iStock_000007917070XSmallAppraisal time! The time of year that ranks up there with a visit to the dentist.

I bet you can remember your worst appraisal. Whether you are in a big corporate, where the appraisal feels like a soul less process, or in a small team, where it is less well defined, a lot of appraisals feel like they are conducted last minute with not enough data to support a constructive conversation.

Now add that to a working relationship not built on trust… well, you see my point.

So why does the annual round of appraisals strike fear and loathing in so many? A more useful question would be: how can you make the appraisal system something that holds real value? A world class appraisal system would have us demanding one.

Last week I saw an email from the HR department of a very well respected media organisation. The email was outlining the process for this year’s performance appraisal(s). What was refreshing to see was a level of honesty in the communication.

Two key points came through: it’ s about the conversation” and “sorry our technology isn’t so good”. What didn’t surprise me is that it was a centralised communication “from HR” rather than a supportive review process owned and communicated to a staff member by their boss.

Whether you are the person appraising one of your team or being appraised yourself, here are seven recommendations, which will give you both a more valuable review experience.

Believe in performance management or don’t do it.

Ask yourself “do I actually believe in appraisals/reviewing/performance managing/coaching….” Etc. If you can’t see the value to you, your people or your business, it is better not to do it at all, than do it badly.

It’s tricky in a big corporate because your boss will be looking for your team’s results in the system. Don’t let your team see you going through a process you don’t believe in – you’ll lose credibility… maybe you have already?

If you do see the value read on.

These recommendations are based on common-sense and observing great executive and creative talent thrive in circumstances like this.

Understand the business goals and measures.

In order to appraise a person’s performance there must be performance to appraise. Performance against what? Higher sales, growth in audience, Innovation, better behaviour in the workplace? Project delivery? And what amount should the measures change by?

Set S.M.A.R.T objectives that you can easily appraise performance against. Take the time at the beginning of the process to plan and agree the business objectives for your staff member. You will find the rest of the year will be easier to review and manage progress.

Don’t wait for the next cycle to set goals

Taken on a new team? If they don’t have any business objectives in place and you are halfway through the “appraisal year” get on and do it now. Setting clear goals and objectives will improve performance, let alone give you the specific benchmarks to appraise against.

Agree how to talk about progress.

Many things will affect the way you engage with individuals about their performance. It will mostly depend on the levels of trust you have in the working relationship, but it will also depend on competency and confidence levels. Discuss and agree how to review performance, e.g. how often, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, formal, informal, what is expected from each other e.g. turn up on time, prepared etc. Some people call it a ‘working agreement’.

Review regularly, not just once or twice a year.

Most people have regular ‘one to ones’ (121s) or ‘work in progress’ (WiPs) meetings and I strongly believe these are where you are really appraising performance. In your weekly or fortnightly 121’s or WiPs you will be discussing the operational tasks, which are directly linked to the annual goals/Objectives.

Your work in these progress meetings are exactly the conversations the HR department is talking about having.

Ironically in broadcast media the most important entertainment or news & current affairs/talk shows are reviewed most often by the Exec Producer or Content Director. The key is linking daily performance to the longer term performance needed to achieve the organisation’s or team strategy.

Keep notes on what you’ve talked about.

If you are keeping an on going record of key points in every meeting then by the end of year appraisal there will plenty of data or evidence from throughout the year. The most important will be used to support the appraisal ratings or general themes and comments.

Connect performance to people’s personal goals.

It’s easy to connect an increase in revenue performance for a sales executive or account manager. Growth usually means money in their pocket. Adopt this principle with all your team.

I have often heard the push back that it’s too hard to do this where the measures are more subjective or the measures are shared. For example, some radio ratings have a long lag time or difficult to break out. There is always a way to measure most things, even if a little subjective.

Not everyone in the organisation can rise to the next level, and not everyone wants to. Your business requires people in all roles, operational or strategic, to be motivated to perform.

Being clear about what is good performance and how that benefits the person and the organisation will help contribute to a productive appraisal process.