• Pooja Salian

A Manager's Guide to Handle Appraisals during Covid Times

In our previous article, we have covered management of appraisal discussions from the perspective of an employee. Read it here.

In this article, we try to cover the challenges that one is likely to face as an appraiser and how companies and managers need to adapt their approach during these tough times.

There is no doubt that employee stress and anxiety are hitting an all-time high due to increased workload, uncertainty around the pandemic situation, not to mention the financial challenges faced by families for basic survival. It’s no wonder then that these issues have left a lot of employees feeling burnt out, with a general feeling that 2020-21 has been the most challenging and difficult year yet.

Having said that, conducting performance appraisals are becoming a bane in this situation. Many companies skipped this process altogether in the initial months or until the end of last year. Some did their goal setting much later in the year – owing to constant changes in business situation and strategy. However as the year ends, if you are now approaching this process as a manager, it is imperative to approach the process in all fairness and with tact. Here we highlight a few best practices or guidelines that you could follow –

Goal setting that is relevant

Firstly, it is important to review your goal sheets /KRAs in the light of what is relevant in today’s remote and virtual working world. A performance document should never be a static document, even more so in these times. It should be a dynamic document that reflects your organization’s changing business situation and resultant goals and objectives. For example in today’s changing environment where remote working, remote management is becoming important, there should certainly be an additional KRA or some leverage given for change management, adaptability, flexibility, client orientation, etc. Certain competencies like multi-tasking, ability to adapt to change quickly, innovation and creativity at task, ability to motivate self and other team members on an ongoing basis, all these are important measures of success in today’s work environment and need to be acknowledged.

Communication is key

There has been a huge change in continuous review mechanisms, the process of communication and the frequency of communication between employees and teams. Earlier in the world of physical proximity, it was easy to walk up a few steps and have a conversation or discussion on any topic immediately. Now remote working entails setting up a structured review mechanism daily and weekly which all managers are increasingly following to ensure they stay connected to their staff, understand the progress on projects and maintain a continuous two-way communication. These frequent review mechanisms however could and have worked somehow to advantage when it comes to the year-end appraisal processes. This is because the appraisal discussions can now focus on more long term and strategic action items, rather than short term and inconsequential actions. Rather than focusing on small ticket items, managers are focusing on broader level discussions and broad areas of improvement and progress.

Encouraging a two way discussion

Having an open two-way discussion or conversation during an appraisal or even otherwise will make employees feel that their efforts have been visible even while they have been working remotely. It will help build trust between teams and will not encourage thoughts of bitterness or the feeling of being treated unfairly creep in. The review must actually feel like a mutual conversation where the employee gets an ample chance to demonstrate the challenges faced, or celebrate their success stories – both small and big. They should be able to get a platform where they are able to give their perspective or take on different issues. Building a collaborative and mutually respectable atmosphere will make employees feel like their voice is important to be heard, and will encourage them to look at the year forward positively and commit to company and business goals.

Turn criticism into a learning opportunity

The pandemic has been an unexpected black swan event for businesses. The challenges have been unexpected and unprecedented. Goals posts have changed over a period of time, strategies have changed, ways of dealing with problems and issues have constantly altered as we have learnt and adapted ourselves to circumstances. Hence, hiccups have been inevitable as we have tried different approaches and realized what works and what doesn’t, thus changing our approach accordingly. Not everything has gone to plan and hence it is important to avoid being critical. Instead, you need to identify and create more learning opportunities for your staff, honing the skills that they would need in this changed environment and equip them to tide over future demands and challenges that the business would have. Make them feel confident that they are prepared to do better in the coming year.

Keep the performance discussion on point

Even in these tough times, it is important to assure your high and potential performers that their efforts are not unnoticed. Have a frank discussion with them around their career goals and expectations, and their path towards achieving them within the organization. Build a realistic picture of their achievements and shortfalls vis-à-vis the company’s performance and expectations. The discussion should seem fair and firm, you need to come across as invested in your team member’s overall growth and welfare. Empathy and sensitivity will take this discussion towards the right path.

Lastly, translate this to rewards

Considering businesses have had a tough year, it is of course going to be difficult to set aside budgets for bonuses, incentives and pay increments. However there is a widely accepted school of thought that releasing performance linked bonuses to deserving employees will not just help build morale, motivation and productivity, it will also help align your performers to the challenging business objectives and help them stay committed in the coming year. As a company, you also want to be seen as a brand that is pro employee and committed to employee welfare. All this will go a long way in building goodwill, reputation and business for your brand.

There is no doubt that the performance appraisals this year will be very different from those ever done earlier, most likely conducted in a virtual environment remotely. However that does not stop the discussion from retaining the essence of what it should be – collaborative, encouraging, fair and respectful, forward-looking.

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