A positive approach to appraisal based on peer feedback

Shivani Pradhan

Product Management, Azure DataBox Edge at Microsoft at Scality



As a manager, appraisal time is a very important time of year. To me, the hardest part of appraising employees is ensuring that my appraisal is positive and constructive, and ensuring that my employees agree with their developmental opportunities. It should not drain them. Instead, it should motivate, challenge and uplift them.

Actions taken

Our company has a self-assessment form with four sections that we are encouraged to fill in. Each section has a limit of 150 characters. I encourage my team to export the format to Word and to make sure they fill it in as much as possible, even with information about small things that they see as important, in case I have forgotten about them. I ask everyone to provide five names within their team, or in wider cross-functional parts of our organization, who could give me with positive feedback about them. I then push everyone to provide me with peer feedback to me. I ask them for three strengths and three developmental opportunities for their peers. In order to keep them objective and constructive, I ask them to step into my shoes and think of three things we could address that would help make this peer a higher performer, a better teammate, a better coder, or a better tester.

"Most people are very polite and avoid sharing true negative feedback. Because of this, I make them aware it's very important, it won't affect the appraisal and it will help the individual they're appraising to get even better at their role."

I gather all the feedback I've requested in a spreadsheet, and then build up the appraisal, by focusing on the most important things. These are usually patterns I see in the feedback. Finally, I write the appraisal in a very positive way, transforming negative feedback into development opportunities. (e.g. "bossy" becomes "XYZ demonstrated leadership potential on several occasions. He is tenacious, strong willed and passionate about his ideas. In 2017, XYZ will be focusing on leadership skills, how to build high performing teams and on building emotional intelligence")

Before putting this into the system, I request a one-on-one with my direct reports to show them the appraisal and have them acknowledge it. If they don't, it triggers insightful discussions. If they object to certain words, I look for a positive replacement, where feasible. I also show them the anonymized raw data gathered from their peers, but censor for strong language, anything derogatory, or anything racial. For example, the word bossy would be replaced with milder words from its dictionary definition, for example pushy. While it is still negative, its milder. It's modified just enough to remove anything offensive, and therefore the employee will be able to see the contrast in the tone of the raw feedback and what's being put in the system. Sometimes I use different font sizes for items to emphasize that it comes from different people. The point of showing raw data is to enhance our relationship by being totally transparent: "Here is the feedback I got, here is the appraisal that will end up in the system."

Lessons learned

I strongly believe that you cannot change people's inherent characteristics. They are who they are. As a manager, my job is to bring out the best in them by playing to their strengths, grooming their hidden and underdeveloped capabilities, motivating them to give their best, helping them to learn new abilities and helping them to work around their negatives.

"An appraisal is a complete failure if the employee doesn't agree with it in the first place. It will not only fail to drive the change and improvements you are hoping for, but will corrode your employee's trust in your organization's management chain, and will make him disgruntled. Help to bring positive change to your organization with a positive and uplifting appraisal process."

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Shivani Pradhan

Product Management, Azure DataBox Edge at Microsoft at Scality

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