1. Be honest
One of the most common things HR practitioners get wrong with appraisals is to gloss over inadequacies and avoid confrontation. Far from being harmless, being ‘soft’ and unwilling to address an employee’s poor performance can have a ruinous effect on the standards expected and the morale of co-workers, and in certain circumstances expose the company to claims of discrimination and unfair dismissal should the employee need to be dismissed at a later date.
In this uncertain world, with the spectre of Brexit looming, a company may decide it needs to downsize. If redundancies become needed, the appraisal is a first reference document to be considered when looking at which staff will stay and which may go.
2. Adopt the right tone
If the message is delivered in the right way – for example, in a more encouraging tone – then the messaging itself can be constructive and positive. It is more likely to be appreciated and taken on board by the employee. Equally, if there is a well-understood appraisal system and the culture is to provide honest and detailed feedback, this becomes the norm, and any confrontation should be avoided.
3. Train appraisers
Training needs to be given to the person undertaking the appraisal and the employee should be told what to expect from the process. So often a manager, who may be very good at their job, is put in charge of people and not given the right tools for the role. They need to be trained in how to deal with appraisals and how to deliver honest and constructive feedback to the employee.
Part of the training needs to focus on why this is an important task, not one to just tick off the list. For example, if it were to become necessary for a company to make group redundancies, then it will need to undertake a selection process of the affected employees to avoid unfairness in dismissals. The selection process may also give the company a defence to claims of discrimination, as it may be able to show objective justifications for decisions it has taken.
4. Get the data right
To follow a fair redundancy process in a ‘pooling situation’ employees need to be sifted. Various factors will need to be considered when ‘scoring’ employees, and performance is likely to be one. If appraisals have not been conducted properly there is no raw data to use in this process. The company will then end up making more subjective decisions, which will be subject to legal challenge by way of unfair dismissal or, in the worst-case scenario, discrimination claims.
5. Be objective
Aside from the legal issues, there is the fundamental business problem that subjective, ‘on the hoof’ decisions put the company at risk of letting good staff go and retaining the non-performers. This is bad for the company and its morale going forward.
Performance reviews, whether annual or more regular, need not be feared and loathed in equal measure. If the groundwork is done well and in a systematic way then both employer and employee know what to expect and both benefit.
Jonathan Maude is an employment lawyer and leads the UK and EU labour and employment group at Vedder Price.