by Farhan Khalid

I've never held a management position, but a topic of interest to me is the employee appraisal system. It's one of those things that needs to be done, but is not the most enjoyable thing and may even prove useless if not done correctly.

First off, what's the purpose of an employee evaluation? Appraisals help companies motivate and influence employees, provide them with feedback, determine pay raises and bonuses, and plan for manpower (i.e. retention, promotion, termination).

There are different styles or methods of appraisals, including the following:

  • Tell-and-sell: Supervisor is in control and tells subordinates what they need to do.
  • Tell-and-listen: Supervisor gives feedback to subordinate but then allows subordinate to respond.
  • Problem-solving: Supervisor plays role of helper and helps subordinates discover their own deficiencies and then develop a joint plan for improvement.

Which method is best? That can vary based on situation and management style, but my personal preference would be the latter two. Rather than the supervisor evaluating the employee while he/she simply listens, I believe the employee should play an active role in the assessment. If a manager helps an employee recognize his/her own shortcomings by asking open-ended questions, the manager will likely not come across as a tyrant.

Which brings me to my next point. I feel that managers should play not just the role of judge, but also of coach. Coaching involves counseling employees to perform better and helping them with career development. It also involves motivating workers. Coaching is about listening and helping, not just giving feedback.

The supervisor may even go the extra step of allowing employees to provide feedback on his/her performance as a manager; this might not be ideal in some situations, but it could help promote openness and mutual trust by equalizing the power balance between supervisor and subordinate.

Engaged employees want feedback, but it's in our nature to want positive feedback to reaffirm our own beliefs about performance. Unfavorable evaluations can be difficult to accept. However, employees should be open-minded so that evaluations can help lead to greater job satisfaction and eventually career growth.

On the other hand, managers can sometimes be hesitant to provide negative feedback, which in a sense robs the employee of valuable information that could help with job performance and career advancement. In such cases, the tough issues are avoided and the appraisal process becomes ineffective, even though it might fulfill the formal requirement by the organisation to perform an evaluation. My advice to hesitant managers is to use the "sandwich" approach: start off with something positive, then state areas where the employee could improve, and finish off with something positive.

Here are some additional tips for making the most of employee appraisals:

  • Appraisal meeting should take place during a mutually convenient time in a neutral territory. Perhaps book a conference room instead of using the manager's office.
  • Climate should be open and accepting, purpose and process should be agreed upon, and both supervisor and subordinate should try to understand one another better.
  • Feedback should be clear and specific, and should be constructive rather than critical. Following the meeting, the subordinate should know what actions to take to improve performance.
Ideally, feedback and coaching should be provided throughout the year. Thus, when it comes time for the formal evaluation, it should be a breeze. When utilised properly, an employee appraisal system can prove beneficial for everyone involved. With proper feedback, the employee can improve his/her own performance. When employees perform well, their manager looks good. And when managers and their employees are collectively performing at their best, the company as a whole can excel and benefit all stakeholders.