Why staff appraisals are dead – and what to do instead

This question came in last night from a Practice Manager:

Its staff appraisals time, my Principal wonders if you have a different approach or any ideas on this?

So, on reading this, I smiled to myself at the memory of conversations in the 90’s that formed my thinking. Technology changes – people don’t change much.

You see, I’ve always strongly disliked the whole concept of an annual appraisal – the idea that, once a year, there would be some kind of judgement call that would determine how good, bad or indifferent an individual employee had been?

Many years ago, a client asked me to conduct his annual appraisals for him!

I reluctantly agreed and individually took each member of the team to a local coffee store for a conversation.

Apart from the fact that I became more and more wired with caffeine as the day wore on, what emerged was a deep rooted sense of resentment that they were talking to me and not him – no big surprise there – followed by a shopping list of “complaints” about conditions in the practice.

By the end of the day, I suspect that everyone of them felt a little better at having vented their feelings.

I was exhausted, depressed and somewhat anxious with the responsibility of reporting back. An insight into the dilemma faced by the Practice Manager at the end of a similar exercise.

All in all – it wasn’t a good experience and wasn’t repeated.

For many years, I’ve suggested that the word “appraisal” be removed from the dictionary of the smaller independent business – and replaced with the PPI – Personal Progress Interview.

Before we go any further, I suggest that PPIs should take place at best monthly, at worst, quarterly – reflecting the pace at which we are all now expected to live.

A year isn’t just a long time in politics.

Here is your format for a successful PPI:

Part 1 – your questions for the team member to answer:

Q1 – what do you like best about the work you do here?

Q2 – what do you like least about the work you do here?

Q3 – what would you most like to change about the work you do here?

Tip – after each question – shut up – and listen empathetically to the answer – do not get drawn in – simply note and respond.

Part 2 – feedback for you to give to the team member:

F1 – what I like best about the work you do here is…..

F2 – what I like least about the work you do here is…..

F3 – what I would most like you to change about the work you do here is….

Tip – after each feedback – shut up again – and listen empathetically to the response.

At the end of this conversation, draw up a time-activated action plan with each team member to react and respond to the results of the conversation.

Many is the time I’ve used this blog to remind you that the #1 reason the right people stay in a job is because they feel truly appreciated – #2 is fair pay – #3 is a career pathway and #4 is because they are having some fun.

Appraisals do not make people feel appreciated.

Regular PPI’s do make people feel appreciated.

In case you were wondering – the same goes for associates, therapists and hygienists, employed or freelance.

all problems exist in the absence of a good conversation



Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.

3 thoughts on “Why staff appraisals are dead – and what to do instead”

  1. Hi Chris, as usual, well thought through and entirely appropriate!

    Couple of other thoughts:
    1. Expression appreciation, concern or just info should be a daily occurrence, but in context and asap after the Principal or Practice Manager have observed the behaviour/performance
    2. We use a great tool to help “management” understand their people’s traits and behaviours and how these can be strengths or derailers; great for teamwork also and not expensive in the context of longer-term people relationships.

Comments are closed.