When I was a corporate manager (way back in those dim distant days when mobile phones were used for making phone calls and Facebook and Twitter hadn’t yet been invented…) we used to do things called Annual Appraisals.
I remember it well. Once a year, normally just after Easter, a whole load of gumph from HR would land in my inbox, one pack for me to do with my team and another one for me to do with my boss. As a latent entrepreneur I hated this stuff …
My boss, whose name was Stephen (not his real name), was some kind of Corporate Saint, so when HR presented him with this additional challenge he appeared to roll up his sleeves and launch himself into Annual Appraisals with vigour and enthusiasm. It was only years later that I realised that, despite putting a brave face on things, Stephen probably hated the whole process as much as I did. He was already incredibly busy and here was another thing he had to add to his list.
There are lots of good practices from the corporate world that small to medium-sized businesses would do well to emulate. These include structure, discipline, organisation and perhaps, above all, keeping on top of the numbers.
But I’m pleased to say there’s an increasing body of well-informed opinion saying that Annual Appraisals aren’t worth the effort. As managers, we were taught to believe that Annual Appraisals were a way of demonstrating our interest in our team’s development, but the research shows that in most cases the team just regard the whole exercise as an additional burden. In fact, it’s common practice for managers and supervisors not to complete appraisals on time, so the organisation is conveying a message to employees that they are some way down the list of priorities. And given that they only happen once a year you might end up discussing something that happened months after the event.
So if Annual Appraisals aren’t very effective, what should you do instead? The short answer is that the best way to motivate people is through immediate feedback. The longer the interval between an employee doing a good job and receiving positive recognition, the less effective that feedback will be. Equally, the longer the intervals between feedback, the fewer the opportunities for that feedback to have a positive impact on performance. So one good tip for managers is to take regular walks around the business looking for opportunities to catch people doing things well and give positive feedback then and there.
There are also more structured ways of getting the performance that you want from your team. There’s not enough space to go into them here, but if you’d like to know more, please give me a call.
Unfortunately, Stephen’s busy schedule meant that he wasn’t all that good at walking round the office looking for opportunities to pat us on the back. And when his shadow did loom at my door it wasn’t always good news! But that’s another story….