By Sandra L. Wiley, Consultant - As the supervisor of staff in your firm, you have a tremendous responsibility to motivate your team to produce positive results. One of the tools you are, or at least you should be using, is a Performance Appraisal System. If you are like most supervisors, you most likely don’t care for performance appraisals; the truth is that few people do. But these tools do provide immense value for managers and staff alike, if they are implemented correctly, and therefore they should be “upgraded” in your firm, not ignored! Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that a quality performance appraisal system will provide the firm:
- Communicating shortcomings. The quickest way to a lawsuit in your firm with a staff member is by not giving them a chance to improve or correct a situation. If under-performing staff are terminated without being given a chance to improve, they will perceive the discharge to be unfair. While unfairness is not unlawful, it can motivate employees to take legal action. And almost any lawyer can turn an unfair treatment claim into a viable discrimination or wrongful discharge claim by arguing that the employee was fired for belonging to a protected group (such as age) or for engaging in a protected activity (such as complaining about harassment).
- Let’s Play Fair. Given that most firms have various “levels” of staff that perform similar functions, the need to treat them in a similar way becomes very important to the firm. Discrimination complaints often allege that employees with similar performance levels were handed dissimilar rewards or discipline. A good performance appraisal instrument increases the potential for consistency by ensuring that all staff at the same levels are evaluated on the same criteria.
- Who are my Top Performers? Performance appraisal systems that are consistently applied throughout the organization can help firms pinpoint the strongest-and weakest-employees. They also can help justify in court, if necessary, any positive or negative personnel actions taken.
- Recognition of Valued Staff. One of the major motivators in firms today is to “recognize” the accomplishments and achievements of the staff. It is also the one motivator that is often ignored in firms today. The performance appraisal lets top performers know concretely of their value to the organization and improves retention.
- Communicating the Firms Strategic Plan. Staff goals need to be tied to the firm’s broad strategic objectives. A quality appraisal system will not only drive the staff member to a higher level of commitment and achievement, but will ultimately drive the firm to superior results.
Given all these benefits, what seems to be the problem? Most concerns about performance appraisals center on the following:
- They discourage teamwork/collaboration.
- They're inconsistent.
- They don’t address communication issues.
- They are one directional.
- Feedback is too subjective.
- They produce negative emotions in the firm.
These concerns can be valid, but they also can be remedied. For example, if collaboration is essential, make it a criterion on which employees are evaluated. Appraisals that focus on-and reward-collaborative behavior will encourage teamwork. Conversely, appraisals that punish employees for working contrary to the team, such as withholding information, discourage anti-collaborative behaviors. So, what are some of the concerns and solutions common in our industry?
- Treating Staff Unfairly: As a supervisor who is planning to give a “negative” appraisal or comment to a staff member, you should ask yourself if you are being equally as critical of all other staff at the same level. If so, the staff member in the current situation should receive the same or a similar ranking. It is helpful to evaluate all staff at the same time of the year. This makes it more likely that you will apply the same criteria.
- Communicating shortcomings. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can deal with today! Communicate and document the issues that are affecting your firm and staff members immediately and then re-enforce them at appraisal time. A staff member should never be surprised at what they hear in the appraisal meeting.
- One Directional System: Many firms have appraisal systems that are one directional, in other words the supervisor tells the staff member what they think, thanks them for their time and tells them to get back to work! In order for the performance appraisal system to be truly effective, you need to ask the staff what their perception of their performance is and ask them for input into the planning for the next year.
- Feedback is too Subjective: Keep the personality out of the performance evaluation and concentrate on the specific behaviors of the staff member in the job function. Look at behaviors such as being able to deal with vagueness, shift gears quickly, see the big picture clearly, make decisions without "perfect" information and value diverse ways of handling problems. All of these are behaviors that can be dealt with rather than a personality that is subjective.
- Emotional Anguish: Along with every performance appraisal system comes the emotional feelings from both the staff and the supervisor’s perspective. Remember this, the longer it is put off, the more “feelings” get in the way of “reality”. Save everyone time and energy by holding the appraisal in a timely manner.
A solid performance appraisal system in your firm will reap rewards to bottom line results through every staff member in your firm. If you don’t have a system today, get started now! If you have one and are not using it, find a way to infuse the system and begin again TODAY!
Sandra Wiley is a Consultant and Speaker with Boomer Consulting, Inc. In her 8 years with Boomer, Sandra has worked with clients to strengthen their firm’s human assets using Strategic Planning and Kolbe Index processes and procedures.