In many organisations performance feedback and constructive criticism is rare and often harsh, says Helene Vermaak, Director at The Human Edge.  “As leaders in creating sustainable behaviour change in organisations we are only too aware of the role that effective performance management plays in the success of a team, department and organisation.”

“Unfortunately though it is not enough to have a performance management system in place, as these reviews are only as impactful as the individual holding the performance review,” says Vermaak.  Performance management systems come in different forms and range in complexity.  “The question that many organisations are currently debating,” says Vermaak, “is do we see positive changes in performance and behaviour from these appraisals and, if not, is it time to do away with them?”

Vermaak strongly believes that there is still a place for performance management systems, if they are carried out correctly.   The first step is for management not to view them as a tick-box exercise that forms the basis of a forced ranking system; provide staff with a score attached to the bonus scheme; or even set out unattainable, and therefore demotivating, criteria of achievement.  “It is the people involved in the performance discussions, not the appraisal or the performance management system, which have the ability to drive change and create a positive experience for those involved,” says Vermaak.

Employees seem to fall into one of two categories when it comes to appraisals, those who dread them and those that dismiss them as a waste of time.   Sadly, following most appraisals, questions still go unanswered, issues remain unresolved and the appraisal doesn’t achieve a change in behaviour or performance of all the individuals participating.

Research has revealed that even though most managers believe that they can hold their teams accountable, they in fact lack the proper skills to do so with 78% of South Africa’s managers saying that they have to take on additional work each week to compensate for under-performing staff.

In many cases, employees leave performance discussions having received constructive feedback but still without a clear strategy for change, while others leave with nothing more than a score linked to a bonus scheme.  Vermaak says, “Many managers lack the skills or confidence required to effectively hold high stake conversations and employees don’t know how to overcome their own career-limiting habits, even if they want to.”

With an increase in virtual offices, Vermaak warns that there are definitely risks in providing feedback via email and managers now not only have to have the skills to undertake these discussions in face-to-face environments but also via electronic mediums.

Vermaak provides the following guidelines for feedback responses via email:

  1. If you need to see the face, don’t write the e-mail.You should always match the bandwidth of your connection with the riskiness of the conversation. If you need required significant visual data in order to ensure your message is being received as intended rather schedule a face-to-face meeting.
  2. If you have to write the e-mail, write it twice.Sometimes, there is not the option of delaying the feedback or being able to sit across from one another. In this instance, write the message first to get your content across. Then read it slowly, imagining the other person’s face. Empathize. Try to put yourself in the other person’s swivel chair and imagine how they might feel at each point in your message. Then re-write it with safety in mind. Don’t compromise the content by sugar-coating it or watering it down. Rather, notice those places they may misunderstand your intentions or your respect for the other person involved and clarify what you do and don’t intend for them to hear from you. In less formal relationships, you may even want to describe your feelings and sentiments or the facial expression you are wearing as you write the email just to make it that bit clearer.

Organisations need to determine what performance management system will work best and deliver the most successful results for the organisation and the employees.  “It is not the frequency of the performance appraisal that is important but rather that managers are provided with the skills and confidence to hold these conversations effectively,” says Vermaak. “It is then that management can hold others accountable, diagnose and describe the gaps in performance and create action plans that are motivating, focused on the desired performance change and can be adhered to.”

Vermaak believes that by providing management with the right skills performance appraisals will no longer be seen as a dreaded waste of time requirement.