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The day of judgement

The day of judgement

Performance doesn't always equate to good appraisal. It's a year-long process requiring focus on communication and attitude too, says Devashish Chakravarty.

Do you belong to the smug breed of employees which believes it is enough to perform well to earn a flattering appraisal? The process is not so simple, given that everything from a pay hike, promotion and growth to training and alignment of goals is linked to appraisal. Typically, the process includes feedback on your performance, an opportunity for you to comment and a reasonable chance to improve on it.

To master the appraisal process, the first step is to learn how companies judge your performance. Ideally, your firm would like to measure how you contribute to organisational goals and use this to reward you and plan for the future.

So, it is critical that you are clear about your role and responsibilities at the beginning of the year and understand how they fit in with your employer's goals. If it is not obvious or written down, talk to your manager for clarification. Once you have agreed that the goals are achievable, break them into measureable targets and set a deadline for each.

Apart from output-related goals, there may be other parameters on which you are judged and rated. These could include measurables (attendance, meeting of deadlines, improvement, productivity, quality), skills (communication, knowledge of work), behaviour (ambition, attitude, initiative, integrity, ownership, stress handling), relationships (pitching in, teamwork) or reputation (reliability). To make these work for you, it is important to keep track of your attendance, training, productivity and past appraisals.

You may be rated on individual as well as overall parameters and there could be a number/letter grade to signify your rating. While these may differ from firm to firm, they fall into the following broad categories: 'requires improvement', 'minimally acceptable', 'meets expectations', 'exceeds expectations' and 'outstanding'.

Your appraisal may include financial or non-financial performance indicators. The former covers numbers achieved in terms of costs, sales and profits and is commonly used for senior management or sales-driven roles. The latter is used in most other roles.

Typically, multiple indicators are used simultaneously to get a comprehensive picture of performance. It is necessary that you understand and monitor your performance visa-vis the indicators and established standards.

At regular intervals, you should take stock and figure out the answers to four basic questions-what has happened? Why did it happen? Will it continue? What shall we do about it?

This exercise can be monthly, half yearly or annual and, if your manager is involved, some or all can be in the form of a formal, written appraisal.

At appraisal time, if you have to fill a self-assessment form, it is wise to be truthful without harping on your shortcomings.

 APPRAISAL TECHNIQUES

One-sided evaluation
It's the most common appraisal mode, wherein the manager fills a standard evaluation form, discusses it with the employee, gets his signature (and opinions) and submits it to the HR department.

It focuses on evaluation and is usually linked to reward outcomes. As it bypasses developmental needs, the staffer should seek such inputs separately.

Interactive technique
The employee submits a selfevaluation form, which is incorporated in the manager's appraisal. Each section is discussed and the staffer's inputs noted. Both then develop a plan for the coming period to help improve performance. For specific developmental needs, it's better to seek inputs separately.

Developmental appraisal
A combination of essays and graded checklists is used and, usually, reviews are scheduled more than once a year. The essays help identify developmental details or note improvements, while the checklists are an easy format to gauge your performance.

Electronic monitoring system
These, along with the performance appraisal software, are being used increasingly and are effective in capturing productivity in detail. But it's likely to be more stressful for the employee in the long run.

You won't be considered arrogant for giving yourself a rating at the highest end of the scale ('exceeds expectation' or 5/5) if you believe it and have objective evidence-numbers, client feedback, performance review-to support it.

Also, keep in mind that the appraisal is not a complaint form, so re-state problems as opportunities. Request for training and avenues to help you grow. Finally, seek additional responsibilities and opportunities to help and support others, which is ultimately the fastest route to success.

When your appraisal directly impacts your bonus, rewards and promotion, it may be difficult to discuss weaknesses and developmental needs with your manager. In such a case, choose a different channel or person (mentor/HR), where such access is available, or pick a different time to communicate with the manager.

At such times, there is a high scope for miscommunication with the manager due to difference in work ethic. Also, he may not be skilful enough to communicate in a fashion that is most effective and least stressful for you. The remedy lies in the problem itself.

Appraisal time is easier if you have met your manager regularly through the year. Communication enhances trust and builds common standards, reducing uncertainty and stress. If your boss does not initiate such conversations, take the lead and seek regular feedback on your performance.

To master the appraisal process, the first step is to know how the firm judges you. So be clear about your role at the beginning of the year.
Also remember that your evaluation is compared with those of your co-workers, so rewards can vary accordingly. When it comes to reward time, an entire year of great work by the best of performers can be rendered futile for seemingly small flaws like poor attendance or lack of cordial relationship with coworkers/management. It is also possible to lose out on account of wrong approach to the appraisal process.

Appraisal is not just about forms, but a path to continuous improvement. To gain the most from it, understand and plan your output accordingly. Communication is a key requirement, and like all other skills, it too can be honed. Approach the final process with a positive mindset, focusing on betterment. The rewards will follow.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal, a human resource solutions company started by four IIM-A graduates.