PARTICIPATION IN AN ANNUAL REVIEW
Staff Involvement in Monitoring, Assessment and Planning
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking
Making a safe environment for staff to be frank
Annual reviews can be different things in different contexts. This document describes how an annual review (AR) can be used as a mechanism of participatory management, and as a means for obtaining staff input into the planning and management of an organization.
The main content of management is decision making. That decision making is practised in the context of planning, implementation and monitoring. That applies regardless of what kind of organization it is, an assistance project, a CBO or NGO, a private firm, a governmental or multilateral department or division.
The annual review lies between monitoring and planning – (1) monitoring and assessing the implementation of the past year, and (2) planning the implementation of the upcoming year.
While some annual reviews may involve various actors, including stake holders or development projects; this annual review description will focus on staff participation, and ways to obtain their input into the management process.
The objective of participatory management is to obtain staff decision making to put into the management process. Not all decisions, however. Both staff and managers have no control over some decisions (1) because of the policy of the board of directors, (2) because of the law of the land, (3) because of budgetary restrictions, or (4) because of head office goals and objectives.
Participatory management does not mean that the staff are the final arbitrators of decisions that affect the organization; it means that their wisdom, experience, observations and creativity are factored into the making of executive decisions. The staff members supplement and contribute to the work of managers.
The annual review, therefore, should be designed and run in a way that maximizes staff input, within its limitations, and contributes to planning, implementation and monitoring.
Planning and Management:
If you want staff participation in management decision making, then you want their involvement in monitoring, assessment and planning, which are vital elements of the whole management process.
The annual review is a mechanism for involving them in all three. Their participation in the annual review is a means of obtaining their observations and analysis of what has happened in the past, and their suggestions and recommendations for what should happen in the future.
Planning is a vital element in the management decision making process.
Focus on the Review:
Make sure that all the participants participate all the time. It is very easy for busy people to get distracted from review discussions. Ongoing work can intrude onto the discussions, as the people the staff work with (clients, customers, stake holders) will phone or come to the office, and expect to be paid attention – to be answered.
For that reason, the reviews should take place outside the locality of the workplace, and preferably outside any urban centre, away from phones, faxes and email. If the review is to take place over more than one day (maximum two days is adequate), then they should be informed that they are expected to stay at the location of the review, in their assigned quarters. If a rural conference centre is not available outside what your budget allows, arrange with a school or rural extension centre or similar institution to provide space for the meeting and accommodation. Arrange with them or with a different caterer, for the meals during the review. The objective is to make it as convenient as possible for all the participants to attend the review at tall times, and not be tempted to find other tasks to do.
It is also easy to get distracted from the review because of the nature of the review process itself. Sometimes there will be grievances, for example. If those complaints imply that a management decision must be made, then that is OK, but it is easy for the discussion to spiral into the grievances without reaching any decision at all.
It is important to ensure that all participants know that the annual review is intended to monitor activities and their results, and to draw lessons from them that will be useful in generating the next year’s work plan. In both the planning and the implementing of the annual review, it is necessary to set things up to that the focus will be on the review. The focus should be on all participants observing and assessing how actions and results went over the last year, and generating recommendation and suggestions for planning the oncoming year.
Make it Safe:
Some people will hesitate to speak out and be frank about events that happened in the organization. They may feel, often with some justification, that they may be punished in various ways by their supervisors by being critical. You must find ways to draw out of them observations that can lead to suggestions which will improve output next year, without their feeling that they will suffer as a result.
One way is to communicate an important management principle known by the slogan, "You do not have to be bad to get better." In the training document, management training, you see that this slogan is used as a positive way for a supervisor to suggest improvements in a staff member without being negative about past actions. A manager can get much more out of staff by avoiding negative criticism. In the annual review, you reverse the situation, letting staff know that if they have complaints and criticisms about the organization or its activities, they can express them as positive recommendations for changes, rather than dwell on what was done incorrectly in the past. Let the staff know that this will be better for avoiding the fear of reprisals for criticizing their supervisors. See Sandwich.
In the context of the annual review, it helps make the environment a more safe place if the manager plays a role as just one of the staff. Below, it is recommended that you hire a professional facilitator to facilitate the review process. The facilitator becomes the "MC" (Master of Ceremonies), and the manager(s) become regular participants just like the other staff members. This has somewhat of an "equalizing" effect which helps make the review more of a safe place for staff members. Another way is for the manager or managers to be humble and show that they are human; not pretending to be gods.
An opening icebreaker is mentioned below in setting up the agenda. The manager or managers should not stand apart and watch an icebreaker; that completely defeats its purpose. They should participate fully in the icebreaker, even if it means being courageous and abandoning (or setting aside) one's symbols of pride and status.
Participants should not feel that they are under scrutiny or being observed by outsiders. You must make it your policy and stick to it that there will be no observers. If you are forced to have visitors, such as representatives from a donor agency, Government officials, head office representatives or VIPs of any persuasion, then let them know that they may only attend as full participants. They must participate in all sessions. This includes that they should participate in the ice breakers described below.
The most important way to reduce fear that will hinder staff from providing honest assessments of the past year, is to let them know that there will be no reprisals for candour, and tell the truth when you do.
Use a Facilitator:
There are many reasons why you should use a facilitator to co-ordinate and run the annual review.
Putting the manager in a position resembling equality with the staff, mentioned above, is only one of them. That will help them feel more safe in making candid observations or recommendations.
The facilitation of participation in appraisal is hard work, and requires concentration, training and experience. It must be recognized that a PRA facilitator, apart from everything else, is engaging in a performance. If a manager does the facilitation at an AR, then that manager has less mental energy left over for listening. Yes, it is difficult to tie shoe laces and chew gum at the same time.
At all times, most especially during an annual review, it is the task for the manager to listen to staff members. Employing a professional to facilitate the participation of staff in appraising the organization or its work, allows managers to spent more time, rightfully on listening to what staff members are saying.
If not given your guidance, however, a professional facilitator trained and experienced in PRA/PAR techniques may be inclined to allow the appraisal to be completely unstructured. So as to ensure that the discussion is focused on the activities and results of the past year, and on recommendations for the annual work plan for the upcoming year, the facilitator must be completely briefed on the goals or policy of the organization and, if they are explicit and written, the specific objectives and outputs of the project or organization. The facilitator must be briefed to keep the discussion on those two topics.
Plan the Agenda:
You must spend enough time, perhaps a half day, with the facilitator, to plan the agenda. Ensure that the facilitator knows what you want her or his role to be in obtaining the objectives of the annual review.
All the key elements must be included in the agenda:
See the document on Preparing a Workshop. Use it in planning the agenda with the facilitator.
It is best to have the agenda written out on a single sheet of paper, handed out as participants arrive. If there are any visitors, ie people who are neither staff nor managers, they should be introduced to the other participants, at which time it should be repeated that they are not here to observe, but to participate. This is a working session, and should not be treated as an international conference or seminar. Specifically, the annual review should not be formally opened with speeches by any VIP.
In your agenda, at the beginning of the review, plan to have an icebreaker. This is a humorous session aimed at breaking down day-to-day social relations, especially those based on respect and duty towards supervisors, on and roles in the organization that contribute to its social structure. See the document: Icebreakers, for more information about this kind of session. The message that an icebreaker sends is that this session is not part of day-to-day work in the project or organization.
As mentioned above, the annual review should have no observers. It is intended mainly for staff and managers. If there must be guests, and this in not encouraged, then those guests must participate, and participate especially in the icebreakers. In the icebreaker document, it is explained that the icebreaker session is one which sets the tone of the whole workshop. It communicates that all participants, managers and staff alike, must not take themselves seriously, should not think they are any more important than any other participant, and that they must be able to laugh at themselves. The same applies to organizing an annual review – this will encourage more honest and comprehensive input from all participants.
When designing your agenda, make sure that you carefully explain the objectives of the workshop. The participants must all work together as a group to assess what has gone on before, and provide inputs into what is to go on ahead. This should be communicated both verbally and on paper. It is OK to be redundant to be sure the message gets across.
While working with the facilitator, indicate that you expect varied participatory sessions. They should not all be the same. It is good to have light sessions, where the participants, working in small groups perhaps, do some cutting, drawing or designing, using markers, scissors, coloured construction paper, newsprint or other props and supplies. It is good to give simple physical tasks to be done by small groups by co-operation. This encourages team work, good for the review and good for the organization.
The facilitator or reporter may sum up the annual review with a list of what observations and recommendations were offered and recorded.
As with the opening, there should be no closing speeches or remarks by any VIP.
Assign a Rapporteur:
While it is important to avoid having observers, it is necessary to have a review reporter.
This is best someone known to all staff. It could be a support staff member, such as a secretary, skilled in taking meeting notes. It is then advised that you provide him or her with a small honorarium, perhaps about a hundred dollars, for giving up the chance to be a full participant in order to take accurate notes and write up a session report.
As with participatory management meetings, the report should emphasize only decisions, except that for the annual review it should list them in the form of (a) observations about the past year and (2) recommendations for the coming year. It should be ready as a first draft at the end of the day the annual review is held. It should be edited by the manager and distributed to all participants by the end of the day following the annual review. The agenda may be attached to the form to indicate what sessions were undertaken. Discussions about who said what are not necessary in the review report.
At the wrap up of the review, the report, in draft form, can be read out to the participants. This can be done by the reporter or the facilitator. The written report, after some proof reading and tidying, can be circulated later, but not too much later.
Annual Work Plan:
The annual work plan (AWP) for the coming year should be produced shortly after the annual review.
It should list the major goals of the organization or project. It may include some of the outputs or objectives, with an emphasis on those which will be most prominent in the following year. It might elaborate on some of the needed strategies needed in order to reach them.
See the document, Work Plan.
The recommendations and suggestions that were recorded in the annual review should be reflected in the AWP. The report of the annual review should be attached as an appendix to the AWP. Any suggestions coming from the annual review, which can not be exercised because of head office policy, laws of the land, budget restraints or other over-riding reasons, must be pointed out and explained in the AWP.
The AWP with those items might be used as a tool to lobby for changes in any of those over-riding issues.
The annual review (AR) is an excellent mechanism for channelling the participation of staff members into the management decision making process. It takes their observations and analyses as input for monitoring and assessment. It takes their suggestions and recommendations as input for planning. Implementation during the following year should follow the annual work plan which, in turn, should reflect the inputs from staff that were generated by the annual review.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle