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Adam Turner

Appraisals for the often small and specialist digital team can be challenging, here are some tips...

General SM update


Annual appraisals and performance reviews at work tend to provoke mixed feelings. Done well, they can be a good way to celebrate an individual’s success, identify training needs and provide focus for role and career development for both the short and long term. The process can also help people reflect on what they can do to be more effective or happier in their role. It’s also an opportunity to identify and solve issues.

Done badly, appraisals can feel like a pointless exercise, an annual or quarterly tick-the-box exercise that wastes everybody’s time. If you’re a manager and you have to carry out numerous appraisals. you may also find it a serious drain on your time. Some large organisations have also questioned the value of annual appraisals and abandoned them altogether, usually for a process that involves more ongoing feedback.

Tips for success

There are lots of tips out there on how to make appraisals work better for you, both as an individual or as a manager, and there’s also likely guidance in your organisation. However, sometimes the guidance and frameworks provided by HR functions tend to focus on the core activity of an organisation. If you work for an engineering company, they may principally be aimed at engineers.

Because digital teams are small and specialist (and sometimes are just one person), the appraisal process may be challenging, especially if the rest of the organisation doesn’t quite understand what your digital team does.

Here’s a few tips from us to help you get the best out of your appraisal process.

  1. Make sure you prepare and set time aside

    It might sound obvious, but the secret to a good appraisal is decent preparation. Having a good think about what you want to do as an employee, or what you want to say as a manager, is key. In the constant whirlwind of busy daily operations, it can be surprisingly hard to find the time and the “headspace” to consider your own role and career, or that of your team.

    It’s key to set some time aside to prepare. The typical sorts of questions that need to be considered include “Where do you want to be, where are you now and what do you need to do to get there?” and “What does success mean for you?”. For example, we recently defined eight characteristics of digital rockstars

  2. Think outside the box for training and development opportunities

    One of the best outcomes from a good appraisal is to identify opportunities for training and development. There may be a training budget available, but its surprising how often this gets left untouched. If there is some budget for training, make sure you use it! 

    As a specialist digital or marketing team it’s unlikely that the most relevant training for you is going to be offered internally; realistically you will probably need to look externally. As we all know much of what we learn is also delivered through on-the-job experiences and by spending time with experts so training might not necessarily involve a formal course. Think outside the box; for example, clients have told us that Sitemorse’s combination of prioritised issues and bite-sized learning videos are a highly effective platform for upskilling digital teams.  

  3. Use a skills or competency framework

    Sometimes organisations have their own skills or competency frameworks that help employees articulate where there are skills gaps, identify training and plan their career progression. In many cases these frameworks may not be relevant to digital teams, but there are other existing professional frameworks that you can use. These can be a good reference point to plan for an appraisal or as a conversation starter, or simply to spark ideas. They can also help you articulate what you do to non-digital people.

    If you work in the UK public sector you may have already seen the Government Digital Service’s “Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework”.  This is detailed, relevant and useful for any organisation. If you’re more on the classic marketing side, there are also frameworks for you such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s professional marketing competencies.  We’ll this topic in more detail in a future blog post.

  4. Make success measurable 

    Setting some kind of goal to achieve really helps people focus on making improvements. If success is measurable or trackable (to show a milestone for example) then even better. Measurement doesn’t necessarily have to involve a target to reach  – it could be to just to improve, but the point is to have tangible evidence of moving forward.

    For example, our PRIVATEINDEX independent benchmarking service has proved to be a positive focus for a number of member’s appraisals, allowing for independent scoring of different aspects of a website such as accessibility and giving teams a sense of moving in the right direction.

  5. Make your appraisal as part of an ongoing conversation

    Appraisals work best when they are part of an ongoing dialogue between an employee and their line manager, or within the context of wider team activities. This means that the agreed actions that come out of an appraisal just don’t get left and forgotten about until next year. 

    It also means everyday work and repeated processes (and the learning that comes from carrying them out) are also more likely to be more aligned to the themes that come out of an appraisal. 

Give it time and attention

If you don’t love being involved in annual appraisals, it’s still better to make the most of it rather than just grin and bear it. Give it some time and attention, lean on some external frameworks and think creatively and you’ll reap the benefits individually but also for your wider digital team. Good luck!

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