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Lucy Adams: ‘appraisals don’t work’

The annual appraisal system is not fit for purpose former BBC HR director Lucy Adams has claimed this morning.

Speaking at an event organised by speaker agency JLA, Adams, who left her role at the BBC 10 days ago, said: “I want to explode the myths that appraisals work: they don’t.

“We think they are key to identifying the talent of the future and that they will improve productivity and engagement, but the reality is they do none of these things and often achieve the reverse.”

Adams, who was critcised for her role in large pay-outs given to departing BBC executives last year, referred to herself as a “recovering HR director”. 

She said there are three main reasons the appraisals process doesn’t work: employees are “terrified of them”, they only happen once a year and managers are bad at them.

Citing the findings of neuroscience, she said appraisals often threaten employees’ sense of status, certainty, autonomy and fairness.

“The words ‘can I give you some feedback’ have the same affect on the brain as someone running up behind you in a dark alley wearing a hoody,” she said. “I’ve seen journalists who have been on the frontline in Afghanistan quaking in fear at the thought of an appraisal.”

She added that feedback needs to be immediate rather than annual to inspire behavioural change and said managers often suffer from “PMT: performance management tension”.

“We spend millions of pounds thinking appraisals are going to create the workforce of the future, and they don’t work,” she said, adding that the problem often comes from HR concentrating on process rather than thinking about how people react to things.

When asked what she would replace appraisals with, Adams said she would ideally like to see people promoted to management positions because of their leadership capabilities, not their technical skills.

“[Business] should take an army or football model, where people are promoted on the basis of leadership,” she said. “It’s a complicated skill-set.”

She also said she would like to see more focus on managers really getting to know their teams, more coaching in organisations and explorations of peer review as opposed to top-down reviews.