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What’s wrong with our appraisal?

What’s wrong with our appraisal? Tips for creating a modern performance review process

Appraisals or performance reviews are long-established features of corporate life, yet all too often managers and staff end up frustrated when they fail to deliver value, or worse.

The staid annual appraisal, often neglected or consigned to a tick box exercise to satisfy HR, often does more harm than good, becoming a demotivator. A trend for ditching performance reviews started 10 years or so ago in large companies, but surveys revealed performance and engagement soon dropped, and many of those employers swiftly reintroduced them.

What does the traditional appraisal do?

Appraisals traditionally set objectives at the start of the appraisal year, and then review them at the end. Some also look at development of the individual and, less commonly, the employer’s values will play a part.

Using appraisals for setting objectives

With some exceptions, jobs in the modern economy are more agile now, and an annual cycle of setting and reviewing objectives is rarely seen as effective. Today’s trend emphasizes more regular shorter check-ins providing regular feedback and allowing new objectives to be introduced.

The appraisal and personal development

Too many employers ask open-ended questions about the employee’s development aspirations. This can lead to disappointment and demotivation if the employee’s faith in their own ability to progress isn’t shared by their employer, or if the employer doesn’t want to support the employee’s desired development activities.

To be effective, development discussions should generally focus on the development of skills needed to enhance current role effectiveness and, in the case of individuals earmarked for progression in the next year, to prepare for their next role. If employers don’t have a decent breakdown of those skills (and corresponding development activities), then this a separate piece of work necessary to enhance the effectiveness of this part of the appraisal process.

Like objective setting, many employers no longer regard an annual review of employee personal development to be sufficient, and some employers prefer this quarterly or even more frequently.

Talent management strategy

An effective talent management process, running alongside the appraisal schedule, is helpful to identify those who have development potential (and for whom a retention plan is required). This complementary process is also useful for identifying those with low potential and low performance, and for whom a different plan is necessary.

Using appraisals to assess values

Many growing organisations choose to lock in the values of their owners or key early staff. Unless this is purely for marketing purposes, this counts for little in the absence of actively monitoring staff adherence to those values. Values of new hires can be tested to a degree during a recruitment process, but the proof of the pudding comes from the day-to-day transactions staff undertake with each other and with third parties.

By building a value assessment into the appraisal process, and reviewing it with employees regularly throughout the year, value-enhancing behaviours can be encouraged, and contrary behaviour can be pointed out and discouraged. While this doesn’t diminish the need for real time feedback, it can help reinforce and maintain organisational values.

Using systems to run appraisals

Many organisations use automated systems to house appraisals, and there are many available. Most involve a £ per employee charge, and many have additional features like the ability to award congratulatory icons for high performance (a bit like the gold star your teacher used to give you when you were 4).

While an automated system can help with task scheduling, it can also become just another ‘tick box’ exercise in a busy manager’s day.

Whether automated or not, the important part of the appraisal is the personal time spent between manager and employee.

Training managers to run effective appraisal sessions

When it comes to appraisals, badly trained and poorly motivated managers will do more harm than good.

The untrained manager will struggle to deliver feedback on both good and bad performance. It does no harm to revisit objective setting even for those who have done it before. Earlier in my career (I was responsible for HR for Coca-Cola’s UK operations), we ran appraisal skills training every year, and refresher training at least once a year.

‘Difficult conversation’ training, which helps managers with a framework and order for providing feedback, should also be a recurring theme in organisational training schedules.

Help and support from myHRdept

myHRdept retained HR (outsourcing) packages all come with support time, some of which can be redeemed against:

  • Management training – objective setting & appraisals & difficult conversations can be run virtually, or in FTF sessions as a part of our 4-part first line manager certificate programme, see our full schedule of Management Training running throughout the year (bespoke training can also be arranged)
  • Value setting – we’ve helped numerous employers identify and lock in their core values, and our HR team can assist in integrating these into recruitment and appraisal processes
  • Appraisal design – our HRBPs and Head of L&D will help you identify the purpose of your appraisal system (what you want to get out of it) and work with you to arrive at a process that meets your organisation’s needs.
  • Talent management process – We’ll help you embed a simple yet effective parallel process, ensuring you have an effective mechanism to identify and help retain your stars, and identify and develop a plan for problem performers.

 If you’re thinking of outsourcing your HR or employment law needs, why not contact myHRdept? Call us on 01628 820515, email us at to discuss your requirements, or contact us via our website and we’ll call you back.


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