Meaningful dialogue between leaders and teams should be ongoing throughout the year. Staff shouldn’t have to wait until the start of the next annual cycle to discover their performance has been substandard and that they’re not going to be receiving an increment.
Performance management is the gateway to personal development, professional progression and succession planning. It identifies those needing support, provides assistance to ambitious staff who are ready to progress and helps highlight those forms of CPD that might be beneficial to individual colleagues.
The outcomes of this process are ultimately focused on staff pay – specifically, whether the staff in question will receive an incremental or accelerated progression through the pay scale – and it’s here where things can get controversial. It’s possible, however, to improve the clarity and objectivity of both your target setting and measurement of success through the language employed to discuss staff performance. The terminology I use is as follows:
Appraisal – Appraising the job that’s being done; the one that’s outlined in the relevant job description and person specification, and which they’re being paid to do.
Performance Management – a process undertaken by those who have consistently exceeded their performance expectations and outperformed targets they’ve been set by a pre-determined margin.
To carry out fair appraisals and performance management for those who have excelled, a holistic performance assessment approach should be used. This means that the achievement of arbitrary targets shouldn’t become the sole driver of pay decisions. Instead, overall performance discussions ought to incorporate a number of factors without being weighted towards any one in particular. Examples of this might include the stage they’re at in their career, the quality of their book scrutiny or their ability to manage and interpret data.
Essentially, staff evaluation should include any element of performance that’s been reviewed as a matter of course throughout the year, as part of the line management process.
Targets should support the appraisal process, but not determine it. With the right policy in place, a teacher may still receive their annual increment even if targets haven’t been met – so long as it can be evidenced that they’ve met the requirements of their role.
Your evaluation process should allow room for exceptional performance to be recognised and valued, be it through accelerated pay or via CPD and succession planning strategies. People consistently outperforming in their role, who work above and beyond while demonstrating exceptional value, naturally deserve recognition.
How should we define ‘exceptional performance’? It shouldn’t be ‘easy’ to achieve, but nor should it be impossible. This is where targets come into their own. Exceptional performance, as set by targets, can be defined for each individual. Performance that’s ‘exceptional’ thus won’t hinge solely on meeting set standards, but on exceeding them and other targets consistently.
The truth is that some organisations are good at appraisal and performance management, but too many aren’t. In my experience, the latter can usually be linked to poor polices or lacklustre management training and delivery. If you want to improve your staff performance discussions, think about the language you and other leaders use and how you articulate your policy. If leaders aren’t on board with the process, or fail to execute it properly, that represents a wasted opportunity.
Laura Williams is a former MAT chief operations officer and school business manager, and the founder of LJ Business Consultancy.