Changing the focus of appraisal

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How to Play to Your Strengths.


Difficult conversations.

Challenging conversations.

Courageous conversations.


At any meeting of middle or senior leaders in education one of those three terms is likely to be used if the topic of appraisal arises. The performance management of staff seems, all too often, to inexorably lead to some kind of discussion that the receiving party may very well react badly to.


This is not solely a feature of leadership in education. It is commonplace in business too. Reflecting on that often unpleasant and usually unproductive process, a team at the Harvard Business School took a different approach. What if your appraisal system gave responsibility for gathering evidence to the person being appraised? What if the evidence that they had to gather all stressed their positive contribution? And what if the features of those positive contributions were then sorted and assessed with the objective of identifying the strengths that the employee should then focus on?


To achieve that state the article asks the reader to accept three principles:

1. Most people remember the criticism but respond best to the praise.

2. Celebrating and developing strengths is more productive than identifying, and then attempting to develop, weaknesses.

3. People are more likely to acknowledge failings and seek to improve situations when their appraisal doesn’t operate to apportion blame.


This is not a soft option and it does not ignore the responsibility of leaders to deal with issues of competence. But what it does do is to focus on the outcomes that any appraisal or performance management system should have in mind: developing the individual to the benefit of the whole organisation.


The article is available to download and read from our Courses, Resources and More page.

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