Motivate staff to take performance appraisals seriously

Getting your employees to take performance evaluations seriously can be tough, especially if the appraisal process has been executed poorly in the past. Here's some advice for helping your team recognize the importance of their evaluations.

In response to a recent column about the value of performance appraisals, TechRepublic member NewHDM posted a comment asking for advice. He wanted to know what to do if an employee doesn't take the performance appraisal process seriously. For example, what should a manager do if the employee fails to prepare, provide input, or follow through on established goals?

The appearance of disinterest toward the performance appraisal process can actually relate to a variety of feelings and conditions that employees may have: a lack of understanding of what is expected; a lack of focus on what is important; disillusionment toward the work, team, or the performance appraisal process; and stress (personal and professional). Effective managers can promote employee respect for the appraisal process by pinpointing and addressing issues that may be affecting their enthusiasm toward their performance. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Lack of interest in performance appraisals may be a symptom of problems within the team itself, especially if several team members seem to feel the same way.
  • It's important to spend time communicating your priorities to staff and building a positive team culture. This includes stressing the value of the performance appraisal process.
  • Incorporating the performance appraisal process into the work culture of the team is essential. The appraisal process is not a once-a-year duty but a vital, ongoing way to help employees focus on what is important.

Problems within the team
One of your first responsibilities as a new IT manager is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the work team. You can use the information you gather from this assessment to develop a management plan for the team.

The information you need to gather includes issues related to past performance appraisals. For example, if the previous manager had a reputation among staff for being unfair with appraisals or not taking them seriously, there probably won’t be much enthusiasm for the process. Also, if team members are accustomed to working independently and without a focus on performance standards, they may respond to your efforts to pinpoint and measure performance with skepticism or avoidance. Understanding the dynamics of work team culture will enhance your ability to develop a strategy for prioritizing performance appraisals.

Communicate your priorities to staff
You also need to establish priorities and expectations within your team. Team members will usually resort to "the way things have always been done” if they do not receive direction and encouragement to do things differently.

Never assume that your staff members know how important the performance appraisal process is. You must send clear and consistent messages about the value of the appraisals and emphasize that the process will be a priority for the team.

Develop a management strategy for the appraisal process
The old adage that “nothing comes easy” is usually true in management. Many new managers have unrealistic expectations of how quickly things or people can change. Never forget that performance appraisals are a process and not a piece of paper.

You need to plan your strategies for stressing the importance of performance appraisals. First, be clear in your own mind what you want the process to be and what you hope to accomplish. Second, provide a clear message to team members about the process and what role you expect them to play in it. Third, sit down with team members and talk specifically about their performance.

During a discussion about their performance, employees might have a variety of responses—many of them negative. If employees don't appear to take the process seriously, don’t let them off the hook. Ask them to articulate their views of the appraisal process, how their performance affects the team and the overall organization, and what they hope to accomplish through their performance.

If they continue to act disinterested, confront them by providing feedback about how you view their attitude or behavior. If they're reluctant to commit to performance expectations, or if they try to diminish the importance of the process, let them know that they “seem to be reluctant to address performance issues" and ask them why. Be patient and continue to prod them for information and feedback. This process may actually take several meetings, but ultimately, you should be able to shape employees’ behavior and reaction to the performance appraisal process.

An example
The following scenario may help to illustrate some of these points. Mark is a new IT manager who has supervisory responsibility for five technicians. The former manager left the position without performing recent performance appraisals on staff or leaving good notes about the process used in the past.

Mark decided to sit down with each employee, discuss performance expectations, and develop a plan for each one. Unfortunately, when he did, he received mixed reactions. Two of his staff seemed interested in the process and in setting performance standards. However, the remaining three were far less enthusiastic.

Mark approached a management mentor who had been assigned to him by senior staff to get some feedback about how to handle this issue. His mentor advised him to back up a little in his approach to the problem and map out an appraisal strategy. She asked Mark to describe his vision of a productive appraisal process, and then they brainstormed about how it could be accomplished.

After this meeting, Mark scheduled a work team meeting to discuss the issue of performance appraisals. When meeting with staff, Mark stated his view of the importance of the appraisal process and what he hoped to accomplish for the team. He asked for feedback from team members about their views of the process. Several members voiced concerns and frustration at the lack of a consistent appraisal plan in the past.

Mark informed the team that he was scheduling meetings with each person to talk specifically about their performance goals and to come to agreement on reasonable performance expectations. During the individual meetings, one staff member continued to have a negative attitude toward the appraisal process. Mark confronted the employee about his reluctance to engage in a positive discussion about performance and asked him to express his feelings about the process. The employee did so with reluctance. Although nothing specific was resolved during this meeting, Mark believed that he had succeeded in establishing a dialogue with the employee, one that might lead to a trusting and positive relationship over time.

The moral of this story is that Mark was able to establish a solid foundation for the performance appraisal process within the team. He did so by articulating the importance of the process, by allowing employees an opportunity to express their concerns and frustrations about the process, and by productively engaging the employee who continued to show resistance.

Final thoughts
The best way to motivate employees to take an active and interested role in their performance appraisals is to create a team environment where expectations and standards are clearly understood and where performance assessment is treated as an ongoing activity. Employees quickly become disenchanted with a once-a-year appraisal document that ends up in a filing cabinet. Develop a management strategy for the appraisal process that incorporates performance expectations into the work culture of the team, includes team feedback and involvement, and provides individual performance plans that are relevant and realistic.

To learn more about how to develop a positive performance process and encourage active participation from staff, see Powerful Performance Appraisals: How to Set Expectations and Work Together to Improve Performance by Karen McKirchy (1998) and The New Supervisor’s Survival Manual by William A. Salmon (1999).

New manager questions
Steven Watson has 10 years of IT management and consulting experience and has developed an understanding of how the issues faced by IT managers differ from those of their nontechnical colleagues. As a new tech manager, do you have a question you’d like him to address? Send it to us via e-mail, or post it in the discussion below.


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