Structuring and managing the discussion
An exploration of past performance is the natural way to progress to looking at future performance and the support and development that will be required. The problem, very often, is that we spend so long discussing past performance that there’s very little time or energy left for planning future performance. Ironically, this virtually defeats the main purpose of appraisal.
A key point to consider here is whether it is necessary to discuss every aspect of the appraisee’s performance in detail. If it is necessary, that’s likely to take a considerable amount of time. Alternatively you could agree with the appraisee an agenda of the main areas to cover. This would enable you to focus attention first on aspects of strong performance or significant improvement that you want to praise and encourage, and second on areas requiring development. Such an agenda would provide a structure for focused discussion.
Once you have a structure the next challenge is to manage the discussion so that you follow it effectively. It can be useful, therefore, to think of each element of your agenda as a separate communication cycle.
The discipline of this is to stay on track with the area being discussed until you’ve completed the cycle. So, having ‘introduced’ it with a good open question, ‘developed’ it by listening and asking a range of appropriate probing questions, ‘consolidated’ it by adding your observations and feedback and agreeing elements of the personal development plan for future performance (defining professional or personal development objectives), you finally ‘conclude’ the cycle by confirming a shared understanding of everything covered and agreed with a short summary. Then, having ‘shut down’ that area of your agenda you can move on to the next. This is effective discussion management.
There are a couple of things to remain aware of when using this approach. First, if the appraisee provides an incongruent response or strays on to another area, it is important to bring the discussion back on track. A good technique for this is called ‘parking’. This involves making a note of the point, so as to acknowledge it, while saying something like ‘let’s come back to that when we look at teamwork later‘. Second, it is important to remain flexible. So, if something important arises that is not on your agreed agenda, the right thing to do is to find an appropriate place for it, either by adding it to the list or combining it where it falls most logically.