The self-appraisal: how to ensure your people don’t view it as a waste of time

People who say appraisals are dead have probably never had a good one. Why?

Because good appraisals are worth their weight in gold – they build trust, improve performance and accelerate personal development.

And every good appraisal has something in common: they’re driven by the employee, not the manager.

So how can managers encourage strong self-appraisals? We give you some useful advice.

Don’t give them a blank sheet of paper – company-wide templates are notorious for being too generic to spark action.

Generic templates, written and distributed by HR with the good intention of standardising the self-appraisal, can make the process ineffective.

“How do you feel about your performance this year?”

It’s hard to answer such a generic question, especially if – realistically – you’re only going to note down a paragraph or two for each question.

It’s fine to start with a template, but the beauty of being a manager is that you can provide much more probing, personalised questions that stimulate genuine introspection.

Getting under the skin of these hyper-relevant questions is what leads to personal development.

So managers should always append any generic self-appraisal form with their own notes and questions.

Encourage regular reflection points so that the self-appraisal doesn’t require them to think through an entire year’s worth of work.

The self-appraisal should be predominantly made up of analysis and reflection, but the reality is that people spend most of the time in recall mode.

They sit trying to wrack their brains for information from the past year that is pertinent to the questions being asked.

But it’s very hard to recall performance feedback for the entire previous year with your fingers hovering over the keyboard, waiting to type your thoughts in a self-appraisal form.

The brain is not a performing monkey, able to instantly recall on demand.

Even if you can remember some things, you’ll miss others, and spending all your brain power and energy on recall leaves little for analysis and reflection.

Which are ultimately the most critical parts of the self-appraisal process.

So what should managers do?

Performance discussions should be peppered throughout the year – it must be an ongoing conversation with a clear evidence record of strengths and areas for improvement.

That way, at appraisal time, everyone already has a wealth of material and discussion to draw on in order to facilitate a considered discussion based on lots of material.

Educate them on how splitting self-appraisals into separate tasks makes the whole thing much more rewarding.

The self-appraisal feels like one distinct task. Which means many people do it all in one go. An hour or two before their appraisal. Hardly a recipe for success.

But the self-appraisal is actually several tasks. It’s recall, if you’ve not kept an evidence record as per the point above. It’s reflection, or understanding how you feel about how the year went.

 

It’s stargazing, or thinking about how things could be and what it takes to get there. And it’s editing, or taking your thoughts and turning them into something that can be discussed with your manager.

For some people, there may be additional steps, such as incubation – a time between recall and editing that allows the unconscious mind to process the information.

Realistically, it’s a different process for everyone, because everyone is different.

As a manager, your job is to get people to understand the value that comes when they dedicate time and energy to doing their self-appraisal in a way that works for them.

Set expectations in advance that the self-appraisal will drive the appraisal process and discussion.

Most people assume their manager will lead the appraisal and that they’re the passive participant.

Maybe they expect to talk through their self-appraisal for five minutes, but then think their manager will take over and lead the discussion.

This is an almost universal assumption and it’s why you need to set expectations in advance to flip the assumption on its head.

Overall, make it clear you expect to be the passive participant and that they should lead the discussion.

More specifically, you can ask them to take specific actions. To run through their main strengths and weaknesses. To send an agenda in advance. To minute the meeting and provide a follow-up email. To turn the meeting notes into a personal development plan.

What does all this do? It encourages and orients them towards spending much more time on their self-appraisal than if you were the one leading the whole thing.

Lots of companies are re-working appraisals for the modern era. Take a look at our article on performance management appraisal alternatives for the 21st century.