siobhan-sharpeAccording to an article in The Times (behind paywall) the BBC has more than lived up to the stereotypical portrayal of it in comedy series W1A by abandoning appraisals “because the meetings risk making staff members feel that their performance is being appraised”!

Appraisals are to be replaced with “performance development reviews” which are intended to promote “an honest two-way conversation”. According to the Daily Mail Head of People Development (HR Manager) Kate Sloggett said:

We’ve changed the name to reflect the fact that these conversations shouldn’t be just about one person ‘appraising’ the other’s performance.

A Performance Development Review should provide an opportunity to discuss a person’s role and career in a honest conversation.

We want staff to focus on their ideas and ambitions for development and how they might want to get on in their career as well as receiving feedback on their work over the past year.

There is a serious message behind the obvious humour. In my experience the approaches taken by employers to appraisals and staff reviews vary widely from one organisation to another. Some completely ignore them while others have introduced sometimes wildly complex “360-degree performance reviews” which are so convoluted and protracted as to render them utterly meaningless. I wonder how many HR managers are aware that 360-degree appraisals originated with the military in Germany in World War Two when, one might imagine, the consequences of a poor review were probably pretty severe!

While large organisations need to have fairly rigid processes, one of the benefits of having a relatively small workforce in an SME is that there can be far more flexibility. My advice is to have a very basic structure rather than a series of questions (which often result in the same answers year in year out). Employees should have a one to one meeting with their line manager (or another manager) and a record should be kept of the matters discussed. The manager should have a checklist covering basic items such as training requirements, career advancement and an opportunity to raise any concerns. There should be a documentary record of the meeting and a a procedure (including a timetable) to follow up any actions agreed. Going beyond that is likely to make the process steadily more artificial. For example some employees might want to focus heavily on career progression while others may be have no aspirations in that regard. The informal discussion is also more suited to the working environment in many SMEs where employees will have an opportunity to speak with and work closely with managers on a daily basis.

It is also worth bearing in mind that complex appraisal procedures can be positively counter-productive in that, rightly or wrongly, they put some employees under considerable pressure.

It is also a good idea to keep pay reviews and appraisals completely apart. If you do not do so then it is highly likely that may employees will treat the appraisal as an almost irrelevant preamble to the key part, the pay review and if you do it the other way round there is hardly any point in having an appraisal at all. Separation is also useful in emphasising that performance should not be inextricably and exclusively linked with pay and rewards.

So it turns out that the BBC’s promotion of an honest two-way conversation may not be such a bad thing after all.