Just the mention of the word “appraisal” can fill managers and staff alike with dread. Once likened to “root canal dental work on our list of things we look forward to” by a Harvard Business School Professor, it seems appraisals are universally unpopular.

To compound that, in a 2014 CIPD survey of more than 2,500 employees, 30% said they felt their employer’s appraisal system was unfair. A similar proportion said they felt progression within their organisation was unachievable, and one in five felt their managers failed to explain objectives and expectations effectively.

Whilst this makes for depressing reading, the good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. There are steps you can take to make sure that appraisals are not just a waste of time, and actually help drive your business forward:

  1. Make sure it’s performance that is being measured, not personality. Be clear on your employee’s objectives, have they met these? Their behaviour or demeanour shouldn’t be linked with their ability to do the job.
  2. Put the effort in and come prepared (both appraisee and appraiser): ask your staff to think about what they want to discuss beforehand, what are their ambitions. Get them thinking about how they can shape the conversation. It should be a two-way dialogue with the opportunity for feedback and discussion.
  3. Plan a clear structure for the meeting: this will stop the meeting from over-running or veering off course. It will also help you both think about what you want to get out of it.
  4. Let the appraisee talk: this is an opportunity for them to tell you how they feel about working for you, what they are enjoying, and if there are any frustrations. Let them know that their views are important, and they can discuss anything in a confidential environment.
  5. Listen: equally as important. Don’t be tempted to dominate the conversation, this may be their only opportunity to discuss important issues with you.
  6. Recognise and reward achievement: as much as an appraisal may be about goal setting and identifying issues, it’s just as important to highlight staff successes and make them feel valuable.
  7. Follow up: make sure you set out clear and manageable steps from the meeting and keep track of them so that you can support and encourage your team to fulfil them.
  8. Give regular feedback throughout the year: don’t save up all your feedback for the one staff appraisal meeting, or this will lead to the root canal scenario where both parties are filled with dread. Maintain a constant dialogue with your team throughout the year.
  9. Discuss and create objectives together: the best way to ensure you get the most from your employees is to set the goals together. This way your team are motivated as they know their goals are realistic, achievable and have been developed in union.
  10. Create the right atmosphere: think about your company culture. Would it be in keeping with your business if you conducted appraisals over lunch or in a more informal setting? Make sure that it’s private enough for your staff to be able to raise confidential issues, but that the atmosphere is not intimidating or unfamiliar.

By Alison King, operations director at Bespoke HR