Assessing appraisals

YOU may see your annual review or appraisal as a total waste of time – a ritualistic couple of hours where your boss talks his or her head off while you listen, then you talk and the boss doesn t listen. But, according to the experts, those two hours coul

YOU may see your annual review or appraisal as a total waste of time - a ritualistic couple of hours where your boss talks his or her head off while you listen, then you talk and the boss doesn't listen. But, according to the experts, those two hours could be much more significant than you think.

There's something about appraisals that quickly strikes fear into the heart of even the steeliest employee. It's difficult to escape nightmares about being hauled up for everything you've done wrong over the past 12 months, but that's not really what appraisals are all about.

Often they're the only chance staff get to put their point of view across to their line manager, giving him or her an idea of what they expect from the company. They're also the perfect opportunity to find out what is really expected of them as a company employee.

Recent research shows that the majority of HR managers consider appraisals to be an essential management tool, suggesting just how important it is to come across favourably. But how exactly is this to be achieved?

The best advice anyone can be given in this regard, whether you're a boss or an underling, is simply prepare well in advance.

In fact, prepare yourself as you would for a job interview. After all, this is an unmissable and golden opportunity to really sell yourself to your boss and you should seize it with both hands.

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While almost all HR managers think that appraisals are essential, many of them admit that they're actually pretty badly conducted within their organisation.

The main problem, according to HR experts the Hay Group, is that appraisals often consist of a once a year meeting, which is probably not enough to cover employees' achievements, concerns and other issues.

There also seems to be the tendency to spring things upon employees or vice versa, but if the first you know about not doing your job correctly is during your appraisal, the issue of effective communications clearly needs to be addressed.

Despite some initial teething problems since the phenomenon of appraisals arrived from America, it looks like they are here to stay.

Most senior personnel managers are firmly wedded to appraisals as the very best way of assessing individual performance and identifying training needs.

Even though many HR managers voice doubts about the mechanics of their appraisal system, you would be hard pressed to find any of them willing to state that they would prefer a life without them altogether.

So if you're the boss, remember these key points to help you reap the rewards appraisals can bring:

o Allow plenty of time for each appraisal and book the meeting room well in advance.

o Give staff enough time to prepare, getting all the information to them as soon as possible, such as when and where it will take place, how to fill out any forms, what will be discussed, aims and objectives and so on.

o Make the appraisal itself friendly yet businesslike and put the employee at ease.

o Prepare in advance examples to illustrate points about performance.

o Make the standards expected of staff crystal clear.

o Ask staff for their point of view and welcome any suggestions they make.

If you're a member of staff, these pointers will help put you at ease and help ensure you get the most out of the appraisal.

o You only get out what you put in. There's no point expecting the appraisal to magically sort out all your concerns and career ambitions if you haven't made an effort to express them.

o Make a list in advance of the points you want to raise. This should include training options and future objectives.

o Back up any 'I'm really good at such and such...' claims with clear evidence and examples.

o Don't be offended or take it personally if your boss makes suggestions about how you might better deal with situations in future; constructive criticism can be really useful.

o Don't be afraid to ask questions - but be careful not to give your boss a grilling or use the appraisal as an opportunity to simply vent your spleen.

o Ask to arrange a follow-up meeting for two months' time, so that you can both touch base and check on progress.

Whichever rung of the ladder you're on and whatever your job title is, appraisals can be an incredibly worthwhile investment, so it's well worth spending your valuable time and energy on them.