In recent years many firms have dropped annual (or quarterly) appraisals in favour of 'continuous conversations'. Whichever approach you take, doing it well requires skill and care. This checklist for appraisals is a useful starting point, writes Georgie Whitmore, head of people at Shieldpay. (Updated 22 February 2023)
- Schedule regular appraisals for each employee. Aim for at least once a year, but ideally quarterly.
- Personal development plans should be an integral part of an appraisal in order to assess progress and identify any future needs.
- Ask the employee to prepare for the review by completing a self-assessment covering performance, skills, attitude and any problems.
- Prepare yourself by reviewing the employee's self-assessment, your notes on the previous appraisal and the employee's performance since then.
- Review the employee's job description, to check that the duties and responsibilities are up to date.
- If appropriate, speak to the employee's colleagues, other managers and clients (known as 360-degree feedback), to obtain factual feedback on performance.
- Identify the main areas for development and what you want the appraisal to achieve. Be prepared to back up any criticism with facts and examples.
- Think about potential work and training opportunities for the employee.
- Take into account the personality and temperament of each employee. Different approaches to giving feedback may be needed for each individual.
- Always schedule more time for the meeting than you think you will need, to avoid having to cut a discussion short.
- Start the appraisal meeting by explaining its purpose and agenda; try to put the employee at ease and set a positive tone.
- Ask the employee to talk you through the self-assessment; listen, and encourage the employee to do the talking.
- Make your own comments; ensure that all previously agreed objectives, and any areas which concern you, have been covered.
- Acknowledge achievements and hard work, describing how these have had a positive impact – to encourage more of the same. (Simply saying “you have worked hard this year” does not give enough information for the individual to learn from.)
- Discuss performance, not personality, while being aware that personality may impact on performance.
- Discuss poor performance where necessary – but avoid personal criticism. Be ready to back up your comments with evidence.
- Encourage the employee to identify the causes of any problems and to suggest potential solutions.
- Discuss the employee's long-term career plans and aspirations.
- Identify any training needs.
- Agree specific, realistic and measurable key objectives for the next period; ensure that the employee is committed to them.
- Write up the performance appraisal report with the employee and confirm that the employee agrees with the final wording.
- Continue to monitor performance against objectives.
- Be prepared to deal with problems when they occur, rather than waiting for the next appraisal meeting.
- Always remember, appraisals are a two-way process.
"Regular advice, praise and constructive criticism are a crucial part of leading a team and will achieve far more in encouraging good performance and discouraging poor performance than if you save up feedback until an annual appraisal."
Kirsty Pappin, founder, Aries Legal Practice Management
For Nicola Jones, director of Athena Professional, it is important to distinguish between performance and results. Performance is about the way people work, what they do and how they do it. Results are the outputs of that effort. Make sure targets for results and performance reflect what the business values and needs for future growth. Use your firm's competencies as a baseline for discussion including those which cover:
- Technical – for example, legal expertise responding to client need and quality of service.
- Business development – market awareness and client acquisition, service and retention, including opportunities generated for other lawyers / practice areas.
- Business delivery – for example, contributions to financial management, marketing or IT.
- Professional development – commitment to continuous learning, including wider skills.
- Teamwork and attitude – building rapport and trust with clients and colleagues, enabling the performance of others, contributing ideas and supporting changes in practice.
- Pricing and billing – assessing value, accurate recording of hours, timely fee notes and collection.
"Performance appraisals benefit employees and firms by clarifying goals and expectations, and creating an environment of open communication which helps both parties track progress against goals and personal development."
Anne Harnetty, managing director, Jonson Beaumont
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