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How to excel at giving appraisals

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When looking over the latest copy of your CV, what training courses are included? Even for nurses with management or team leader responsibilities, training in giving staff appraisals is often conspicuous by its absence.

When looking over the latest copy of your CV, what training courses are included? Even for nurses with management or team leader responsibilities, training in giving staff appraisals is often conspicuous by its absence.

Some trusts have calculated they will need to quadruple the number of staff trained to give appraisals to carry out the performance reviews associated with the Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF) under Agenda for Change. As many as 37 per cent of staff did not receive an appraisal in 2004.

Some aspects of appraisals can be confusing. For instance, what exactly is the difference between a staff appraisal, performance review and development review? They do overlap, but the differences are significant. The first two imply an emphasis on evaluating the performance of the individual, whereas a 'development review' - the term favoured in DoH documentation - stresses the formulation of learning needs in a personal development plan. In Scotland, the recognised term is 'personal development planning and review'.

Whereas an annual 'development review' interview is a set event, appraisal should be going on all the time. It might be a discussion in the corridor about a specific incident, or a quarterly review meeting. Whatever the situation, you should always bear in mind the principles of good feedback:

Start by asking the staff member to state what they felt went well and not so well. Feedback works better when it builds on the individual's perceptions
Decide on no more than two or three positives you wish to tell them and two or three things that could be improved. Too much detail can overwhelm, but make sure you have points on both sides
When feeding back, start with what went well, then deal with areas for improvement - but end by again stressing the individual's strong points
For a development review interview, you should have a portfolio and completed forms from the person involved. It is important that you prepare in advance by reviewing the information. You should also have fully absorbed the KSF documentation that applies to the post and have a fairly clear idea to what extent the competence criteria have been met.

With some trusts expecting as many as eight separate items of review documentation, there is a danger of allowing the paperwork to lead the review process, rather than vice versa. Resist this. Some of the paperwork may be best completed outside the actual review interview.

The KSF is new and there are bound to be some difficulties of interpretation. Watch out for those areas in the Core and Health and Welfare sections that draw on the 'softer' areas of interpersonal skills, and seek guidance as appropriate. The links to Foundation and Second Gateways for increments within the Agenda for Change salary bandings may raise issues - KSF is not a performance-related pay structure but it may on occasion be necessary to manage expectations in this respect. Staff may also be fearful of the new process and worry about the need to produce portfolio evidence.

You should reassure them that development review is an open, mutual process whereby both parties meet on an equal footing to agree a personal development plan (PDP) for the coming year. In particular, there is a rule of 'no surprises' in that no fresh appraisal material and no disciplinary action should be initiated at this stage.

You can set the tone by making sure that the environment is right. Select a neutral, relaxed interview room away from the staff member's work unit but avoid using your office. Arrange the chairs to underline the lack of status differentiation and minimise confrontation. Allow for around two hours without interruptions.

Basically, a development review is an interview process and you will need to remember your key interviewing skills:

put the member of staff at ease with 'small talk' and check out their expectations
ask 'open' questions
Listen carefully and do not talk too much yourself
Use your reflecting and summarising skills
Jointly formulating a PDP may not be straightforward. You will need to take into account the specific requirements of the job, organisational policy and change, KSF objectives that the individual needs to meet, as well as their own strengths, weaknesses and longer-term career intentions, their learning style (an issue in itself - not everyone reacts well to formal learning situations) and how plans will be monitored. DoH guidelines list 13 ways in which development needs may be met.

You will need good knowledge of the development routes available in relation to specific KSF requirements and good contacts with those who may be able to deliver them. Above all, PDPs must be realistic and achievable.

If you progress in management, you will probably deliver scores of development reviews and informal appraisals. It will become a routine so it is worth getting it right from the outset - and make sure that your own PDP includes adequate training for the job.

The Do's and Don't's of Professional Development Reviews


Give positive feedback - specific and relevant;
Put the interviewee at ease and create a 'partnership' approach;
Use open questions;
Recap what has been agreed at the end to ensure you both agree on the content.

Introduce any surprises or forget to give ongoing feedback between appraisals;
Add any information that the appraisee has not been party to;
Lecture - it is a developmental procedure, not a disciplinary one;
Let documentation dominate;
Raise unrealistic expectations - particularly on issues related to pay.
Further information

Department of Health(2004) The NHS Knowledge and Skills Framework and the Development Review Process. London: DoH.

The document can be accessed online at, where you will also find sample training materials on implementing KSF in development review interviews.

Visit - the website of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development - has general articles on performance management, competence frameworks, learning styles and further reading.

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