Concept for Can you put a man on the moon? Appraisals - love them or hate them?

Appraisals. There. I wrote it. What was your first thought? Did you cringe or smile? Appraisals, annual reviews, performance reviews, or whatever you like to call them seem to cause the same reactions as a certain brand of yeast spread – I find people seem to love them or hate them. Is there any in-between?

This article is the first in a series we’re going to be producing around appraisals and performance management – and whether we’ve all been getting it wrong for years.

What’s your part in the mission?

There’s a well-known story that during a visit to NASA in 1962, John F Kennedy met a cleaner mopping the floors. When Kennedy asked the cleaner what he was doing, the cleaner allegedly replied “Well, Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon”. If this is a true story then I often wonder what the cleaner felt when Apollo 11 landed the first men on the moon in 1969 – job done, mission accomplished?

So, what if everyone believed their job contributed to the overall mission of their organisation? Would we all be happier and more productive at work if we believed our contribution mattered? I think we would. So, how do we get there? How do we work that golden thread through our organisation from the bottom to the top? One part of the answer is appraisals.

Do appraisals still have value?

I have a confession to make, and this may sound a little odd from someone who over the years has worked in many HR roles. On a personal level I used to hate appraisals. I used to find them a complete waste of my time, and I would try to avoid my annual appraisal at all costs. A good appraisal system in my view was a very short appraisal system. Fill the form out, pretend I was loving life to my manager, and then file it away and never look at it again until next year.

Then I was lucky enough to work for someone who just got it. They managed everyone in the team in the way that worked best for them. They adapted the appraisal system and applied it in a way that suited everyone. This meant for me spending five minutes just writing something down on the form (well you’ve got to keep HR happy) and then we spent the rest of our appraisal time chatting about how I would meet my appraisal targets over the next year. This worked for me, and my manager would say that I know you know what needs to be done and that you’ll just go and get on with things, and that you’ll speak to me if you need anything. Another member of my team would spend hours preparing for their appraisal, and their meeting would always overrun when setting their objectives for the next year. They would regularly check in on their objectives through the course of the year, whilst I would check in on mine every now and then. What I am trying to say is this – we both knew the aim of our team, what we were trying to achieve, and how we were going to get there. We both had the organisation golden thread running through us, it had just been stitched in different ways. It is worth noting that we both loved our jobs and our team!

So how do we make them matter in our organisation?

Now I guess some of you are thinking it’s not always that simple! I agree. How, after all, do you implement an effective performance management system if your team works remotely to you, or if you have a very large number of staff to manage spread out over numerous locations? There are many different types of appraisals: self-appraisal, peer reviews, and management by objective to name just a few. Or are annual appraisals even the way to go?

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this. If you really want your employees to feel inspired, then you need to look at your organisation and your workforce as a whole. What works for one organisation might not be right for another but it’s certainly true for all organisations out there that you need to have a system which your employees buy into and engage with.

What’s next after appraisals?

In the next part of this series, we’ll be looking at the different options for appraisals and ongoing performance management before a final article looking more broadly at personal development and the role you play in that as a business.

And remember, if you truly want to reach for the stars, then appraisals of course are only part of the answer. Your values and mission need to be intertwined in everything you do; and should feature heavily in your recruitment and onboarding. If you want to put a man on the moon – then that is your launch pad to success!

If you would like to discuss anything further in this article, please contact our Employment team.