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Community pharmacy

How to get appraisals off the ground

Director of pharmacy services at Numark, Mimi Lau, outlines the importance of formal appraisals and how best to implement them in a community pharmacy setting.

Appraisals are an important part of the development of staff within a community pharmacy


Appraisals can encourage professional development in community pharmacies

The most valuable asset in any organisation is the people who work there — they can make or break a business. Pharmacy is no different. As such, it is important that all staff members receive regular reviews. However, in April 2014, the General Pharmaceutical Council found that only 17% of pharmacists who work in small community pharmacies had an appraisal in the previous year.

Managers of small pharmacies may find that having time constraints and few team members can be barriers to completing regular staff appraisals. However, as well as helping to improve the efficiency and motivation of your employees, appraisals can enable you to update your staff on the latest developments within the business and provide an opportunity for staff to discuss any training needs they may have. If your employees see that you are taking the appraisal process seriously (and not simply treating it as a paper exercise) you, your employees and your business will benefit.

“Because we are a small, close-knit group, I did not feel the need for appraisals; I am on hand to discuss matters as they arise,” pharmacy owner Gareth Rowe explains. “However, in the new culture of demonstrating that we are complying with the new inspection guidelines, I could see the need to have these kind of interactions formally documented.” Rowe employs four members of staff at Nant-Y-Moel Pharmacy in Wales — a medicines counter assistant, dispensary assistant, technician and accuracy checking technician — who he appraised for the first time in November 2013.

Preparing for an appraisal

Staff should receive a formal review at least once a year, with a more structured interim review every six months and informal catch-ups taking place regularly. Finding the time for these meetings can be challenging, but effective management involves delegating tasks to an appropriate person so that you are free to undertake the work only you can do. In larger pharmacies, consider whether there is a retail manager or supervisor who could be trained to conduct appraisals. It may also be possible to undertake appraisals out of hours, or by using a second pharmacist or locum.

Raj Patel, superintendent pharmacist at the Mount Elgon pharmacy group, says that independent community pharmacists are renowned for trying to hold on to everything. “I delegate as much as possible; it helps to give staff a sense of responsibility,” he says. “It’s the art of a good manager, I think. Otherwise you get wrapped up in the nitty gritty everyday activities, and you can’t be innovative.” In addition, he emphasises that appraisals should be booked into the diary, not just left for when there is time.

Before the appraisal, employees should have a full understanding of what the meeting is for and be given an opportunity to ask questions and raise any concerns. “I took time to assure staff that the appraisals were not a test or meant to be critical of their work,” Rowe says. “Instead, they are a two-way dialogue where we discuss the aspects of the business that I want to address but also where they appraise their own roles. They can discuss how they feel they are currently doing, if they believe they need support or training in any aspect of their roles and consider how they would like their career to progress in future.”

Template documents can be used for recording the appraisal. Such templates can be downloaded from the internet or companies may like to prepare their own. Staff members should have access to these documents and know how to complete them before the appraisal takes place. Once staff members are being appraised regularly, it is useful to provide them with the result of their previous appraisal for reference.

Rowe explains that his staff completed part of the appraisal form before the meeting, including:

  • The areas of their role in which they believe they are most successful and enjoy the most;
  • The areas they find the most challenging or enjoy the least;
  • How they have performed against their personal objectives;
  • What other activities or training they would like to undertake;
  • Any career aspirations and where they see themselves in five years.

“I think [staff] found the first part of the appraisal a challenge initially, not having had to do this sort of thing before,” says Rowe. “However, having done this, and moving into the actual appraisal, I think they liked having the opportunity to say which areas they were most comfortable in and to be honest about the [tasks] they did not enjoy. This gave me a chance to explain how important each of their designated roles is to the business, including the areas they don’t enjoy so much.”

Conducting the appraisal

Ideally, the appraisal should take place in a quiet room away from the pharmacy so that the meeting is not interrupted and discussions cannot be overheard by other staff or customers. Arranging chairs side by side rather than across a desk will help the meeting feel less confrontational and more about exchanging views and sharing ideas.

A good approach would be to have a fairly general discussion before getting into any detail. The employee should do most of the talking, prompted by the interviewer, who should maintain open body language and eye contact. Open questions encourage the employee to talk — he or she should not feel that you are talking ‘at’ them.

Rowe explains that he used the answers his staff members gave on their forms before the appraisal to lead the meeting. “My counter assistant is also trained to be a dispensary assistant so she plays dual roles in the front shop and dispensary during busy periods,” he says. “She had stated that she enjoyed her interaction with the public and that she was confident in her counter assistant role, but that she found her new dispensing assistant role challenging because she had only just passed her qualification. Despite this, she was enjoying the dispensing role more than her work in the shop because it gave her a new challenge.”

Each employee has a list of responsibilities outlined in their job description. This can be used to help assess his or her performance, as well as looking at the list of agreed objectives and notes on performance throughout the year. If there has been a regular dialogue with the employee then there should be no surprises during the appraisal. Any performance issues should have been addressed as soon as those issues occurred and should not have waited until the review. It is fine to mention the issues during the meeting, but the employee should have heard about them before.

Patel says smaller community pharmacies may have an advantage when it comes to bringing issues up as they happen. “In larger organisations, staff might not see their manager as often,” he explains. In his pharmacy, staff members meet regularly to discuss any problems or situations that could have been handled differently. “When we get to the appraisal, we can formally discuss these issues, document them, form an action plan and then agree on an outcome,” he says.

Of his counter assistant’s appraisal, Rowe says: “It was good for me to formally tell her how pleased I was with her progression and how her new role was a great asset to me, because more dispensing help has freed more time for me to perform additional services. I also reiterated how important her role in the front shop remained, monitoring stock and giving good service to our customers.”

To avoid any legal issues, it is important to ensure that appraisals are not discriminatory and are not used for the purposes of promotion or dismissal. If, for example, the employee can prove that they have been discriminated on the grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation or disability, it could be challenged in the courts. This can result in a costly claim for compensation.

The appraisal should end on a positive note. There should be an agreed set of objectives and a plan of action. Objectives should be SMART, that is, smart, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. The plan should include ideas for developing the skills and performance of your employee.

“A good objective is one that everyone agrees on,” says Patel. “Ideally, the employee should suggest the objective and then you can agree on a time frame in which to do it. For example, you could try something for a month and then review it.” He adds that it is important to communicate with your staff and make sure they want to develop, and then help them to do so.

At the end of the appraisal, the objectives and actions should be added to the appraisal form, together with comments from the staff members about the process. The form should then be signed to show that all parties have agreed the appraisal, and this should be reviewed every few months — ideally at one-to-one meetings — to monitor progress.

During her appraisal, Rowe’s counter assistant told him she would like to train as a pharmacy technician. “We set a main objective for her over the next year to use the pharmacy patient medication record system more and become more confident in it,” Rowe says. “Since her appraisal, this has indeed happened and she is now as adept in the dispensary as on the counter.”

Top tips for an effective appraisal

  • Discuss appraisals with staff in advance and put them at ease with the process. Both parties should set time aside to prepare for the appraisal;
  • Ensure that the appraisal is conducted in a suitable environment, with no distractions or interruptions;
  • Keep to the facts and focus on the results achieved — and not on emotional issues — and discuss behaviours rather than personalities. The appraisal should be about staff and their roles, rather than them personally;
  • Be specific about situations that have gone well or badly and what can be done to maintain a high standard in the future;.
  • Support positive and negative feedback with an explanation;
  • Agree SMART objectives and an action plan for future development;
  • Use the opportunity to get across any new initiatives, ideas or policies to all staff;
  • Conduct regular reviews after the appraisal to keep on track.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066667

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