Managing within an estate agency environment is a tough and frequently made tougher still by high staff turnover and poor performance, therefore any efforts you can undertake to minimise such problems represent time well spent. One area of managerial responsibility that can lead to successful staff retention and effectiveness is maintaining an appropriate performance review system, although this is all too often an element of work which falls victim to the volume of the manager’s other duties.
Your workload is reduced in the long run by investing time in appraising staff regularly. Benefits include the opportunity to extract information, assess progress and results, clear the air, discuss strengths and weaknesses and formulate plans to carry out coaching and training, clarify roles and responsibilities, boost employee confidence and deal with minor issues before they become major ones.
Staff work best when they know what their responsibilities are, how well they are expected to fulfil them, and how well they have done so. The aim of appraisals is to make sure that this information is shared between managers and individual members of their teams.
The appraisal interview itself is a key component part of effective performance management. The starting point is to agree objectives which must be clear, measurable and realistic to the employee’s role and experience. These objectives might relate to a wide range of performance criteria including levels of business achieved or behavioural elements such as timekeeping, self-organisation and relationships with team members.
With quality objectives documented, and a future date booked for the appraisal itself, there is then an ongoing monitoring period leading up to the formal appraisal meeting. This time runs from one appraisal to the next and might be typically a maximum of three or six months. Meanwhile, the manager should observe employee behaviour and results, noting examples of work carried out particularly well or badly. These should be discussed with the individual as they occur rather than stored up…the appraisal interview is not a time for surprises. However, the recorded examples serve as the content of a “stock taking” exercise at the appraisal itself.
As the date of the appraisal interview approaches, the manager should take time to plan for it. The venue should be provide a professional but comfortable environment - the local pub is probably not ideal (although alarmingly I know one proprietor who uses it for that purpose). There should be no interruptions via telephones or other staff members and seating arrangements should be considered…face to face across a desk is rather too formal.
With evidence collected and venue prepared, the appraisal interview can proceed. A range of key points must be borne in mind to ensure effectiveness.
Firstly, the appraisee must be put at ease. Tension or mistrust creates problems, so attempts to help the staff member relax must be made. An agenda for the interview gives structure and the meeting must be largely forward rather than backward looking. A steady pace and keeping it focused on the individual should be the aim – many appraisals I have witnessed have been spoilt by allowing the appraisee to blame others for their weaknesses. A bespoke appraisal form used by some businesses helps provide control.
Where possible, staff should be encouraged to be self-critical rather than have their positive and negative performance areas raised by the manager. Careful questioning on the part of the appraiser such as “How do you feel things are going?” or “What caused you to fall short of reaching that particular objective?” can tease out points that need to be addressed without forcing them upon the appraisee. He or she is thereby far more likely to “own” the issues covered.
You should be supportive rather than authoritarian in your approach and stick to facts rather than feelings, to behaviour rather than personality. Future action points must be documented along with a new set of specific agreed objectives which will be central to the forthcoming review period.
The pitfalls to avoid include the manager talking too much and hogging the conversation, destructive rather than constructive criticism (“These results just aren’t good enough” rather than “What can we do to help you improve your figures?”), lack of evidence, woolly objectives and expecting too much in the way of change from the appraisee.
With all the above points borne in mind and with a strong desire to reap the rewards of an effective performance review process, a manager can look forward to leading a more focused, motivated and ultimately more productive team.
Julian O ' Dell
TM training & development