Giving employees the ability to drive their own development plans can boost engagement and happiness levels, says Phil Underwood

Working as a business mentor I often discuss the appraisal process with managers and directors. It has become an annual, tick-box exercise, with employees waiting to be marked on their performance and set targets to achieve or improve on. But instead of having the desired effect, this process can often leave employees feeling less than motivated and, in some cases, misunderstood.

Although still a vital cog in most performance management systems, a staggering 90 per cent of people see appraisal systems as a failure, according to a 2013 study by the Society for Human Resource Management. I found myself asking: what if employees appraised themselves, identified their development needs and presented their employer with their own development plan? What if they reviewed their own performance all the time and developed themselves and it became an upward conversation? Would this employee-led system lead to higher levels of staff retention and employee job fulfilment?

A simple and personal development review could help individuals take responsibility and manage their own development. Here are three simple ways you can reinvent the way you appraise your staff.

1. Understand what good leadership looks like

Most of us know how to spot a good or bad employee – we’ve worked alongside and for them. But to develop ourselves we need to know what competence looks like and then we can understand what we need to learn next.

Tools such as a ‘leadership competence model’ can help us to understand a job role as a series of skills, helping us identify specific areas that we have not yet developed and that would contribute to an improvement in our performance.

It can help the employee understand where they are starting from, and to recognise any hidden skills they may already have. It is also flexible enough to be used for all roles and at all levels, and provides a logical development path to build competencies.

2. Appraise yourself

Appraisals force managers to talk to employees about their development, but the feedback they give is often a surprise, popping up only at the appraisal, and is sometimes subjective and from a single viewpoint. We also know that giving feedback is difficult – managers often don’t know how to do this effectively and can lack the required interpersonal skills.

Creating a continuous appraisal process can help employees to tap into their development easily and whenever they want. Provide a quick tick-box exercise that helps identify strengths and gaps in skills and produce a development plan. This lets individuals drive their development, proactively seek and spot opportunities to develop new skills, and ask for help or resources so that they can improve their performance.

3. Use practical tools for self-development

Development plans are sometimes not much more than ‘must do better’ statements or training course requests – we ideally require learning resources that fit with specific personal needs, develop skills and provide practical tools to transfer those skills into the workplace.

Development works far better when the employee takes the initiative. All we need to do is provide useful self-guided resources such as problem-solving tools and real examples of how others have solved problems.

Employees are the most easily accessible assets and are often ignored because improving their performance seems hard to do; however, employees who own their development plans are normally more engaged, more empowered and happier.

Phil Underwood is an author and business mentor, and co-founder of Artof, an edtech developer and publisher