Appraisals aren’t about the work anymore

I just got an email from a friend of mine who works in the public sector. He says,

Oh my good god! I have just received an email sent round our department offering a short course on how to fill out our appraisal forms! How crap is that? That it comes down so much to how we write our forms that we need training on how to write them! What about actually doing our jobs?

I think it is a truism that everyone who has to take part in these kind of appraisals, in the private sector and public sector know that they are inherently worthless. They just need to be stopped. If these appraisal systems are so useful why do they change every year? Surely by now we could have thought up a meaningful and stable system of staff review?

People do need to know that they are doing a good job (or otherwise) and managers do need to assess their staff. However, the method of assessment should be related to the work.

We should ask one simple question to get a workable appraisal system, “What are you doing to improve the work?”. The answers to that single question will give the manager and the staff member lots of things to implement and learn. It is the start of a conversation which if guided skilfully by the manager will lead to greater productivity but also greater joy in work for the worker.

The best thing is that it doesn’t need to be scheduled since that question only takes a few seconds to ask, even if the answers can fill a career.



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  1. Pepe -

    Hi Rob:
    Fully agree. I have had to fill up a lot of appraisals in my career and I have always questioned my self "How does it help to improve the job?".
    For all the managers it was a obligation imposed by the company and most of them thought it doesn't add any value.
    In my opinion should be changed by other model of performance evaluation focused in how the people contribute to improve the system under the customer perspective.

  2. Glyn Lumley -

    Hi Rob

    Great post.

    I'd like to suggest a second question: What data is there to show how the improvement is going?

    That's it; no more, otherwise we'll create another form!


  3. Rob Worth -

    Hi Glyn,

    I totally agree. Though if you started with, "What are you doing…?" that is an open enough question to start a conversation that should, if the manager knows what to ask for, include enquiry about relevant measures.

    I just like the elegance of a single question.



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