The appraisal process for researchers
The appraisal process itself can be broken down into three parts: preparation, the meeting and post-meeting.
Pre-meeting preparation is critical in ensuring the appraisal meeting accomplishes all that you would like it to. Some of the jobs that need to be done are practical:
- arranging a mutually convenient date well in advance
- ensuring any training required by your institution has been completed
- distributing all necessary paperwork including, if applicable, last year's appraisal report
- making sure the appraisee is aware of how the process will work.
However, perhaps the most important part of preparation for an appraiser is the thought you put into how the meeting could run and what issues you would particularly like to raise. You will not want to pre-judge what the appraisee might want to say or the conclusions you will reach together but you can:
- review the previous year's appraisal notes (if applicable)
- reflect on the researcher's performance to date
- identify challenges that have arisen over the previous year
- identify areas of achievement you will want to highlight
- identify areas of potential that can be encouraged
- anticipate challenges or changes that may occur in the coming year
- consider ideas and avenues for professional or career development.
You will also want to encourage the appraisee to spend some time giving such issues careful consideration in advance of the meeting. Often institutions will require this to be done by filling out pre-appraisal paperwork that asks for reflections on past performance and future goals.
At the heart of a productive appraisal meeting should be a constructive dialogue. It both reviews progress to date and looks forward to future development. By the end of the meeting you should have agreed a set of targets for the coming year and any actions that can be taken or support that will be needed to help achieve those goals. There may also be some actions that will need to be confirmed after the meeting, especially if other people need to be involved.
As an appraiser it is your responsibility to make sure that the meeting is genuinely a two-way conversation. Some staff members can be nervous of appraisal as they may view it as essentially a judgement on their performance or even on them as a person. The way in which you approach the meeting can make a big difference as to the extent the appraisee is willing to engage with the process and talk openly about their job and career. Some of the things that you are likely to want to do are to:
- encourage the appraisee to play a major role in setting the agenda at the start of the meeting
- ensure they have ample opportunity to comment on all issues that are raised
- take brief notes rather than trying to complete the paperwork so you can give the conversation your full attention
- remain constructive in your comments throughout
- give praise where appropriate
- focus on how to move forward and develop
- ask what you can do to help
- make absolutely sure that any conclusions reached or targets set have the full agreement of the appraisee.
The extent to which conversations that take place during the appraisal meeting are confidential is an issue you will need to address. Ideally you will want the appraisee to feel that they are able to speak freely about themselves and their work environment. However, appraisal is a formal process, you will be required to record the outcomes of the meeting and often that the report will be seen by someone in a senior position. You (perhaps in negotiation with the appraise) will need to find the appropriate balance between these two demands. You should consider:
The appraisal process doesn't end with the interview.
Initially you will need to record the conclusions you reached in the meeting and any targets that have been set or actions that are to be taken. Your institution will most likely have specific procedures for recording the results of appraisal meetings and some will require that the official record be agreed by the appraisee. Even if this is not an institutional requirement you might want to consider seeking the appraisee's agreement on the meeting's outcomes and allowing them to suggest amendments.
To a large extent the effectiveness of any appraisal rests on whether the goals, targets and actions that were agreed in the meeting are actually carried through. You will need to work with your researcher to ensure that these happen within the agreed timeframe. Perhaps setting a date for additional meetings to review progress on specific goals may be useful and certainly you will want to refer to the appraisal actions in your regular meetings. You may need to investigate what development opportunities are available to your researcher to help them achieve their objectives. Keep an eye open for unexpected opportunities that crop up which could link into these goals; the appraisal is all part of a researcher's continual professional development. And don't forget that there may also be actions of your own to complete.
For appraisal to be of use it must remain relevant to the needs of your researcher and be a positive step in their development. Following through on the things that were agreed will be essential to achieving that goal.