Inspiring Conversations.. The Year End Appraisal

May 15th, 2017

“Success isn’t just about what you accomplish in your life,

it’s about what you inspire others to do.”


For many of my clients the appraisal season is upon us, and I had several conversations last month with Equity Partners and Directors preparing for their annual performance appraisal. Clearly it is a highly important meeting for them and they wanted to be prepared.


Whether you are appraising or being appraised, does your heart rise at the prospect of stimulating and motivating discussions. Or sink at the thought of what feels like a box-ticking exercise with minimal business or personal gain?   


Performance management has long been the bête noir of the workplace. Only 55% of employees feel annual appraisals are effective for personal and career development ( and Saba) and 37% of staff believe appraisals are a waste of time (Badenoch & Clark).


There is an art to a successful appraisal which is congruent with the level of care and attention you give to it.  Do people leave feeling clearer, excited and bigger when they leave the room?   

Here are some useful points for both parties involved in this important discussion:  


The form is a framework for a conversation – not the conversation itself. Most companies have quite detailed appraisal forms. If we are not careful, the form drives the conversation instead of it being a framework for a valuable discussion. It should be used as a guide rather than an agenda, and the order can be directed by you – starting off with success and achievement to open up a constructive and useful dialogue.                                                                                                                  


Get really clear on what you want to achieve – What would make this a great meeting? Clarity on your career aspirations? Understanding why performance has dropped with insights as to why? Retaining key talent? What impact and influence do you want to have? What do you want people to walk away thinking and saying? 


Prepare well – What would you do if this was a client review or pitch … prepare. I recently spoke to someone who kept putting off his preparation, too many client meetings, gave it minimal time and he went in unprepared. Yes, it had been a challenging year but he poorly positioned what had happened and presented too few solutions. Not surprisingly he found himself with “six-months to improve the business or we need to review your position.”


Give the same level of preparation to high performers – I recall in my commercial career I was running a successful Division with a high performing team which had exceeded budget. My appraisal was a pat on the back, “keep up the good work” conversation. I had spent hours going through the form and had assumed my MD would do the same. Most successful people have an ambition to continually grow so yes they appreciate acknowledgement AND they are looking for concrete ways to develop further, so tips or feedback on this is highly valuable.


Consider the difference in your communication styles – Gaining agreement and retaining rapport are critical aspects of this meeting. Take into consideration where your communication styles differ – is someone more detailed or big picture, do they appreciate language that is passionate or more considered? Again we tend to find it easy to be a chameleon with clients and often we don’t always apply this same agility with our team or direct line managers. Give this careful thought when you want to present key facts so you engage their attention.


Make the business case if you want something One of my clients, an outstanding business developer, had been promoted and her extended remit found her increasingly bogged down with management reporting. Instead of saying ‘she did not want to do the reports as they were not her area of strength’, she explained how some key pivotal relationships, with considerable business value potential to her company, were being presented but she could not give them sufficient time due to the reports. She presented solutions as to who could do the reports and got the result she wanted and a role that focused on her strengths which motivated her. 


Get to know what drives and motivates people to succeed – This is essential for both parties and particularly important for the Leader of a team. Do you know what drives them to be successful – why they do this job?  I recall the top income earner in my team was driven by a goal to secure for his three children “the best education in the world”. He and his wife had set up a separate bank account for this. During our appraisals, instead of going through the income targets, I would ask him ‘How the Fund was going?’  – he was highly motivated when discussing this. He knew what he had to achieve for a much bigger purpose than KPIs. Do you know what drives each member of your team? If you ask the question why? often enough you will get there – we spend too much time asking what? and how?


Ask the right questions – Good questions will give you clarity – avoid questions that are too ‘big’ such as

What do you want from your job? What can I do to support you? Instead ask specifics –

What one thing would make you more excited about your role/ keep you here?

What one thing could I do that would add most value to you?

These are far simpler to answer and you will get to the heart of what truly matters to them.


Show the success of your team Your team’s success is a direct result of your leadership. Show what you have done to develop them and give evidence.


Ask for what you wantI recently asked a female director if she was going to tell her CEO that she wanted to be on the board. “No,” she replied. “He knows.” I explained to her that the appraisal was her one moment to declare her aspirations and to leverage her value. When it comes to your appraisal, take ownership. Don’t view this as discussion that is ‘being done to you’. You are in the driving seat of your career. Make sure you get the appraisal you want.


Good luck! You might just be surprised at how inspiring your annual appraisals can be!


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Oona Collins