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Re-imagining the appraisal system for the new-normal

At the end of a year’s toil, an employee approaches the exercise in anticipation of rewards that are well-earned from their perspective, both in terms of additional responsibilities, and an equitable increment.

appraisal meeting
A key factor is having leaders directly involved in appraisal meetings across levels.

By Jai Maroo,

If you were to ask any leader whether their organization’s annual appraisal is an impactful exercise, you would likely
receive a reply in the affirmative. However, is that really the case?

At the end of a year’s toil, an employee approaches the exercise in anticipation of rewards that are well-earned from
their perspective, both in terms of additional responsibilities, and an equitable increment. Managers, knowing their
budgets based on their performance during the year, approach the exercise with the intent to close it out in a timely
fashion, within the budgets available. Each party knows the other’s role, and the discussion treads familiar paths,
primarily being anchored around the discussion on rewards. At the end of each discussion, the manager walks away
focusing on the next one, and the employee walks away focusing on what they received.

The conversation described above is not particularly impactful. This reductive approach of treating the appraisal
conversation purely as a rewards-based discussion robs both organizations and employees of a crucial opportunity
for connection and development. By consciously separating the rewards discussion from the feedback discussion,
managers can use this conversation to understand their employees’ aspirations at a deeper level and connect the
employee to the larger picture of what the organization aims to accomplish, highlighting the employee’s role in
driving that larger picture and creating a bridge between the aspirations of the employee and the organization.
In a high-touch organization, the appraisal process is treated as an opportunity for performance enhancement, with
leadership-driven discussions, each of which are tied to the previous year’s conversation, establishing a continuity of
thought. The employee’s role in driving the organization’s success is emphasized upon, and, in this context, time is
spent both on what went well over the year, and what needed to have been done better. The employee’s aspirations
are discussed and aligned to the extent possible with the goals for the year ahead, based on which emerges the
employee’s growth path to take on the new challenges ahead.

A key factor is having leaders directly involved in appraisal meetings across levels. The feedback being delivered in
the presence of a senior leader, or even coming directly from them, establishes the organization’s commitment to
talent. As organizations scale, the extent of the leadership’s ability to participate becomes a constraint, limiting their
participation to certain levels of seniority. However, the practice can be scaled with next-level leaders, so that there
is always a level of leadership participation in the feedback conversations.

At the end of this conversation, the employee should be left thinking about the direction in which the organization is
going, with clarity on how they individually and the team collectively drive the organization’s goals, what they can do
to further the goal achievement, and how this aligns with their own career aspirations. The manager should be
satisfied that this chain of thought has been effectively established for this employee and that they are better
connected to the organization than before.

In a virtual setting, it is even more essential to leverage such powerful opportunities for connection. The distance
inherent in a fully virtual way of operating leads to a weakening in the informal networks of an organization,
dampening the flow of information especially informal opportunities to address doubts and reinforce messages. This
can weaken the overarching connect of the individual to the organization, especially in organizations that have been
forced to make a swift 180-degree transition from a high face-to-face collaboration due to extraneous
environmental factors such as COVID. Capitalizing on the appraisal process to re-connect the person to the
organization creates a powerful impact.

It is imperative that leaders reflect on the goals to be driven by the appraisal process while re-designing it. A truly
effective process goes well beyond the rewards conversation – it harmonizes the needs of both the organization and
the employees, acting as a catalyst for impactful conversations that drive mutual success and growth.

The author is executive director, Shemaroo Entertainment. Views are personal. 

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