Well-designed discussions about performance benefit care and can be positive and constructive experiences.
Appraisals, personal development reviews, annual assessments…for line managers and leaders, the prospect of conducting these discussions can sometimes initiate that “heart-sinking” feeling.
But we know how important regular, well-designed and properly conducted discussions about work performance are in managing people and, by extension, to patient care. How can we make these positive and constructive?
Whatever the terminology used, there is no doubting the importance of appraisals, for both managers and staff.
Receiving positive feedback confirms and exemplifies best practice and good care and, if there are any performance problems, the appraisal process is an established tool to help deal with the issues.
The annual NHS Staff Survey has a range of questions about whether appraisals take place and how well survey respondents felt the appraisal was conducted.
Work by Professor Michael West a decade ago at Aston University into links between HR practice and patient care identified good appraisal processes as key.
The best appraisal systems allow for flexibility in method, and have only a light touch of regulation.
The best leaders report that conducting an effective appraisal is common sense, in that it is little more than a planned, structured conversation. Equally, the best HR departments will provide some form of training or more personalised coaching for those who are unsure or new to people management.
If you haven’t had an appraisal yourself, schedule it in with your line manager. The cascade approach, where appraisals flow down through hierarchies, is ideal because this will allow you to empathise with your own staff when doing their appraisals, and confirm key organisational objectives for you.
Five tips for appraisals
- People, not paperwork. The main points of an appraisal need to be recorded, but don’t focus so much on this that the discussion suffers. Most good HR departments will allow flexibility about forms if you can show the appraisal was meaningful
- No surprises. The appraisal should not be the only time you talk to staff about performance. It should be an overview of issues that have already been identified and worked through – work to the “no surprises” principle
- Keep it regular. The main annual appraisal should be reinforced through quarterly reviews to ensure things on are track. This will also help with the principle of “no surprises”
- Keep it simple. Discussions should focus on the past 12 months; what has gone well and not so well; and plans for the next 12 months. Use this structure to keep discussion focused
- Prepare. With busy schedules, it is too easy to panic half an hour before the appraisal. Set some time aside, perhaps a week in advance, and think about incidents that illustrate the points that you want to discuss
Steve Gulati has held a wide range of senior HR roles in the NHS, and is a visiting lecturer at the Health Services Management Centre