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Appraisals: a means of developing talent or crushing it? – Anne-Laure Pams

Performance appraisals in the business world


Used for the first time during the first world war, performance appraisals became a widespread tool in the business world in the early 1980s.

‘Patronising’, ‘disrespectful’, ‘humiliating’… You feel a shiver go down your spine as you listen to how some senior managers describe their experience of appraisals. Veritable poor sibling of HR consulting, it is a practice that is bound by no rules. There is no ethics charter to provide a framework for the work of HR consultants claiming to be appraisers. No regulatory body to put a stop to their artisanal, or perhaps even questionable, methods. And no training to establish a common ethical foundation. And the problem is that companies, both large and small, have made massive use of assessment since the Covid-19 crisis forced them to reallocate their resources. In the most extreme cases, the process is rather like a ‘talent-crushing machine’: senior managers must willingly pit themselves against difficulties during their appraisals, which essentially hark back to the recruitment interviews of 20 years ago, when destabilisation was the primary goal.


What is a ‘good’ appraisal?


As happened with coaching several years ago, appraising, as a practice, requires urgent regulation if companies are to successfully retain their talent. Employers’ unions, HR associations and the players in HR consulting must step up and provide the structure for this practice, which is certainly not a new one. In the meantime, companies must tread very carefully when they plan to use appraisals as a means of talent development. Getting a clear explanation of the entire process is a good place to start. Questioning the objectivity of the assessment is another. Because, contrary to what we see in the market, a good appraisal requires more than simply putting a manager on the spot in a single exercise or conducting just one interview. Any appraisal must be multi-dimensional; in other words, it must involve several people, such as a coach, a consultant and perhaps an industry or sector expert. Psychometric tests should be part of the process for the assessment to be as objective as possible.

The process should comprise several steps that should include at least two interviews, possibly a simulation and, absolutely, another interview to go over the results of the psychometric tests. The process should examine both the senior manager’s professional skills and his or her personality. As for the findings, certain safeguards are necessary. It is important to bear in mind that an appraisal should serve as a basis for reflection taken in context with any other information gathered about the person being appraised. As such, findings should be drafted in hypothetical verbiage as opposed to being indelibly stamped on the appraisee’s career path.


A demanding but compassionate attitude


Appraisals are often a crucial step in a senior manager’s career, so it is even more important to ensure that good standards are applied when conducting them. This, therefore, places considerable responsibility on the HR consultancies and recruitment agencies operating in the field today. They have the careers of these men and women in their hands. Consequently, their approach to the appraisals must be irreproachable. Their attitude must be demanding, but always compassionate.

Of course, their role is to pick up on shortcomings, but they must also be respectful of the person they are appraising. At the height of the talent war, when companies need to be increasingly mindful of their teams, mistreating them or shaking their confidence by putting them through a sloppy and unscrupulous appraisal is unlikely to be a recipe for success. Quite the contrary… The responsibility lies with you to ensure that your appraisal process is a good one, providing your talent with a strong incentive to remain in your organisation.

Article by Anne-Laure Pams, Director at Grant Alexander – Leadership Development, Executive Coach, Co-president of the Coaching Commission of Syntec Conseil.