How to beat Mid-Year Appraisal Apathy

Posted: February 24, 2023 Filed under:

With schools and academies returning for the start of term 4, many will be planning for mid-year performance reviews for their teaching and also for leadership staff. However, despite the great intentions and early Spring optimism, so often this critical part of the process gets forgotten, or it is done in an end of term rush and it invariably feels like a routine, tick-box ‘done-to step’ in the procedure.

So, why is this all too common and what can be done to turn it around so that the experience is a positive, engaging and honest review to leave your Appraisee with the motivation and ideas they need for a successful end of year review?

From my 25 years’ experience of appraisal [or performance management as it was first introduced] in schools and academies the following statements are the usual suspects when it comes to the reasons why mid-year reviews fail to deliver:

Appraiser: “Ooh, so sorry but we’ve just been so busy and I just haven’t been able to find the time!”

What you are really saying here is that everything else is a priority and in this school we just don’t see appraisal as a very important process. Is that the message you really want to give?

Appraisee: “No, I haven’t prepared anything, sorry, but what’s the point anyway?”

All too often the experience of Appraisees is that the Appraiser had a preconceived idea of things and is simply going through the motions to complete the procedure. Or the Appraisee has already reached the top of the pay

 Appraisee: “I wasn’t told I had to prepare anything!”

This is probably the most common pitfall I hear. Appraisees are invited to a mid-year review meeting with no prior information about what to expect or what to do and absolutely no suggestion or encouragement to do some brief preparation. Then, when asked the standard, opening question “So, how have things gone since we last met at the start of the school year?” is it any surprise that a common response is often something like a terse, “Don’t know, you tell me!”

 Does all this sound familiar? If so, here are 3 top tips for turning that around

No 1: Communicate your expectations of your Appraisees in advance

A good starting point here would be a discussion at a staff meeting. State clearly the importance your school gives to the appraisal process, how it links in with your school improvement agenda and underpins your school/academy vision and values. Clarify the role of the Appraisee. Explain that appraisal should be a two way process and that staff are encouraged to some brief preparation beforehand by reviewing their objectives, relevant evidence and any CPD they’ve undertaken so that they can get the best from their meeting. Discuss how this can help with professional and career development

Even better, then send out something brief in writing to all Appraisees that captures these key points clearly and succinctly. The PMB document ‘Preparing for YOUR mid-year review’ does exactly this for you. Message me for a free copy. Additionally ask your Appraisees to make some notes using a short reflection pro forma that they can bring with them to their review meeting. Both of the PMB documents are free to download here along with many other resources.

No 2: Now tell them again!

Ask Appraisers to use the introduction part of the meeting to set out your expectations for your Appraisee. Explain that the purpose of the meeting is check in on progress towards their objectives and agreed development plans so that it should be a successful review at the end of the year. It is also their opportunity to discuss how things have gone, celebrate successes and to explore further the opportunities from any research they’ve undertaken and, of course, to seek further support if needed.

Appraisers should explain their role will be primarily to ask questions to understand where the Appraisee is with their objectives, to discuss openly any issues and to offer ideas or further support if needed.

It is also a good opportunity just to check that the objectives are still valid or to record any amendments if necessary

forma and if they would like to refer to those notes.

No 3. Brief your Appraisers on their role

The final recommended step is simply to make sure your Appraisers know their role. The appraisal conversation should be one of curiosity, interest and questions. And it should be a genuine conversation that is both enjoyable and productive. Help Appraisers to think about the questions they can ask. Actually the Appraisee’s reflective tool will give you a good place to start. If Appraisers are using this tool as a basis for their questions and Appraisees have used it in pre-meeting preparation then the conversation is likely to get off to a great start!

The target is 80:20 where the Appraisee is talking for 80% of the time. An aspirational target maybe but the more Appraisers tame their urge to simply tell their Appraisee how they see things, the more the Appraisee will feel engaged, motivated and listened to. They are far more likely then to take ownership and responsibility for their end of the year review and then in setting their objectives for the year ahead in the next cycle.

This is the start of moving your appraisal from appearing to be a largely meaningless, ‘done to’ experience towards being something of a coaching conversation and much more of a self-review with far more meaning and impact.

And, finally, of course, do contact me if you would like any further advice, support or training in this area

Gary Edwards
February 2023

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