Come the Ides of March, a time the Romans considered as a deadline for settling debts, and organisations witness a transformation in employee behaviour, there occurs a peculiar change across the office floor. A sudden rise in employees volunteering for projects, plans and reports submitted without needing multiple reminders, bringing homemade sweets just for the boss, a sudden reduction in smoke breaks is witnessed all in readiness and hopes for the settling of debts in a modern organisation, otherwise known as the appraisal season.
Even an employee whose biggest contribution for most of the year was the funny meme in the WhatsApp office group that went – ‘I am a person who wants to do a lot of things trapped in the body of a person who wants to sleep a lot’ is now up and about, logging into early morning online meetings on time, keeping the camera on and dressed in formals, no less! They are also the most enthusiastic about the return to office at least in public discussions.
This behaviour of employees closer to the appraisal season is so entrenched in the corporate lore that we used this in the third leg of our new campaign that comes with a super quirky hashtag #AssNahiAssetBano. The fun ad film brings together comical scenarios with employees using a variety of techniques predominantly relying on flattery, to climb up the corporate ladder, right before the appraisal season.
Of course, many organisations have instituted an additional mid-year performance review just to avoid this kind of a situation. And on a serious note, this is also in keeping with the concept of continuous feedback. After all, when we have continuous learning, skilling and upskilling, it also needs to be accompanied by regular and periodic performance reviews. These mid-year or quarterly reviews allow managers to discuss challenges and roadblocks that employees may have in meeting organisational objectives. It allows managers to address issues that may be affecting employee satisfaction and take care of employee well-being at periodic intervals.
For the employees, it gives them a chance to assess their own performance, proactively realign themselves and adjust their goals to the organisation’s requirements. No more waiting a whole year for feedback.
This approach was especially useful during the pandemic when circumstances forced an extended work-from-home scenario which was accompanied by its own set of challenges. I confess to sending a message to my colleagues before a particularly packed day to highlight the work-from-home fatigue that had set in. It said, ‘I’ve made it from the bed to the couch, there’s no stopping me now’ and got a lot of LOL and ROFL emojis in reply. Needless to say, the (online) meeting that day included a lot of banter on the work-from-home situation with an exchange of tips on coping up and working to deliver one’s best. While that informal discussion may not count as a review, it does highlight the importance of having a mix of an informal and a formal appraisal and feedback mechanism for a happy employee who is optimally productive. Both have their place. While a formal review once or twice a year may be important, it is not enough.
A Gallup report finds only 14 per cent of employees strongly agreeing that performance reviews inspire them to improve. That leaves a huge 86 per cent finding the process demotivating because these formal reviews tend to focus on the tactical negatives such as past mistakes, employee behaviours, and targets achieved and missed. Many managers are also not trained to conduct evaluations and appraise employee performance effectively. They find it difficult to give constructive feedback or suggest a positive approach to an employee’s development and growth in the organisation. It is here that a parallel but well-integrated informal feedback culture must be inculcated in an organisation. The 2021 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte points out how the pandemic accelerated the evolution of the relationship between employer and employee beyond anticipation. It highlights how there is a need to emphasize the emotional component of the employee-employer relationship for enhancing engagement and performance.
The workplace environment should be an inclusive one with work designed to engage employees, a place where they can express their real selves and their unique needs with a sense of comfort and belonging. It should encourage them to stay invested in their work and give their best. It is here that the causal interaction between managers and employees regarding performance will make a difference, with the manager having real-time feedback on how the employee is performing while empowering him to help the employee course correct and keep work on track.
It is time we change the Annual Appraisal into a discussion on an employee’s vision for his future in the organisation, on what skills they need to perform and be productive, on how they can continue to optimally contribute to achieving the organisation’s vision. It is time we use the meeting to plan the employee’s future growth, career and consequently the organisation’s future!
Views are personal. The author is CEO, India, upGrad.
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