals, connecting their work to your organisation’s strategy, keeping them on track, and celebrating and rewarding them – with your appreciation and attention, not just money – when they succeed.

How does it work?

We recommend regular one-to-one meetings (no less often than monthly) throughout the year in which you and your employee discuss two things:

  • what the person’s goals and targets are, and his or her progress towards these
  • how they are feeling, behaving, fitting in with the team and enjoying their work.

These meetings are in addition to any work-in-progress meetings that you may have every week and month with your team. They are your opportunity to work ‘on’ the business with your immediate reports, and to give them the gift of your time and attention, rather than just working ‘in’ the business alongside them.

But when am I going to get any work done?

Well, it depends what you consider your work to be. If you are one of those senior managers who resents the fact that you no longer have the time to spend on your original specialism, you might well resent spending time and energy on your staff. You may indeed have to have six more meetings a month (if you manage six people) – you’re a manager and a leader of people, and this is your day job now. If you are to do your job properly these meetings must happen and they must be one-to-one. But they don’t have to be long meetings – in fact, the more you have, the shorter they can be.

And they don’t have to happen on top of any ‘appraisal’ process you may have been operating. This regular performance planning and review process replaces the end of year ‘school report’. Just have every third or fourth meeting be a slightly more formal round-up of where you’ve got to and record your agreed summary of events. Then at the end of the year you will have three or four sets of notes to go through together and turn into an end of year review.

Can’t I just give them money instead?

No. In fact, until you’ve got the whole system working like clockwork, with every manager and employee holding these one-to-one meetings as ‘just the way we do things around here’, don’t even think of linking the end of year review to pay or bonus. The process done properly is a reward and acknowledgement of people’s performance in its own right. You’ll be amazed how much less people worry about such things as extra money when they feel fully involved in setting the direction for their own work, appreciated and given time by their manager, and confident that they are doing work which is relevant and makes a difference to the results of the organisation. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!