The interview of the year about
yearly appraisal interviews!
Today, we are meeting 2 professionals who have been conducting yearly appraisal interviews for many years. They will not claim they are so keen on the exercise, but they will claim they understand the uniqueness of this moment in the relationship between an employee and the employer (or its representative). They are telling us more about the 5 (4+1 extra) most common errors one should seek to avoid (while confessing they have made these errors themselves 😊, as it is all about life-long learning after all).
Amaël Meignan (EVAtraining’s interviewer): Pierre, you have successively worked as HR Assistant and then HR Manager at a fleet managing company (subsidiary of a Belgian giant in the sector), as Operations Manager at an insurance company with many branches across the country and recently as an active member in the development of a mature start-up company taking it from 30 to around 150 employees. What are, from your point of view, the errors one should avoid when preparing yearly appraisals?
Pierre G.: The first error is about making the event commonplace or, conversely, making it sacred. Let me explain what I mean here: some team leaders are unable to take the necessary distance or hindsight and give the right level of importance to this event which concludes a year’s narrow collaboration between the 2 parties involved, as they think they know very well - or even too well - the person sitting in front of them. Getting too friendly is a risk that exists, especially and precisely in start-ups! On the other hand, some will behave as tinpot dictators and use this opportunity to stress the hierarchical link for the employee not to forget. This leads to the opposite effect to that initially targeted: tension, frustration or even aggressiveness!
AM: Tristan, as far as you are concerned, should this interview be prepared long in advance?
Tristan L: Sure, I couldn’t agree more. Let me confirm Pierre’s words by adding an anecdote: I worked for a Scandinavian automotive equipment manufacturer a few years ago and I must admit that in my previous experiences, the yearly appraisal interview was really the bitter pill to swallow… And then came the surprize for me: the managers recorded in an encrypted Word file what they had noticed month after month; 2 weeks prior to the interview, they would send it to the employee who was then allowed in turn to prepare very quietly for the interview. There surely were tense moments, I mean, this was no child’s fantasy world… but at least there was an actual memory or tracking of past activities.
Pierre G.: Yes, this saves one from staying focused on possible errors made the month just before, and then, you know, not seeing the bigger picture! This is poor credit given for an employee’s usual dedication level.
Pierre G.: “Avoid dwellingon recent errors”
AM: Understood…So to summarize, the first error would lie in bad preparation of the interview either by mixing up the outcomes or by omitting to set on an actual retrospective analysis. On top of that, some organizations hand out to staff self-appraisal questionnaires which can be used for people unaccustomed to such interviews. And during the interview itself now, which are the most common errors you can think of? Tristan, what do you think?
Tristan: All right, here I go – it’s quite fortunate I prepared hard for our interview (laughter). To me, the main mistake is to try to appraise the person instead of staying close to facts, positive and negative actions he or she has done over the last year. In the era of emotional intelligence, this may sound like a bit of a conservative position but allowing your affect to guide you can lead to bitter failures… Especially if the other party does not - and sometimes, not at all – share the feeling.
AM: What do you have to say on that, Pierre?
Pierre: It’s true that having a vindictive or conquering mindset is likely to come back and bite the interviewer…What goes around comes around… For my part, I often draw people’s attention to the fact that lacking concrete arguments to illustrate a point or a message you want to convey can be harmful to the manager. This will play against you and undermine your credibility afterwards. You must be sincere and clear! If the other party wants to distort the rules, it’s not your problem: stick to your initial line of conduct, please!
Tristan: ”Don’t make it a battle of egos!”
AM: All in all, no rampant bias, and as much coherence as can be! That all sounds like common sense to me and is good to hear… Yes Pierre, you seem to have a point to make or something to add, please go ahead!
Pierre: Simply as an echo of this, not allowing the employee enough time to express him or herself, interrupt, put words on successes and possible improvement prospects. It’s true that this exercise puts you under the impression of being rushed by time… but allowing 10 to 15 minutes at the start of the interview surely makes a real exchange possible. Too many managers get too straight to the heart of the matter, or even answer the questions in the appraisee’s stead!
Tristan: Nevertheless, beware not to get trampled on by a very chatty interviewee. To me, it’s crucial to allot the same amount time to all employees’ interviews. Another point is the location of the meeting: I found out one day that employees were interviewed in the cafeteria after lunch over a good cup of coffee whereas others were entitled to the sales manager’s office, supposedly for lack of space! People will always talk internally, it’s human, there’s no way you’ll prevent it! So, don’t shoot yourself in the foot!
Tristan: “Rushed by time and restricted by space, managers will put themselves at risk!”
AM: Thanks a lot for asserting a good deal of truth here, this will help our readers, for sure. We spoke about errors made prior to the interview, during the interview and if you have been following me well, you know it is time to mention errors made after the appraisal interview. Pierre?
Pierre: Yes, indeed, this is the rub! The manager has made clear recommendations for the year to come, in terms of training, responsibility, benefits or simple salary and yet all of this is going to remain ineffective. That’s how things happen in day-to-day life too: if you don’t keep your promises or if you deliver on them too late, this plays against you and you eventually demotivate the people around you.
Tristan: For my part, I’ll go a step further than Pierre: an error would be to try in one way or another to modify the report of the interview by exerting influence on the employee! Technically, it’s prohibited, but sometimes you hear rumours that can make you think that such practices exist!
Pierre: “Respect your commitments after the interview!”
AM: All right, this makes sense and let me quote Victor Hugo: ‘I do what I say and I say what I do!’
Tristan: OK, if Victor Hugo said it, I won’t go against him! 🤣
AM: 🤣 To conclude – but here I’m afraid I’m going to spoil the cheerful atmosphere – what’s the worst mistake you’ve made during an interview? Don’t worry, only our readers will know!
Tristan: I interviewed the wrong person…
AM: What do you mean?
Tristan: Well... It’s a little embarrassing but OK, here it is: at the start of my career, I had to fill in for the European Sales Manager for the interviews of various local Heads of Sales. That morning, I had an appointment at the headquarters with the West Germany Key Account Manager – to keep things simple – and I had been preparing the interviewing file with all the figures and tables for East Germany. When I realized after 5 minutes I wasn’t sitting in front of the right person, I wasn’t proud of myself, I can tell you! (laughter) He eventually took it with philosophy, and we decided to reschedule his appraisal for when he would next travel to Lyon and fortunately, my boss never found out. Well, I mean, that’s what I believe, my own next appraisal would have been terrible otherwise!
Tristan: “I interviewed the wrong person – my boss never found out!”
AM: That could indeed have been a lot worse, especially in a multicultural environment which can be yet another distorted lens on reality and how it’s perceived by different people! Pierre, have you personally failed an identity check?
Pierre: 🤣 No, I always ask people to produce their passport before anything🤣. Oh, nothing too nasty! I must have supervised close to a thousand interviews, maybe a little less, say 800 or 900 all in all, with rather positive feedback overall… I never had to get interviewed by my wife though.
AM: By your wife?
Pierre: Yes, I was her right arm at the time as she’s a little older than me; which wasn’t common then, I confess and could have caused tongues to wag a little even though there was on our side real commitment to fairness. I jumped on a vacant position internally and the situation never presented itself after that! It wasn’t exactly a mistake but organizing an appointment between the 2 of us could have turned into one eventually… These days, younger HR managers see things a little differently, customs change and impact the life of the company, whether you want it or not. We are speaking a lot about bidirectional or 180° interviews… or even quarterly interviews closer to daily operations.
Pierre: “Stay away from interviewing close people, they’re a source of conflict of interest.”
AM: This may be the subject of another interview. Thank you both very much for playing the cross-interview game; our readers got to realize that the annual interview, beyond its rigid and directive aspect, can also leave room for errors that one should try to avoid but that can be laughed away afterwards!
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To go further:
Are appraisals doomed to disappear?
About legal aspects:
Some heavy stuff, classic and crunchy at once!
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