Leading people: Appraise - but don't demotivate

Focusing on the bad things leaves staff feeling hurt, so accentuate the positive.

I'm all for learning from other sectors - honest I am. But there are times when I could scream with exasperation at the sheer idiocy of adopting some of their practices without first questioning their effectiveness or appropriateness to charity and voluntary workers.

The latest shocker is the introduction of private sector-style performance-management systems in charities, which I don't think worked well even in the private sector.

I recently met a seriously demotivated charity worker whose organisation had introduced an appraisal system that used a scoring system out of five, with five being exceptional and one being below average. And what did this charity worker learn? That the number two is deeply hurtful and demotivating.

Monitoring and measuring the performance of staff - and, when appropriate, volunteers - is a good thing. But doing it badly isn't. Appraisals should help managers to send their staff off into the new work year feeling inspired, confident, motivated and able to achieve. A good appraisal should be a culmination of a series of one-to-ones during the year, at which you have given feedback on performance as you go along. There should be no surprises, because any issues in performance will have been dealt with through the one-to-ones. At the appraisal, you can concentrate on what they're good at, where they've improved and what is possible for the future.

The best systems allow staff to self-appraise. Let them tell you how well they've done, while you keep your mouth shut. If you give people the freedom to criticise their own performance, they are invariably tougher on themselves than you are. Your job is to reassure them that they can do better in the coming year and establish what support, training and resources they need.

Finally, linking pay to performance is one of the best ways of demotivating people. If you have a pay review system, keep it on a separate timeline to the appraisal. Only a complete numpty will admit to any weaknesses if they know it's going to affect their pay. If you want them to give you an honest self-assessment, keep the dosh out of it.

- Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change 

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