Appraisals

by Kate Russell

The appraisal meeting

Tip

Arrange the seating so that you are side by side rather than on opposite sides of a table. This will tend to remove barriers and show you are facing the future together.

Prior to the meeting, review your written appraisal of the employee’s performance. Review your notes covering the last year and the evidence in support of the rating you gave.

Meet with your employee in private. If possible, hold the appraisal meeting in a different office from the one in which you would discuss daily operational matters. This will avoid creating any associations with the meeting area. Some managers even prefer to do it off site. Have drinks and biscuits available.

Objectives

Plan your discussion, which will include the following objectives:

  • Reviewing, discussing and confirming the employee’s understanding of the essential functions listed on the job description, annual goals and standards of work performance
  • Recognising strengths and achievements
  • Confirming previously identified functional areas needing improvement and establishing agreement about how improvement is to be accomplished
  • Identifying areas in which education, training, or other development opportunities are needed and discussing a strategy for developing skills, knowledge or abilities
  • Discussing and confirming understanding and agreement about the steps the employee will take to accomplish self-development goals, as well as how you or the department will help
  • Agreeing targets for the next review period (or periods if they are longer-term targets)
Tip

No surprises about performance problems should emerge at the formal appraisal.

The performance appraisal process is intended to break down barriers and maintain open communication, creating an atmosphere that allows a candid approach to discussions of performance.

Structuring the discussion

The appraisal should be structured.

The opening

This triggers expectations in the mind of the other person as to the nature of the discussion and how it will probably develop. An effective opening will involve the appraisee in the first few seconds.

For instance: ‘Thanks for coming along. Have you completed the preparation we discussed?’ This indicates that you expect a participative appraisee.

You can also ask questions, such as:

‘Would you like me to run through the purpose of the discussion and how I thought we’d go about it?’

‘Is there anything that has caused you concern that you would like to address early on?’

Avoid the appraiser’s traditional question – ‘So, how do you think things have been going this past year?’ It’s so broad that it rarely attracts anything other than a guarded ‘all right’ and is therefore unhelpful.

Begin your meeting by asking your employee to estimate current progress toward each goal. Listen to your employee’s comments and take notes. Carefully review your employee’s self-appraisal. Discuss areas of agreement and difference.

Review your draft of the appraisal forms and supporting comments with the employee. Discuss the employee’s strengths first, covering each point in detail. This sets a positive tone to start the discussion.

See below for some useful questions to help prompt discussion.

Discuss progress

Discuss progress and give some positive feedback to the appraisee.

You and your appraisee need to engage in fact-finding and determining progress to date. It is important that, regardless of how far away your employee is from meeting the goal, you praise him for his progress-to-date.

If the appraisee’s performance has not met the agreed targets, discuss causes and solutions to agree on appropriate actions. These may include increasing available resources, agreeing on activities that will enable your employee to meet goals or adjusting the goals downward.

If the appraisee is exceeding goals, discuss how added effort and/or resources may be harnessed to further exceed the goal. You and your employee may decide to add additional goals at this time as well.

Talk about previously discussed areas that need improvement. Ask the employee for suggestions about how he will improve performance. Introduce your ideas for improvement as well.

Consider whether anything raised in the employee’s self-appraisal sheds new light on your assessment, and be prepared to modify your appraisal, if appropriate.

Discuss future objectives

Ask the appraisee to suggest targets and agree them together. Ensure that they are expressed in SMART terms.

Write down the new agreements and set a follow-up date. Take notes during the discussion. These should be used as a summary of the agreements so that both you and your employee can review them.

Schedule next session

A new follow-up session should be scheduled at a time when the data will be available to evaluate progress toward the goal(s).

Thanks and final check up

Close the appraisal when all points have been covered and the employee has had the opportunity to provide input.

Thank your appraisee. Ask him how he feels about the discussion: if there is any outstanding issue it’s better to find about it quickly so that you can pursue it then.

The appraisal form

If the meeting has been conducted well, you will have shown a personal interest in your employee’s progress and indicated your willingness to take up the discussion again at any time. If changes will be made to the appraisal as a result of your discussion, you will have agreed upon a date by which the final draft of the appraisal will be prepared and the appraisal will be signed.

After necessary changes have been made, ask the employee to read, comment (if he would like to) and sign the forms. Allow adequate time for the employee to do so. Assure the employee that their signature indicates that he has read the appraisal and that a discussion has taken place. It does not signify that the employee agrees with the appraisal.

You may attach work standards, supplemental performance information, work samples, and additional comments. Inform the employee that he can add or attach comments to the appraisal form as well. If the employee wants to add comments, allow time to write them, and attach the comments to the original, signed file copy. Comments should be filed with the performance appraisal.

A copy of the final signed performance appraisal should be given to the employee for his records. He can also use it as a guide for improving performance and for professional development.

Keep talking throughout the following appraisal period.

Language

Use clear and objective language as part of the appraisal.

Avoid bland, meaningless statements like ‘Mr Smith is a valuable asset to the section.’

Go for more descriptive phrases, such as ‘Miss Price completed all projects within time and cost budgets. She has been particularly successful in producing results which for the first time cast doubt on the safety limits adopted by the customer.’

Avoid the use of the ‘royal we’. Its effect is to emphasise the distance between appraiser and appraisee. Better to use ‘I’ when you mean I and only use ‘we’ when including the appraisee.

Be aware of red rag words and phrases, such as ‘average’ and ‘satisfactory’. No one likes being told they’re average! Such language will probably antagonise the appraisee.

Don’t inflate the argument. Telling someone their performance has been below accepted standards can be a bit nerve wracking, so appraisers sometimes fall into the trap of inflating their argument. A ten per cent shortfall thus becomes ‘a wholly unacceptable performance’ and an unachieved objective becomes ‘thoroughly disappointing’.

Avoid using parental language. When parents talk to their children they often do so in an authoritarian manner. ‘I would prefer you to do it this way...’ becomes ‘ You must do it this way... ’ ‘How would you feel if I suggested ... ’ becomes ‘What you ought to do is... ’. For more on this see the topic on Transactional Analysis.

Suggestions which sound like orders are not likely to get buy-in from your appraisee. Avoid suggestions which are characterised by imperatives: must, ought, should, for instance.

Concentrate on performance rather than personalities. This will ensure a fair appraisal for all and will eliminate subjective judgments made on the basis of your likes and dislikes.

Be specific about successes and failures. Honesty in assessing performance is essential. If you are to be clear and concise about performance, you need to get to the point and not gloss over awkward issues.

Actively listen

To show a genuine concern for the other party’s point of view, you must be prepared to listen and ask relevant questions and probe to get at all the facts. See Questioning Skills and Listening Skills.

  • Make short notes of the discussion, including the appraisee’s comments (but try to keep the notes to bullets so that you can maintain reasonable eye contact).
  • Give the appraisee time to think through their answers.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Demonstrate positive body language.

Problems

How do you manage a situation where an appraisee criticises you? Most people are pushed on to the defensive if a conversation develops along the lines suggested below, degenerating into an exchange about personalities.

 

 

Appraiser:

Appraisee:

You were way off on this objective.  
  It was an incredibly difficult objective.
Well, we’ve all got difficult objectives.  
  Yes, but I’ve got a key member of staff on long-term sick leave.
But if you had problems you should have asked me for help.  
  I never see you! You’re always in meetings. If you were actually around more often I’d have someone to ask.
I’ve got problems too you know. You don’t know what it’s like reporting to a chief executive who treats you as a personal assistant!

 

.... not a very constructive conversation!

The way to deal with it is to keep calm and stay focused on facts.

 

Appraiser:

Appraisee:

Achievement on this objective was 25 per cent less than we agreed. Why was that.  
  It was an incredibly difficult objective.
It was a tough one. You’ve had tough objectives in the past though. What was different about this one?  
  For goodness sake! John’s on long-term sick leave – you know how important he is to this area.
When did you know that John’s absence would cause a problem with this objective?  
  About half way through the year.
Why didn’t you come and see me?  
  If you could only be around more often I would have come to see you, wouldn’t I? I tried seeing you about it on three separate occasions but you’re always running around for the CEO. You never have any time.
I didn’t realise I’d become so unavailable. That concerns me. Let’s talk about that next. Right now I want to make sure that I understand the problems you had with this objective. I need to be clear in my own mind how much was within your control and how much wasn’t. Let’s begin by looking at the areas in which you needed help.

 

Questions to prompt discussion

  • What has been good for you in the past year? (Explain why...)
  • What has been bad for you in the past year? (Explain why... )
  • What has been indifferent for you in the past year? (Explain why...)
  • What do you consider to be the most important achievement or achievements of the past year?
  • What have you enjoyed most this year? Why?
  • What skills have been called upon to use and develop this year?
  • How did you deploy them?
  • What do you like/dislike about working for this organisation?
  • What elements of your job do you find most difficult?
  • What elements of your job interest you most/least?
  • What do you consider to be your most important tasks in the next year?
  • What action could be taken by you/by the organisation to refine and improve your performance in your current position?
  • What kind of work would you like to be doing in one/two/five years’ time?
  • What sort of development experience would benefit you in the next year?

Checklist for appraisal meeting

A good and constructive appraisal meeting is one in which

  • The appraisee does most of the talking
  • The appraiser listens actively to what he says
  • There is scope for reflection and analysis
  • Performance is analysed, not personality
  • The whole period is reviewed, not just recent or isolated events
  • Achievement is recognised and reinforced
  • Ends positively with agreed action plans.

A bad appraisal meeting

  • Focuses on a catalogue of failures and omissions
  • Is controlled by the appraiser
  • Ends with disagreement between appraiser and appraisee.