How to manage difficult appraisal conversations?
Awkward silences, futile arguments, and discomfort can make performance appraisal meetings dreadful. With limited and fixed budgets at hand, it is never easy for the manager to justify a meagre salary hike for your team’s top performer or to convince the average/underperformers that there would be no hike. With the rise in job hopping, dissatisfaction among employees and increase in employee burnout incidences, it is becoming vital for managers to handle these uneasy and difficult conversations, in a tactful and seasoned manner.
Entering the meeting room unarmed is always a bad idea when giving uneasy feedback during performance appraisals.
Here are a few tips to help you as a manager to handle those difficult conversations in a mature and thoughtful way:
1. Do your homework: No employee is the same and will react to situations in a certain way. As a manager, you must know your employee well by following a continuous feedback approach, so that you are well versed with their needs. This will help you prepare and present the discussion, in a way that will convey the message, with minimum damage.
2. The BeanBag approach: No, it doesn’t mean having the meeting on a bean bag. What it does mean is to provide the ease and comfort of a bean bag to your employees. For instance, having the meeting over a cup of coffee in a casual yet direct way.
And arranging an actual beanbag, won't be a bad idea at all.
Treat these difficult situations with kid gloves.
3. Start the meeting on a lighter note: It’s always a good practice to build the right base by keeping the tone light and positive. This would ease the discomfort of the already intimidated employee. This will prepare the employees to be open to taking feedback or any point of concern.
4. Maintaining the right tone: Such meetings are likely to go through several ups- downs, so it is very important that you maintain the correct tone throughout the conversation. You will need to be empathetic and watch your tone. Don’t get rattled by any comments and look at the situation from your colleague’s perspective.
5. Be a friend, but without diverting from the agenda of the meeting: It’s always easier to handle tough situations if you choose a friendly approach. Be a friend to your employees, understand their points and be empathic. Conduct the meeting in such a way that it looks more like a healthy discussion than an unpleasant formal meeting. But it's really important to always keep the real agenda in mind, present it smartly. And always remember that there is a thin line between being friendly and not being taken seriously.
6. Be a patient listener: Such meetings are much more than just giving feedback. You can't just keep your points, and not listen to the other party. To have a meaningful conversation, it is very important to be open to suggestions hence being a patient listener always helps. Listening to your employee will help you understand their side of the story and which help you take a fair and balanced decision. And this will also ease the frustration of the agitated employee.
7. Always keep a few non-monetary incentives in minds, to compensate for those monetary ones: Due to inflexible budgets, it can sometimes become difficult to give monetary incentives. Thus identifying a few non-monetary incentives is always a good idea. And this can be done by knowing that other than monetary gains, what drives that employee, to do better. Maybe he/she craves for more responsibility or maybe he/she wants to learn new skills or is looking for challenging roles.
8. Be prepared for an emotional outburst: Not all employees take bad news in a professional way. Some may tend to exhibit a sudden outburst of emotions on hearing something that they weren’t expecting. In such cases, it’s always a good idea to help them process the news by being empathetic and supportive. Lighten their mood, by focusing on the brighter side.
9. Be open to negotiation: Being a rigid manager is never a good idea when it comes to appraisal meetings. Yes budget will be tight, and increasing the hike percentage, will always itch, but be open to extra hike for exceptionally good performers. Because, no organization, would ever want to lose their valued employees, for some insignificant/small negotiable amount.
10. End the meeting on a good note: Always highlight the positives at the end of the meeting, because it’s important that you & the employee leave the room on a satisfactory note.
(Appraisal meetings are never going to be easy but all these points, along with following a regular feedback approach will help you dodge those occasional bouncers aimed at you.)