A Case Study by Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust

Using e-Appraisal and Performance Management Plans in ESR


The Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust (RLBUHT) is an acute, city centre Teaching Trust employing circa 6,500 employees, providing healthcare services over three main sites to Liverpool and the surrounding areas.

In 2012/13 North West NHS Trusts, in collaboration with Health Education North West and Manchester University, underwent a pilot exercise to investigate how a regional Learning Needs Analysis (LNA) could be adopted, in part, to better inform the commissioning of healthcare training across the region, but also to support Trusts in tracking talent within their own workforce. At the time, a separate third-party system for e-Appraisals was used, with the aim of tracking progress against corporate objectives to inform a better understanding of workforce talent and development needs.

Within RLBUHT, a pilot identified the need for a more co-ordinated approach to Appraisal, which previously had only involved recording Appraisal data at a local department level and the numbers of completed Appraisals being collected and reported to the Trust board.

Following completion of the pilot, our Executive Committee concluded there was a need to introduce centralised recording of Appraisals. It was felt this would enable more effective talent reporting, as well as provide us with the ability to monitor uptake and ensure Appraisals were being conducted consistently, as previous staff survey outcomes indicated conflicting results against what was being reported by department leads. Upon researching and testing alternative third-party systems, some of which had significant costs, it was recognised that ESR was comparable and contained the functionality required within SelfService Appraisal and Performance Management Plans (PMPs)

We had already begun the roll-out of ESR Supervisor Self-Service and had started the rollout of Employee Self-Service. Therefore, adopting ESR for Appraisals seemed a logical extension to the use of the system.

The Project

Since the launch of ESR, we, as an organisation, have been very supportive of both the North West and national ESR community. Members of the team have chaired Special Interest Groups and Regional User Groups, resulting in a high level of ESR knowledge and a desire to expand and utilise full e-Appraisal and PMPs. However, to ensure ESR was the correct choice, an options appraisal was carried out and, after considering all systems and how they would fulfil the required functionality, a scoring chart was completed; ESR was identified as the system of choice and confirmed as the ‘best value’ solution.

A review of the previous appraisal scheme, paper documentation and guidance enabled the Trust to design a completely new and refreshed approach. A key outcome of the project was to focus the appraisal on the Trusts core values and how they link to annual corporate objectives, for all staff to be aware of and associate their achievements with those of the organisation. In addition, the Executive Committee requested an appraisal window from April through to June for all appraisals to be completed, in line with the NHS business planning cycle.

Through researching the PMP functionality and working with the NHS ESR Central Team, the Trust created a series of performance plans to be inherited by employees based on their pay grade: for example, grouping employees using an eligibility criteria of 4 levels (bands 1- 4, bands 5-6, bands 7-8b, bands 8c and above). The objectives contained within the plans reflected the newly designed appraisal process, linking core values and behaviours.

ESR also allowed the inclusion of a localised Personal Development Plan (PDP) questionnaire which was developed from scratch written in HTML code. Although there is an alternative method of creating PDP questionnaires without requiring knowledge of HTML, the Trust wanted a more bespoke solution to creating their template to match the revised paperwork.

This whole project was planned and managed throughout using Systems Analysis methodology where key Work streams were identified from the outset;


  1. System usability & access;
  2. Work structures cleanse;
  3. Appraisal policy;
  4. Training & communications;
  5. Reporting;
  6. Talent Management

System Usability involved a review of screens and their design, developing localised user experience through HTML and the inclusion of links to mandatory training and objectives. The Trust ensured that the Supervisors in each area were able to upload documents to support the face-to-face conversations being held.

The ESR Work structures were reviewed and some adjustment to the Self-Service hierarchy was required to ensure the right people received the correct information.

To support our Self-Service users and acknowledging the scale of introducing a completely new approach to appraisals, face to face familiarisation sessions and supporting materials were made available. Moreover, reminders on how to deliver appraisals and support for appraising managers were introduced. Primarily, communications were delivered through Team Brief sessions, regular weekly Trust notices and targeted emails. 

Benefits and Achievements

The ability to have a full record of appraisals, not just taking place, but being aligned to training requirements, competencies, corporate objectives and Trust values is a significant achievement. More employees are accessing their appraisal than ever before, with over 3000 staff properly recording/scoring/accessing their appraisal electronically and the Trust is assured by the fact they have inherited objectives which are valid and in line with the core values and corporate plan. The values start to become embedded in culture and changes in behaviours can be monitored and measured through patient safety statistics, Friends & Family statistics and return rates and staff survey responses.

"Introducing electronic recording of appraisal was a real challenge initially but by persevering with the system we have begun a really positive culture change, not just around using the system but making the whole appraisal process more relevant for all staff. We are excited about using the new ESR front end next year as this will bring modern, accessible technology to all our staff." Donna McLaughlin, Director of Operations. RLBUHT were involved in the submission of an ESR business justification for more detailed reporting for Appraisal and PMP objectives and, following approval, since Release26 in March 2015 they are now able to monitor the detail around appraisal scores highlighting completion rates, areas of concern, talent management and departmental issues.

RLBUHT believes that effective appraisals for Healthcare workers can have a positive impact on decreasing patient mortality rates. Furthermore, CQC staffing outcomes 12, 13 & 14 include key aspects which are supported by using an effective appraisal process. By introducing ESR Appraisals the Trust has seen an increase of 5% in Staff Survey appraisal scores and excellent results in Friends and Family tests. To build on the initial findings, the Trust has taken the opportunity this year to incorporate clinical competencies and a Health and Wellbeing section to support the Trust strategy on supporting employees.

Workforce reporting relating to clinical competencies means the Trust has readily accessible data relating to the clinical skills of its staff, which not only supports the assessment of training requirements and enable commissioning of the correct type and volume of training, but is also invaluable in the event of a major incident to support the effective deployment of our staff.

Although smartcards are no longer mandated for Employee Self-Service, the Trust had already begun rollout and continues to use smartcards as a primary method of accessing ESR. Following the appraisal project, the Trust has seen a significant increase of over 50% in Smartcards being issued/used since the previous year’s appraisal window, as more employees understand the benefits of using ESR. 

Tips and Advice

We have worked in collaboration with the NHS ESR Central Team to track this project, and we recorded a number of webinar sessions that are available via the Development.esr.nhs.uk website for others to access.

An internal review of Self-Service hierarchies and ESR work structures is a key recommendation to ensure employees are reporting into the correct person, but also that workforce information reports show people are in the right places.

A clear communication plan is needed as the scale of implementing a new appraisal process needs to be understood. Similarly, it may appear that some users don’t naturally gravitate to using an electronic solution but in these instances it may be due to system setup or a training need or simply that the appraisal is carried out away from workplace and entered afterwards. The experience of introducing ESR for appraisals has also allowed us to shape our Talent Programme, through having a more robust recording and scoring mechanism than ever before.

The Next Steps

Year on year, we plan to develop the process of managing the appraisal cycle. Following each year’s initial objective setting process, we will hold user group sessions to take feedback on successes and identify opportunities to further improve for the following year. Similarly, having much richer, detailed reports available through ESR, we are now equipped with the tools to begin tailoring learning & development needs for our workforce and identifying where support is needed.

For more information

For more information please contact Alison Terry, Assistant Director of Resourcing & Workforce Governance or Paul Marston, HR Systems Manager.