Appraisals are not just for your boss to tell you how they think you are getting on in your job. They also offer you the chance to give your feedback and direct your own career development path.
Now is an exciting time to work in engineering and technology, with progress in areas like communications and transport opening up even more opportunities for people with the right skills. On the other hand, recruiters are often looking for people who already have a solid base of experience behind them. If you don’t, don’t despair – there are ways of consolidating your position in your current role that will stand you in good stead when it comes to applying for promotions, either in your own company or outside of it.
Your annual appraisal might not immediately strike you as a useful tool in this process, but it offers more leverage than you might think. Look at it this way: an organisation’s most valuable asset is its people. As such, it is important that businesses have regular reviews with staff to increase employee performance and efficiency – appraisals are a key part of this.
An invaluable tool for implementing two-way communication between managers and employees, appraisals provide one-to-one time where the focus is on you, your performance and your contribution to the business.
A well conducted appraisal helps ensure you understand what is important in your role, what you are doing well, and areas where improvement is required. It also helps you pinpoint any training and development needs you have.
There are various ways of conducting appraisals, but most include some aspect of measurement or feedback in order to set current work patterns and achievements against previous goal setting and future progress requirements.
For example, ratings-based appraisals involve grading the employee on a series of different skill sets such as teamwork, initiative, communication abilities and so on.
Objectives-based appraisals work in a similar way, rating the staff member on how well they have met certain targets – financial or otherwise – set in previous performance reviews or as part of their job specification.
A formal review should be performed at least once a year by your line manager or HR liaison, with regular meetings and catch-ups and a more structured interim review at least half yearly.
Appraisals shouldn’t contain any surprises or be used for disciplining, because you should be having regular one-to-one meetings with your manager anyway, to discuss things that might going wrong and address any issues then and there – not saving it up for the annual appraisal.
While there are no set rules for conducting an appraisal, there are a number of guidelines that will make them run smoothly.
The date, time and venue for the appraisal should be booked with enough time to ensure both parties can prepare in advance. Ideally, a quiet room should be used so that you won’t be interrupted and discussions are not overheard by other staff.
Preparation for the appraisal would usually involve looking at information about the job and required skills and knowledge against individual performance, behaviours, development and achievements over the last year, and considering objectives for the following year.
You should also have the chance to ask questions or raise any concerns beforehand, so that you feel you are going into the meeting with all the information you need to put you on an equal footing with the appraiser.
Relaxed body language and maintaining eye contact is important and shows your manager that you are attentive and interested in what they have to say. Keep to the facts and focus on the results you’ve achieved. Be open about situations that have gone well or badly and, if you need to, be clear about any help and support you may need to maintain a high standard in the future.
Any paperwork or documentation that will be required during the meeting – such as details of a course or training programme, the previous period’s appraisal documents, and so on – should be taken into the meeting by either you or your manager to ensure the meeting is not held up to go and get them.
When the meeting has taken place, the outcomes should be transferred onto the appraisal document, signed by both parties. A copy should be put in your personnel file, with another given to you for your records.
Setting future goals
At the end of each appraisal, you and your manager should agree any objectives and actions for the coming year, using the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time constrained.
Objectives should be set for both performance and for personal development, and they should be reviewed every few months, ideally at one-to-one meetings to monitor progress.
If done right, successful appraisals should give you the motivation and inspiration to make these happen, as well as the confidence and skills to progress in your current role, and beyond.