Appraisal conversations can be very energizing and stimulating. They can truly be a stimulus to drive great performance. However, if not managed well, they can be very unproductive and disengaging. Managers need to be conscious of what can blow-up an appraisal conversation for them. They need to be conscious of some phrases that can creep into conversations, negatively impacting the outcomes for them.
These phrases point towards certain aspects of people management that managers at times tend to ignore. These are essential elements if managed well, ensure that the appraisal conversations are held in a meaningful and positive environment with receptivity to feedback.
- “This is not what we agreed on.” (Unclear and Unaligned Goals)
The ‘What is to be delivered’ needs to be clear and agreed upon by all stakeholders before any productive discussion on ‘What got delivered’ happens. An appraisal conversation cannot go back to revisit a goal setting conversation. If a conversation has too many “this is not what we agreed on”, it is clearly a sign that the expected outcomes were not communicated and aligned to. An ineffective goal setting conversation is highly likely to lead into an unproductive appraisal conversation. It is imperative that managers agree and align on what outcomes will define success for an individual. In case there are any changes mid-year due to business dynamics, the revised goals need to be communicated clearly and aligned to.
- “You should have told me this before!” (Insufficient feedback during the year)
The value of feedback is in its timing. A feedback shared during a year-end appraisal conversation referencing to earlier events is most likely to invoke this reaction from an employee. And rightly so! Employees feel letdown, and the perception in their mind is that the manager is not genuinely invested in them. This is the reason mature performance management systems encourage managers to have continuous feedback conversations with their teams, giving inputs and feedback real-time. This will ensure the year-end conversation is more productive with better receptivity to any feedback shared.
- “Why are you saying this? I don’t agree!” (Insufficient Data/Evidence)
All effective conversations are a good balance between data and emotions. One without the other is likely to give sub-optimal outcomes. An appraisal conversation is no different. However, a substantial number of managers walk into a conversation without having sufficient data/evidence to back their inputs. A manager needs to be more prepared in a networked organizational structure where a team member may have worked with multiple stakeholders. In absence of credible evidence, the feedback seems to be perception-driven. The receptivity to such feedback is likely to be low.
- “You did not do this” (Too much focus on ‘Feedback’ rather than ‘Feedforward’)
While it is important to have an impartial and analytical look at the past, the objective of an appraisal conversation should be to identify learnings from them that can be implemented in the future. A positive outcome is when a team member is able to identify behaviors that will contribute towards success in the future. However, quite often managers get hooked on to sharing feedback about the past. They get trapped in a ‘tell’ mode and miss having an effective coaching conversation. This is an opportunity lost as the team member may walk out overwhelmed without any specific takeaways in terms of what needs to be done differently going forward. Managers also, quite often miss giving enough credit for things done well.
- “But you promised me last time” (Commitments made for future in haste to escape a difficult conversation in the present)
This is a behavior every manager needs to be conscious of while having an appraisal discussion. When a manager is not able to meet the expectations of a team member for any reason, they find the conversation difficult to handle. In an attempt to manage the current disappointment, they tend to give a message and raise hopes for the future. While it may seem to be an easy-way-out, it usually becomes a bigger rock to move in the days to come. A manager needs to manage expectations realistically and not over-commit for the future. Trust is a casualty in such situations.
Appraisal conversations are a very important part of the employee lifecycle management. If a manager demonstrates the necessary maturity, transparency, and courage, it helps build their leadership brand. Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship and the manager-team relationship is no different. What happens in an appraisal conversation can have an irreversible impact on the trust factor between the stakeholders. Hence, every manager needs to be conscious of signals that can blow it up for them.