How to make the most of your annual appraisal

Industry experts share their tips on how to make the dreaded annual appraisal successful and productive

If you dread your annual appraisal, then you are not alone. However, rather than just seeing it as a time for your manager to criticise your work, you should turn it to your advantage.

The aim of any appraisal is not to make you feel like you are being targeted or criticised, but it is a chance for your manager to provide performance feedback and to motivate you to work in line with the company’s core values. It is also an opportunity for you to air concerns or share any goals.

A recent report from Globoforce found that 66% of UK employees believe their annual performance reviews are an inaccurate appraisal of their work and 44% do not feel motivated when given feedback.

Computer Weekly decided to ask industry experts for their tips and advice on how to make the most out of your annual appraisal, by ensuring you leave the meeting feeling it was successful and productive.

Ayshea Robertson, director of HR at national IT services company Technology Services Group (TSG), believes the appraisal process is vital for both employers and employees.

But she concedes that although there is an abundance of guidance aimed at managers, the appraisee's perspective is often overlooked.

At TSG, Robertson looks after more than 350 IT professionals who work across all areas of technology, from infrastructure and telecoms to connectivity and business applications.

Be prepared

Her number one tip is to be prepared. “The level of effort you have put into the preparation will be evident at your appraisal, and will enable a more productive meeting," she says. "It should also impress your manager.

Bringing facts and examples to your appraisal will support your view on how your performance has gone

Ayshea Robertson, TSG

“This starts with you keeping a record of your performance throughout the year, noting down examples of achievements and areas where you could improve. Bringing facts and examples to your appraisal will support your view on how your performance has gone.”

Robertson suggests employees think about their strengths and areas for development, such as what can they do to improve their overall performance, or do they need training, coaching or some other form of development?

“Be proactive and research training or development activities that you think would assist you,” she adds.

Thomas Jeffs, chief technology officer at Lucidica, agrees that preparation is key. “There should be no surprises in your appraisal," he says. "It should be just be an affirmation of what you know will be discussed because you have prepared for it.”

Lucidica provides computer, technology and IT support for London-based small businesses and is part of Accelerator, the specialist businesses incubator.

Jeffs adds: “Ahead of your appraisal, ask your manager how they perceive your working ability, and whether there is anything they think you need to improve on. If so, ask them if they can give you any tips on how to better yourself.

“Find out what your manager is expecting of you and what can you do to improve between now and the appraisal. Ideally, you should be having this discussion a year in advance, but it’s never too late. Even talking to them a week before your appraisal is better than not doing it at all.”

Set out your goals

To be prepared and set out your goals clearly, it is important to note things down beforehand and have examples ready, says Jeffs.

“A year is a long time, so it’s a good idea to keep your own progress on file so you can remember the things you have done and what you have achieved.  At Lucidica, we encourage our employees to note down the things that were successful and those that went wrong, along with the reasons why, so they can learn from them.”

Jeffs says having examples of specific behaviours and accomplishments that demonstrate how you have met your objectives will make it easier for your manager to see all your accomplishments and recognise why you are an asset to the company.

On setting out your own goals, TSG's Robertson says: “Think about your career aspirations and what you believe you need to do to achieve these.”

Have a good attitude

Robertson says it is essential to have a good attitude to make the appraisal process a positive experience. “If you’re prepared, you should feel more at ease about the process, but having the right attitude will help you cope with what can sometimes be uncomfortable, difficult or emotional conversations.”

However, entering an appraisal with a good attitude can quickly turn into a downward spiral if you take your manager’s criticisms the wrong way, she says.

Robertson encourages employees not to worry about criticism. “If your manager is going to be effective, they should be looking to offer constructive criticism," she says.

“You should take the points offered and try to learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on points that are unclear.”

Communicate effectively and make it social

When handling feedback, Robertson says it is important not to be defensive. “Show that you are listening and seek clarity on the points that have been raised," she says. "If you receive particularly negative feedback, stay calm and ask for suggestions on how to improve your performance.

What employees want is a company that is consistent in its recognition process

Derek Irvine, Globoforce

“Don’t be afraid to put forward your views, but do this in a calm and controlled manner, backing up your points with examples and facts. Above all, conduct yourself in a professional manner.”

Derek Irvine, vice-president of client strategy and consulting at Globoforce, says that when providing positive employee feedback, “it is much more effective when managers include peer-to-peer assessments as well as their own”.

According to Globoforce's research, 47% of UK employees believe using crowd-sourced data in the review process would paint a more accurate picture of an employee’s performance.

Irvine adds: “Implementing a social recognition programme that harnesses the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ and encourages employees to recognise each another’s achievements not only has much more personal meaning to the individual, but also ensures all employees are fully aware of the behaviour that reflects corporate values.

“This provides further incentive to attain greater levels of achievement as their own level of contribution is obvious and judged in relation to others.”

Make it regular

Irvine says it is important for managers to schedule appraisals much more regularly. “Annual performance reviews are simply not seen as particularly fair – they are often regarded as biased, inaccurate and too sparse to truly reflect an honest evaluation," he says.

“What employees want is a company that is consistent in its recognition process, as well as open in terms of its values and expectations, which, in turn, will make clear any future prospects. Constant communication is key.”

Jeffs suggests weekly one-on-one meetings may be the answer. “Hopefully, you have a great relationship with your manager and you have weekly one-on-ones, but if not, Lucidica recommends that you start them," he says.

“Very few managers will deny you a 15-minute catch-up about your work and your progress. Make sure the meetings are positive, though. Focus on what your manager needs from you and don’t use it as an opportunity simply to complain about your workload or what other people aren’t doing.”

Make it mobile

Irvine points out that with workforces becoming more global, scheduling appraisals can become more challenging and to overcome this, he says performance review programmes need to be simple and easily available wherever the employee is located. 

“Enabling access to programmes from desktops, laptops, tablets or phones allows managers to give or receive recognition at all times, helping to avoid the ‘no time’ excuses so often seen in today’s portable world,” he says.

Irvine says this will guarantee that managers can keep track of employee performance and ensure that key business goals are met.

Take action

Robertson concludes that what employees do after an appraisal is just as important as what is said during it. “For the appraisal process to add any value, you need to make sure you take action on the points raised,” he says.

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