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How To Bin Annual Appraisals

hr leadership Jan 28, 2020

Or, how to have better ongoing conversations with your people.

Appraisals have always been an issue and for many, they are never something to look forward to.  Stuff is stored in folders or on email and presented to people in this once a year meeting and can come as a shock.  Despite annual reviews taking place at the same time each year, many managers still ask for extensions to the process because they don’t have time to arrange the meetings and to fill in the forms.  HR are bombarded with requests of copies of last year’s appraisals, sickness absence data, any training that may have been completed.  And the value of the conversation is lost.  

The whole process becomes a tick box exercise and if it’s related to a bonus then it’s rare that real conversations take place as grades are upped for the ‘favourite’ person and downgraded for others. Plus, actually being able to remember what someone did or didn’t do a year ago is a challenge in itself, we tend to only focus on the past month or two and use this as a benchmark to praise or chastise our people.

In 2009 when I was the Head of HR for a Housing Association in Cambridgeshire, we stepped away from the annual performance appraisal and moved to ‘rolling appraisals’.  The rolling appraisals were completed on a quarterly basis, the same format of ‘the form’ was used for monthly 1-2-1’s and every quarter a grade was awarded for each of the behaviours and the quarterly grades were then calculated to provide the grade for the year.

Now this wasn’t without its issues.  Some managers pushed back initially as they were worried about the time it would take to ‘complete the form’ and they were already struggling to ‘fill the form in once a year’.  The Head of IT had worked with the Chief Exec on the weighting and calculations behind each of the grades, and despite the IT service being poor across the organisation, the IT team always came out as the top performing team according to their grades.

But, as we moved into the second year of this rolling process, things started to change.  Issues were being resolved much more quickly.  Conversations about development, training and career progression were adding value and more courses and training were put in place.  Goals and objectives were being achieved much more quickly.  Everyone was given much more regular feedback on their performance and they were able to improve things much more quickly.  And, through our surveys, trust in management and leadership increased.   Our engagement scores increased dramatically and so did our customer satisfaction scores.

The process forced people to have more regular, more valuable conversations.  Managers couldn’t put off having these conversations on a regular basis as it would then impact the annual score for their people.  And the most magical thing to take place, was that the form just became a tool to help guide the conversation – exactly as it was meant to be.

The challenge of keeping or removing appraisals does not and should not depend on the form, it’s the quality of the conversation that matters.

For a number of our clients we’ve helped them move to more frequent conversations and developed a form or them as a framework, and they have all had similar results; increased performance, increased engagement, increased trust in management and leadership and increased customer satisfaction. And I haven't completed an annual review since 2008, I hope I never will again.

Form or no form, the key to removing annual reviews is to replace them with regular, valuable, two-way communication.  If you don’t have the time to spend with your people speaking to them, setting objectives and helping them to develop, then you need to make the time to deal with their demotivation, disengagement and mistakes.

We can only grow when we receive the feedback and support to help us grow, and this starts with quality conversations.


Kelly is Founder of The Chrysalis Crew and Global Empowerment Coach for HR Professionals. She leads the crew with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can change the world of work.


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