According to a recent CIPD survey of more than 2,500 employees, 30% per cent felt that their employer’s appraisal process was unfair. These findings, combined with further results showing that workers’ trust in senior leaders has hit a two year low, is pretty damning for employee engagement and company success.

So what’s not working?

Feasibly, the real problem is that many appraisals are carried out solely between a line manager and one member of staff with no feedback or advice from other members of the team. The appraisal is all too often not done properly and is basically form-filling giving a cursory nod to development. In a world where managers are being stretched to carry out their own daily responsibilities, an appraisal is yet another task to undertake, and is usually not one that they relish.

Many resort to just asking someone how they are doing or launch into a tirade of what seems like criticism to the staff member, with the recipient then not responding well or being engaged in the process at all. It is also a sad fact that so many people become dissatisfied because they are offered initiatives or incentives that never materialise.

A member of staff, who experiences a poor appraisal with little or no feedback, is far more likely to become disengaged generally and be disgruntled with those around them.

As a person moves their way up through an organisation, they will typically receive less and less honest feedback, be it about themselves or their performance. This is not overly surprising, given that people can often find it difficult to give genuine open and honest comments to a manager when asked face-to-face.

Going Full Circle

Perhaps the answer to having fewer employees unhappy about their appraisal is to assess people within a circle of workmates and associates and make the whole process inclusive. It is an excellent alternative or addition to a traditional appraisal system.

It is easy to get this process up and running. For instance, I am a great fan of an employee survey called 360 degree feedback – sometimes known as multi-source assessment or panoramic feedback.  This is a technique and a tool that affords each employee an opportunity to obtain feedback from their manager, peers, co-workers, representatives from other departments and sometimes even customers and suppliers.  Well, why not, after all the person’s work and character has an impact on them all, as they themselves do on the member of staff.

A 360 degree programme is normally carried out hand in hand with an individual’s staff appraisal and allows them to understand how effective they are as an employee and how they are perceived by others they work with. It gives them the opportunity to have accurate and helpful feedback in a constructive and confidential manner.

Once all the comments have been gathered, a workbook is produced providing detailed information. The staff member then sits with an expert to help them interpret feedback – taking the salient points and building up their areas of success and those that need developing.  Output from the feedback process should always be provided in a supportive atmosphere, where employees have an opportunity to talk through the comments. From here, development, training, coaching or other techniques such as mentoring and shadowing can be implemented to improve less strong skills.

There’s another great advantage to this kind of assessment which helps employee engagement. If used on a regular basis, the employee and manager are able to trace and monitor improvements over time, observing the effects of coaching and training to ensure this is having the desired result.

Improving Relationships

360 degree programme supporters claim that managers and individuals gain better information about skills and performance. It also promotes better working relationships with line managers because compared with more traditional appraisal arrangements they are not the only one giving the assessment.

Let’s face it, none of us like to feel that we are not hitting the target or are not improving our game  A major part of any appraisal should involve sitting down with a facilitator to understand those comments that make us shake our heads in denial, and makes it easier to accept recommendations and implement changes.

Productive traditional assessments

The individual traditional assessment can and does have its place. To get this right, managers need to take a more structured approach. Team managers and their staff must devise clear targets and milestones, put in place measurement criteria and identify personal development needs and the means to meet them. This should be within an achievable timescale. It is only then that the individual’s success can be properly measured. Again there should be regular feedback. There should be no surprises at an appraisal.

The truth is that in today’s multifaceted companies, managers may not always fully understand the contribution of the people they manage. They may be part of many different teams. This means there is a strong argument for obtaining wide-ranging information from a variety of sources to form an accurate picture of an individual’s performance. The introduction of multi-source assessments can only enhance the appraisal system.

Appraisals – whichever kind they are – should not be a once or twice in a year experience. They should be an integral part of an organisation’s performance management strategy, providing ongoing employee support, growth and development. If handled properly they will provide valuable insights and opportunities for an employee’s development needs, resulting in a motivated employee and a competent manager. They will also be a major factor in driving positive changes within the company.

Gary Cattermole is a Director at award-winning staff survey and employee engagement specialists, The SurveyInitiative.