This time of year, people’s attention turns toward celebrating. The Thanksgiving holiday recently ended and more holiday celebrations are coming. Yet, another event is also fast approaching, one that usually doesn’t bring the idea of celebrating to mind: annual performance appraisals.
Most people approach appraisals with dread – and not just those who receive them. Many supervisors dread the process as well. Yet, when we look past the stereotypical reactions that appraisals produce, we discover a surprising truth. Performance appraisals can be something to celebrate rather than dread.
Before you dismiss this as a cynical form of business-speak that rephrases terms to make negatives look like positives, hear me out. There’s more to this than you may think.
Unproductive mindsets toward performance appraisals
Some supervisors feel obligated to dig out the shortcomings of their people so they have something to discuss during appraisals. That’s as uncomfortable for the supervisor as it is for the person being appraised. Other supervisors deliver appraisals that contain little more than a generous amount of sugar-coating.
Neither approach is productive. The former leaves people with a list of negatives they didn’t expect and irritation at being blindsided by their supervisor. They may reject the supervisor’s comments as nitpicking. After all, if those things were so important, why did the supervisor wait all year to address them?
The latter easily leads employees into feelings of complacency or paranoia. Not identifying areas for improvement either means that the person can relax and put their work on autopilot, or that the supervisor doesn’t believe the employee is capable of reaching higher levels of performance.
Overcoming unproductive mindsets
Neither mindset does anything to help people improve future performance. Instead, both come from a supervisor’s desire to avoid an unpleasant task. And we saw in October’s blog post the problems that avoidance can lead to.
But the beauty of appraisals is that an honest, improvement-focused one doesn’t have to be unpleasant. Instead of viewing it as telling someone that their performance is not where you want them to be, view it as pointing out their potential to grow and become their best possible self. Taking this long view into their future rather than a short view of the present moment turns an oft-unpleasant annual requirement into a celebration of what your people can become.
Going beyond semantics
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking mere semantics here. Focusing appraisals on people’s potential instead of their shortcomings involves more than just switching words. It affects the dynamics of the appraisal process, not just at annual appraisal time, but all year long.
It requires you to take a true mentoring approach to the people you supervise. Frame issues in a positive, growth-oriented way and provide them with steps on how to achieve that growth. Address issues throughout the year instead of just at appraisal time. Make them part of your ongoing effort to help people achieve their full potential. And don’t forget to applaud the progress you see throughout the year, too.
Face it, you hired them because you believe they are not only solid, capable workers, but also workers capable of growing beyond their present capabilities. And you wouldn’t point out areas for improvement if you didn’t believe they could achieve it.
“Celebrate” the appraisal season
With this mindset, annual performance appraisals can be a high point in the yearly work process instead of a low point. Focus on encouraging growth. Recognize that helping people become more skilled and confident is something to celebrate. And understand, by focusing on this aspect of performance appraisals, you can help the people whose performance you appraise to see their feedback in a positive way as well.
Keep this aspect in mind as you approach appraisals – and as you mentor your people throughout the year. Not only will you find their performance improving, but you may find the process of appraisals far more rewarding.