In the third year of the project, the trust made appraisal mandatory for all staff. This presented a logistical challenge to managers of facilities departments, who might have anything up to 200 members of staff to appraise. The logistical challenge was complicated by a shortage of supervisors, which could result in supervisor–staff ratios of 1:60. Moreover, the departments had no experience of appraisal and were concerned that even if they could organise supervisors to deliver appraisal, those supervisors lacked the expertise and experience deemed necessary to appraise staff.
As a result, the Stepping Stones programme agreed to design and deliver group appraisals to facilities staff. These group appraisals took the form of a series of facilitated and structured group discussions, generating departmental action plans and individual personal development plans. Although managers and supervisors were present, at their request the sessions were led by the Stepping Stones team.
The sessions were structured around a pack, produced by the Stepping Stones programme, containing explanatory material and specially designed appraisal paperwork. Each participant was issued with a copy. The facilitator used the pack to guide participants, grouped into twos and threes according to role, through the appraisal process. This involved the facilitator presenting each discrete appraisal element to the group as a whole; small groups discussing it to enable participants to process the information; participants in the small groups giving feedback to the group as a whole, in order to share views; the whole group discussing the feedback to arrive at a consensus of views; and finally participants recording conclusions. In addition to the facilitator, other members of the Stepping Stones programme were present to provide support to participants to enable them to get the most out of the procedure.
For most participants, these sessions were the first time they had experienced appraisal. Not only were staff unused to meeting in groups to assess performance, but they were also unfamiliar with the language of appraisal. Terms such as ‘key result areas’, ‘objectives’, ‘targets’, ‘action planning’ and ‘goal setting’ appeared to be as foreign to native speakers as to non-native speakers.
Despite the complete novelty of the process, and considerable initial scepticism from many staff, the appraisal programme, made up of an initial three hour-long session followed by a one-hour review session once every eight weeks, proved popular. Eleven departments and over 300 staff ultimately participated. Stepping Stones practitioners facilitating the appraisals helped staff enter an important area of workplace discourse.
One incident from the programme is useful to record in the context of this paper. At one appraisal meeting a curtain-hanging assistant reported that he could make a potential improvement to his department’s customer service. He was willing to undertake a further task related to his job but currently restricted to estates department staff. If he undertook this task it would save the trust money and offer a better service to ward staff and patients. Neither he nor his manager knew how to propose this change to their own organisation, and neither felt confident or able to set about finding out. (The suggestion was ultimately forwarded to the appropriate decision by the Stepping Stones’ facilitator.)
From the appraisal programme came facilitated health and safety training, again mandated by the trust. A Stepping Stones basic skills practitioner who was qualified to deliver health and safety training led these training sessions, supported by another practitioner. As with the appraisals, the facilitator–participant ratio was generally about 1:4 or 1:5. The focus of the health and safety programme was on language as new to native-speaker staff as it was to the non-native speakers, particularly in relation to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s (CIEH’s) foundation examination. Significant time on the course was devoted to helping workers recognise their own articulation of health and safety in the language used by CIEH.
(3)The examination assessed participants’ ability to describe the nature, costs and benefits of health and safety at work, including common types and causes of work-related accidents and ill health. Its syllabus covered health and safety law, accidents and ill health, risk assessment, first aid at work, personal protective equipment (PPE), workplace safety, work equipment, electricity, fire prevention, occupational health, hazardous substances, manual handling and noise.