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How to appraise your practice manager

7 October 2022

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An appraisal is an opportunity to ensure your practice manager feels valued and recognised. But if you don’t get the conversation right, it can damage commitment and motivation. Dr Anish Kotecha provides some pointers to help practices get the most out of the process

An appraisal is a discussion that allows reflection for a practice manager, as well as being a performance review. It should be a structured, objective process that encourages a practice manager to think about their key achievements during the past year, as well as their performance against a set of pre-set, agreed objectives.

It should be viewed as being part of a continual process of personal and professional development. Within an appraisal, areas can be identified for further training, improvement, and development. This should be a positive, regular, and systematic review and be seen as a supportive tool, not a means to blame, criticise or discipline.

There should be opportunity to gather information about the practice and what that demonstrates, reflect on their approach to work, feedback comments on past performance, discuss continuing progress, detect possible improvements, and identify any development needs.

They can be very constructive if used appropriately to discuss your PM’s role, their expectations, and their future within the practice.

This article hopes to be able to give some tips on how to get the most from an appraisal for a practice manager.

Hold appraisals regularly

Appraisals should be carried out annually. You may want to have less formal ‘catch-ups’ throughout the year too, so it becomes part of a continuous process of learning and development for your PM, rather than just being a one-off event. 

Usually, the person doing the appraising is the PM’s line manager, most probably a GP in the practice. However, peer appraisals carried out by fellow practice managers can also be effective.  

Notify your PM about when the appraisal is, and provide enough time for preparation

It is helpful to ensure practice managers know when and why the appraisal is taking place and be given the time to fully prepare for it. Whoever is carrying out the appraisal should outline to the PM exactly what they should expect from the process. This can help put them at ease by dispelling misconceptions – preventing the process becoming something to dread, which is a common response.

PMs should be encouraged to think about their own objectives and plans for the coming year so this can be discussed in detail. Prior to their meeting, I advise they pull together information that demonstrates how they have met their work objectives or action plans, and make a note of issues or areas they are keen to talk about, so these don’t get forgotten about or ignored.

The appraiser should also prepare points they want to raise in a one-to-one conversation, so the discussion is clear, structured and organised. The preparatory work shouldn’t be too onerous but instead allow for a meaningful discussion.

It should be remembered that practice managers are the cornerstone of a surgery and they often do much more than is known about or recognised. They need to be valued and appreciated and an appraisal is an opportunity for you to show that.

An appraisal in which both parties are invested in and put work and energy into is likely to reap more rewards. This, in turn, will help practices to get more from their managers.

Make the environment welcoming and don’t rush the process   

The appraisal meeting itself should be held in a comfortable, private room (or virtually), be uninterrupted and should not be time constrained. The structure of the meeting should be set out at the beginning and the tone and language used be open, honest, and supportive. It is helpful to build in a break and try to have refreshments if possible.

Cover the important points but remember this is not a tick box exercise

A useful tip to get the meeting started and set the scene is to ask about previous appraisals and their outcomes.

The meeting should aim to cover points including the PM’s role and responsibilities; any professional development activities they have participated in during the past year; discussion about constraints or problems they have around doing their job or reflections on their approach to work; and a review of past performance.

It should also include discussions on their progress, giving objective feedback, identifying areas for possible improvements and going through work objectives for the coming year, which should be agreed, not enforced.

Hopefully, the PM will be able to show how they have met their personal development plans from the previous year and have some work aspirations they would like to discuss for the coming year. The latter can be used to create a personal development plan to address future development needs. This should aim to have SMART criteria, so be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (although I like to add realistic too) and timely. The personal development plan should be discussed in some detail, so there is a clear strategy in place for the coming year they can work towards.

It is essential to emphasise that this is the PM’s appraisal, so they should be in control of it and be able to discuss what is important to them. It’s the appraiser’s job to facilitate this.

Also, remember this is not just a tick box exercise but an opportunity to reflect on achievements and plans. Investment in the process can pay real dividends for your practice manager.

What about if the issue of pay arises?

If your practice manager wants to discuss their salary, especially because they feel their performance justifies a rise, listen to what they have to say and address the issue compassionately and supportively. Be careful not to make any promises you cannot keep, however.

Understand your role and requirements

What does the appraiser need to do? First, they should properly prepare before the appraisal. They must help make their PM feel comfortable about the process by getting to know them as a person, asking them what they would like to gain from the appraisal, and allowing them to discuss what is important to them. The appraiser should identify any constraints to their PM’s progression, facilitate how those barriers can be overcome, and challenge the appraisee to think laterally about their learning and personal development plan. They should also signpost the appraisee to sources of help and guidance. It is vital that the appraiser is objective.

In conclusion, appraisals for practice managers can be highly effective and hugely beneficial to them. It is vitally important that they are convinced of this and that the process is as supportive as possible. Knowledge of what they would like to gain from the experience can help steer the meeting to a positive outcome and make it more likely that they are going to continue to engage in the future.

Key points for the practice manager (appraisee)
  • Prepare for the meeting by noting down key points you want to raise, achievements or areas for improvement you want to highlight and your aspirations for the next 12 months.
  • Be in control and treat the meeting as an opportunity rather than a tick box exercise.
Key points for the appraiser
  • Make sure you notify your PM about when the meeting is taking place providing adequate time for them to prepare.
  • Explain what the appraisal is and what it will cover so it’s not something they fear or dread.
  • Be organised and prepare your own notes. It will be all too obvious if this is a meeting you are just ‘improvising’ your way through. This also risks your PM not feeling valued or important.
  • Consider where the appraisal will be held and arrange for refreshments if possible. Don’t allow for interruptions.
  • Make this a positive, objective, constructive and supportive process, this isn’t a disciplinary tool.

 Dr Anish Kotecha is a GP Partner at Cwmbran Village Surgery

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