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It's vital to have an honest talk about that appraisal letter

Openly discussing review reports creates a sense of deeper ownership and pushes people to do better work

Congratulating every team member who has received a positive review is an important acknowledgement of their efforts and presence.
Congratulating every team member who has received a positive review is an important acknowledgement of their efforts and presence. (iStockphoto)

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The appraisal season has almost wrapped up for the financial year in most organisations. Some people are celebrating after reading their performance feedback letters, others are unsatisfied with how they were evaluated. There’s a step missing in this exercise, however. After distributing the letters, managers need to walk an extra mile and own their team members’ appraisal ratings by communicating the results to them in a fair and transparent manner.

Whether an employee has performed well or not, it’s important for a manager to have an honest conversation with them and make them aware of what they have done to deserve the raise, and/or what they can do to improve their performance. Such an exercise pushes people to introspect and encourages them to find ways to become better workers. What’s more, transparent communication is well known to build trust among colleagues.

Also read: Why employees do not want to go back to the office

Let’s talk

Congratulating every team member who has received a positive review is an important acknowledgement of their efforts and presence. Celebrating performance outcomes, however big or small, creates a sense of deeper ownership and stronger accountability.

Giving feedback is more important when an employee has had an unsatisfactory year. They need the most attention and care. Negative feedback often contradicts the stories we tell about ourselves—what we’re good at and what we’re capable of—and sometimes even confirms our worst fears. But without feedback, there is minimal possibility for growth, resulting in the Golem effect, wherein a manager’s low expectations affect a subordinate’s performance even further.

Ironically, when it comes to appraisal ratings, many managers don’t say much—a reason for this evasiveness stems from their inability to have authentic, crucial conversations around what is working and what isn’t and why. It’s true that such conversations are uncomfortable, but a team can’t grow in a place where two-way feedback isn’t regular and consistent.

Trust issues

After receiving a bad review, it’s not uncommon for employees to suddenly become negative about everything and everyone in the work ecosystem. They think of their reviewing authorities as their biggest enemies and even start hating the organisation. They see themselves as victims and become passive aggressive and actively disengaged.

While such behaviour is not professional, one can’t always completely blame the individual. When conversations that matter are avoided, it’s natural that trust deficits hit an all-time high, leading to an environment of toxic scepticism and a feeling of victimisation. What is most needed in such instances is a safe space, where team members and express their thoughts and concerns. There is no obligation on the listener to act on them perhaps; a genuine listening ear is sometimes sufficient in improving a situation.

Managers also need to show a lot of patience in such instances. They need to show a genuine interest in understanding why a team member failed to meet their targets in the current quarter or the previous one. They need to ask employee what they felt about their appraisal. Such efforts help bolster confidence and faith in the employee, pushing them do better and reminding them that active support is available whenever required. It also reminds them that this is perhaps just a temporary phase and should not demotivate them. Counselling cannot happen if manager’s aren’t ready to listen and allow room for “healthy venting”.

It’s important to understand that speaking with such employees and providing necessary guidance whenever and wherever required by being emotionally and physically available, is key to their turnaround process. Of course, there are people who don’t improve themselves despite consistent feedback and reminders, but a manager’s duty is to give them enough chances before giving up on them.

Checking on them, supporting them with a mentor, engaging with them meaningfully in all team discussions and activities, all go a long way in motivating them to come back with a bang. Encouraging them to work in unison with co-workers, investing time in reading, networking with people they look up to in the organisation and, most importantly, believing in the organization and its processes must be key focus areas in such discussions.

All developmental conversations are bi-partite in their very nature. For the employee, this would mean taking up ownership and accountability for performance and behavioural shifts. While having such conversations regularly, it is also important to be open about aspirations, needs and wants.

For the manager, it would mean nurturing a climate where employees are allowed to be open, and can have conversations related to their career as well as performance. It also helps the manager to become better at their job.

For any workplace to grow, it’s important to have space for constant two-way feedback. We grow from learning from each other and by looking after each other.

Also read: Why creating meaning from shared experiences is important

The author is a senior vice president, human resources, with Kotak Life.



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