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by Anne Crandles
28 January 2011

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Happy New Appraisal

Practice Management Adviser

Boroughloch Medical Practice, Edinburgh

Why is it that so many managers, myself included, plan staff appraisals for the start of the year?  And why does this well researched and evidenced management tool engender such apathy in both appraisee and appraiser?

Study for any management qualification worth its salt and you will encounter not only the theory behind appraisal, but numerous ways to conduct these – upwards, downwards and all around the practice – and, of course,  the dangers of not including performance reviews in your HR toolkit.  Finding true appraisal enthusiasts, on the other hand, is often more tricky than reading those academic texts!

Appraisal has its place – it acknowledges the staff member’s contribution to the team’s achievements as well as efforts made to meet his/her own objectives.  But unlike January, this should continue all year long – a continuous assessment that steers clear of little surprises such as, “Do you remember last May when you were rude to that patient? Well, that is not acceptable”.  As performance management approach that is definitely NOT acceptable.

There are many, many appraisal forms to utilise – and a wise PM will choose a different one each year thereby avoiding a re-run of last year’s (and the year before that) form. The main themes may well be similar but the new format will prevent the “Yeah, well I put the same as last year ‘cos I couldn’t think of what else to say” type of response. 

No matter how many staff meetings you hold or training sessions you invest in, staff will still see appraisal as a massive pain in the neck – something to be endured. Still tainted from that last burst of enthusiasm which resulted in a six day receptionist course and a 5000 word project to write, it is little wonder that all sorts of excuses to avoid training will be proffered. My favourites is, “No, I don’t need training – I am winding down towards retirement” – even when the member of staff is 45!
So where are we going wrong?   Unfortunately, the buck stops with the managers and it is that leading behaviour thing once again. Staff might not always appreciate the benefits of appraisal but they will quickly pick up on just how much you truly value the process from what you say and do.

Do you gladly accept the fact that appraisal means an hour (or three) per member of staff, that you will need the patience of a saint to cajole those with “challenging issues” into signing the form off, not to mention the internet trawls required to find training that fits with each person’s development plan. 

Or do you just bemoan the whole process, publicly? You get the gist! And what about the PM’s appraisal? Do you sit down with the senior partner?  Do you have an upward appraisal with the Assistant PM or are you brave enough to embrace a 360 degree evaluation?  Or does it just not happen – ever??? 

In Scotland we have experimented, on the whole successfully, with peer appraisal for practice mangers. Based loosely on  GP appraisal paperwork it has had favourable feedback from those who have tried it, i.e. appraisals with realistic objective setting, empathy and understanding from the appraiser and conversely, willing and engaged appraisees.

Which leads me to think – is peer appraisal for staff the way forward? Just think – everyone’s appraisals completed at the start of every year and not a PM in sight – true cake and eat it stuff. It could be one New Year’s Resolution that we all actually keep!