It' s no secret that almost no one likes performance appraisals. In fact, a recent Conference Board survey found that90% of HR executives would like to either overhaul or eliminate their performance review procedures. Employees aren' thappy either - only 5% said they wanted to continue using their company' s current systems.

A big part of the problem is that people don' t know how to give or receive criticism and therefore reap few benefitsfrom the performance appraisal process, says Hendrie Weisinger, psychologist and author of The Power of PositiveCriticism (AMACOM).

The difficulty is that people think of criticism as a negative, Weisinger says, instead of the way the ancient Greeks sawit. To them it was a crucial form of communication used to influence, motivate and educate. They considered criticismhelpful in raising self-awareness, encouraging the development of new skills, and increasing tolerance for differentopinions.

Conducting the Appraisal

Many HR professionals today avoid using the word "criticism" altogether, saying "feedback" instead, Weisinger tellsHRMN. "But after two minutes, the employee says, ' He' s criticizing me.' The question is how to roll out a performanceappraisal process that changes the fundamental way people think about criticism, that allows them to see criticism as anassessment for the sake of doing better."

Properly done, criticism is evaluative information. Weisinger urges HR professionals to ask themselves how they canbest deal with that evaluative information so that it adds value to the organization.

"What is the philosophy of giving the performance appraisal in the first place; what are you really doing it for? Criticismis an evaluation of positive and negatives that is linked to every process. How can you have team building if coworkerscan' t criticize each other?"

The catch to criticism is that it is not objective, according to Weisinger. "It' s risky to give; you have to disclose yourown thoughts. It' s an exchange of thoughts and feelings. Criticism tells [ us] what is important. It' s evaluativeinformation, which makes you vulnerable."

So, he says, people have to be taught to give and take criticism. "Companies have time management and stressmanagement training. Why not have criticism training? HR has not clearly understood the impact of criticism on thebottom line, so most HR people do not make it a priority."

Most performance appraisals are not really conducted to help develop employees, Weisinger believes. "That' s the lie.The truth is, it' s deciding who gets the promotions or raises."

He recommends splitting the process. First, settle the money and promotion issues, then use the appraisal as adevelopmental tool. That way, "the process will become more effective. It will increase awareness about how theperson is performing on the job and why and how to improve."

Weisinger outlines the stages a manager should be taught to go through to conduct an effective evaluation with positivecriticism. First, set task and performance standards with goals that are realistic, specific and comprehensive. Establish atime frame. Collect information and ask the recipient to prepare for the appraisal.

Then, conduct the actual appraisal. "The mistake most people make is they try to create rapport. Just acknowledge thatit' s stressful. If you ignore that, it only heightens it," he says. Start with a statement of positive intent. Let thesubordinate start first. Listen. Clarify. Summarize. Use disagreement to clarify points of discussion.

And don' t stop there. Have follow-up sessions so that the performance appraisal "becomes a circular process, not alinear one," Weisinger says.

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