Making staff appraisal time a positive experience

It’s staff appraisal time… something I always dread, as it’s akin to painting the Forth Bridge (i.e. never-ending) but something that’s a critical part of my role.

With more than 100 employees, we have a detailed managerial structure. I’m lucky that I don’t need to conduct all the apprasals and can divvy them up among my management team. But guess who gets called when my managers need a bad cop to their good cop? Sometimes they require a stern evaluation from me to get their team member’s plate spinning again. 

Check detail

One thing I’ve learned to do when reviewing anything – whether it’s a team member’s performance or the sales of a specific retail brand – is to look at the bigger picture.

Years ago, when I was working for the first company in our sector to be listed as a PLC, I learned that very lesson. Sadly, they went bust in a very public fashion, and part of the reason for that was their investors’ failure to look at the like-for-like comparison with last year.

They were buying up chains of salons at an alarming rate to hide the fact that, in reality, their performance was struggling to beat the previous year’s figures. Had their shareholders insisted on looking at the business in real terms, and only comparing an apple with an apple, they would have realised the writing was on the wall.

Swelling the turnover by buying it in was the only way they were able to look as if they were in growth. Of course, when there was nothing much left to buy and the investment finally dried up, the cracks soon became visible and the company went under.

I’ve learned to do as detailed a comparison as possible. I don’t just track performance against the previous year, where a small decrease may appear acceptable or even go unnoticed, but I go back over a 10-year period. Sometimes, it’s evident that turnover is down substantially from the position some years ago, and failure to look way back would have made mediocre performance appear acceptable. Take price increases into account and any minuses look even more evident.

If a retail brand is way down, then your customers are voting with their feet and giving you all the answers – get rid and find something else. But if it’s a person, it needs careful handling.

Challenge staff

My approach is to ask the person concerned to come up with the reasons, especially if their poor performance is sticking out like a sore thumb among their colleagues.

There’s no point blaming Brexit if others are easily beating their targets. Sometimes a long, hard look in the mirror is what’s required. Reasons for long-term downturn are always there, lurking in the background, but often it’s solely the boss’s job to point out the unpalatable truths.

So, if you’re going through appraisal time, either as an employer or employee, try and embrace the opportunity in a positive way. It’s not just about being good, but staying good as the market changes, and taking steps to achieve that has to be a good thing for all concerned.

Read Ward's advice on taking a holistic approach to HR and how to spot treatment trends

Hellen WardHellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London’s Sloane Square and chair of Trailblazers for the hairdressing sector.