“Dear Stanley, it is that time of the year when we embark on performance appraisals. You are hereby invited for a planning meeting about the same”. 

Are you a human resource manager?

If yes, you have probably sent such a reminder text or mail to your team of managers towards the end of your organization’s operational year. 

Appraisals are a necessary performance management activity. Every manager takes them seriously. I have sat in a few of them, on either side of the table of course. The ones I vividly remember are those where I was praised increasingly by the boss.

I remember in my final year as a surgeon in training, one of my bosses wrote this:

“Good strong resident. Has a good understanding of the scientific basis of surgical disease. Good surgical skills too.” 

I left that room high in spirits and full of confidence. This evaluation had come from one of the toughest, senior most faculty after a bad week at work; one of those moments when you feel like quitting your job just for the sake of peace of mind.  

Had the evaluation gone the other way (granted there were areas of improvement that were sensitively pointed out), it definitely would have negatively impacted my delivery.

Dealing with a negative evaluation, review or appraisal is hard. For some employees, having a negative review may discourage them if they have put in their best foot forward. The packaging of the feedback can equally determine the staff reaction to it. 

As the American Psychologist and Philosopher William James observed, ‘the deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated’.  

How then can we get our staff to enthusiastically look forward to the next appraisal? By having them join clubs that have a culture of offering evaluations.

When I joined toastmasters in 2018, I did it purely because I needed to practice my public speaking skills. I was lucky that when I delivered the first speech, I was voted as the best speaker. The same fate was repeated a couple of speeches later.  

It was the perfect start, hearing fellow club mates enthuse you with positive comments. When I ventured into other roles, I was the ever competitive mind and felt deflated when I did not emerge the best in those moments.

The highlight was when I entered an evaluation contest at the club level (in this exercise a member gives a speech and contestants square it out in giving feedback to that member). I delivered my evaluation so strongly that I was the best evaluator. Until the timer’s report was reviewed. I was disqualified on account of going overboard by 2 seconds! I could argue but rules were there to be followed.

After months and years of taking up different roles and emerging a winner this week only to lose to your protégé’ next, however, you develop thick skin. But that is not the whole reason. It is also because Toastmasters International pays significant attention to teaching how to offer evaluation and feedback to its club members. Members learn how to be objective and offer encouraging feedback. We learn how to look at the positive more and minimize on the negatives. We have a famous method called Sandwich- meaning that you start with the good, mention one or two areas of improvement and then conclude with the good. Another method is using a 5:1 ratio where for every negative comment (strategically termed area of improvement) you have to list 5 positives. 

Three years into the life of a toastmaster, I am always begging anyone who dares to listen to give me feedback. I have equally learnt to quickly skim past the positive comments and peep at those areas of improvement. This is the most fulfilling experience for me after every such engagement. 

Feedback is the breakfast of champions, so said Ken Blanchard. 

During probation at my workplace, I enjoyed the first moment when we sat down with my bosses and discussed the areas that my new workmates thought I could improve on. I would pick those areas and make them focus points for me. It might have appeared a little unusual towards the end as everyone had looked at me expectant of a rebuttal or defense. One even said, ‘unless doc has something to say in response’.

“I have nothing to say. I have heard all these and will put them into consideration”, I quipped.  

A few months later it was time for another meet up to discuss a little more as my probation was ebbing away. I approached the HR and requested a 360 degree evaluation. I was itching to understand how the various departments would evaluate me. How differently would they have liked me to relate or perform? 

The evaluation did come. Boy oh boy! It was an awakening for me. I got comments to improve even on areas I felt I was outdoing myself. 

Had I not been used to this culture, inculcated in a calm, positive and supportive environment that is my toastmasters club, I would probably have revolted against some of the feedback. But I took it all in stride.  And I worked on the suggested areas. I am still working on them. 

I know it might not be an easy moment for staff that have not had a chance to practice ‘appraisals’ fortnightly like I do.

If you can get your employees or friends to join a toastmasters club at a cost of 45$ every six months, they will practice this appraisal so much so that they will look forward to it every day. 

They will also learn how to motivate their staff. This, among other soft skills benefits, explains why each of the top 20 fortune 500 companies have an in-house toastmasters club.