8 Tips for Effective Performance Appraisals

4 May 2020
8 minute

Performance Appraisals

Effective performance appraisals are the key to team and individual performance and growth. When carried out effectively, performance appraisals offer positive benefits including improved motivation, better working relationships and the ability to undertake succession planning.

What is a performance appraisal?

Performance appraisals provide a forum where employees can discuss their past performance and future development opportunities with their manager. They also open up a dialogue between manager and employee where team and business objectives can be discussed and linked to the employee’s personal goals.

How to perform an appraisal?

During the staff appraisal, the employee may wish to request additional support or express an interest in future promotion opportunities. The manager can use this opportunity to consider whether their request is appropriate and identify any resources required to fulfil this.

On paper, performance appraisals appear vital to organisational success. But in recent years, the value of carrying out annual performance views has been subject to scrutiny, with many employers opting for more frequent, informal conversations regarding work performance. A study by i4CP found that only around 52% of all companies conduct annual performance appraisals. Furthermore, only 55% of employees would describe their employer’s performance appraisal process as effective.

Performance appraisal methods

Traditional performance appraisal

Traditionally, the performance appraisal process includes:

  • A face-to-face meeting between the manager and staff member. This is used to discuss past performance and expectations for the future
  • A review of any previously set objectives
  • Setting new objectives for the employee to work towards over the next review period
  • A written record of the discussions between manager and employee

Alternative performance appraisal methods

Staff appraisals are often used in conjunction with other performance assessment tools, for example:

  • Self-appraisal or personal evaluation - the employee is asked to answer questions relating to their own performance
  • 360-degree appraisal - Feedback on the employee’s performance is sought from multiple sources, usually a colleague, direct report and non-direct manager or supervisor that the employee regularly works with. You can find out more about how to implement 360 feedback within your organisation here.
  • Employee ratings - A standardised rating or grading system is used to assess against defined criteria such as competencies, behaviours and personal traits
  • Assessment centres - A group of employees are asked to take part in a combination of exercises designed to find out more about their personality and working methods

Whichever performance management method your business chooses, the opportunity to exchange feedback with staff is invaluable and should remain an important priority.

Employee performance management

A vital part of any company’s success is keeping employees on track, in the same direction and well motivated. Employee performance management plays a key role in this process.

To maintain and improve the performance of your workforce, regular and ongoing meetings between employees and their managers is a must. It enables discussions on performance that will target how to improve, how they can be supported and how they are in line with the strategic objectives of the company.

Through this format of communication, it means it is not just a one way street. It allows employees to effectively communicate with those above them. Through communication they can collaborate to come up with ways to plan, monitor and review objectives for not only the employee but long-term goals and contributions to the company.

The purpose of employee performance management is to align a team with current business objectives whilst creating a platform where managers can develop, support and help their staff to improve their overall performance.

Why some people hate performance reviews and why they shouldn’t

Effective performance appraisals offer a useful way to motivate staff to achieve their personal objectives, measure performance against team goals and give praise. But for many, the thought of having to undergo (or indeed undertake) annual performance reviews fills them with dread. After all, the idea of an awkward, formal discussion about personal performance is unlikely to appeal to either party.

A recent study by Leadership IQ confirms that the feeling is mutual across the board - just 13% of managers and employees believe their organisation’s performance appraisal offers value. And when it comes to CEO’s, only 6% believe that the performance appraisal system within their organisation is useful.

Some of the key issues employees raised in relation to performance reviews included:

  • Over 50% of respondents said their performance appraisal was “never” or “rarely” “open, honest and meaningful”. This suggests there are issues relating to the communication style adopted by the appraising manager.
  • 40% of respondents said their leader “never” or “rarely” recognised their accomplishments. This suggests that managers are failing to offer thanks and praise for an employee’s contribution during the appraisal discussion.
  • 36% of respondents said they “never” or “rarely” knew whether their performance was where it should be. This suggests that managers are not being specific about their expectations of staff during the performance review.

There are many reasons why managers hate performance appraisals, although in truth they are often linked to their own performance or management style. For example, a failure to set objectives to staff in the past could mean there is little tangible evidence for the manager to appraise at the annual review. Equally, if they are unapproachable, afraid of giving negative feedback or haven’t received the appropriate training to deliver effective employee performance reviews, this will have an impact on how positive they feel about the appraisal process.

8 appraisal tips for delivering effective performance

When done well, appraisals should be a positive experience for both the appraiser and the appraisee. Here are 8 appraisal tips to help deliver effective performance.

1. Brush up on your appraisal skills

If you haven’t received any formal training on performance management, now is the time to request it. Even if you have, consider asking for a refresher to ensure you’re up to date on company policy. Consider asking your peers for some honest feedback on your management style as this could affect your ability to undertake effective appraisals.

2. Preparation is key

Arrange a private meeting venue with as few distractions as possible. Give the employee sufficient notice (two weeks is ideal) and an overview of the process in advance. If your organisation asks staff to complete a self-appraisal form, ensure this is issued well in advance of the meeting.

3. Encourage a two-way, open discussion

Ask the employee open questions relating to their performance. Offer positive feedback, thanks and praise for areas in which they have excelled. If they identify any areas for development, acknowledge these and steer the conversation towards ways in which these might be improved through training or additional support.

4. Remember to listen

It is vital to actively listen and consider non-verbal cues such as body language. Don’t interrupt the employee when they are speaking, although you may wish to ask probing questions to clarify meaning. Before moving on to the next discussion point, take a moment to summarise the conversation and check mutual agreement and understanding of future expectations.

5. Incorporate the 7 drivers of employee engagement into your discussion

This will enable staff to reflect openly on how they are feeling within the workplace. You could ask employees to answer the following questions using a Likert scale, for example 0 (never) to 5 (always) - this is a good way to track any changes.

Freedom - do they have the flexibility to choose and make decisions?
Clarity - are there clear goals and a purpose?
Challenge - do they have enjoyable and relevant work?
Growth - do they have opportunities to develop?
Recognition - are they receiving praise and appreciation?
Togetherness - is there cooperation, support and trust within the team?
Voice - are their ideas and opinions respected?

6. Offer regular feedback

Give staff the opportunity to discuss their performance on an ad-hoc basis - not just at their annual performance review. Take the opportunity to discuss performance both formally and informally, ensuring training and development are regularly offered when required.

Avoid “saving up” feedback for the performance appraisal. There should be no surprises at the annual review, so if you have concerns about an employee’s performance or behaviour you should raise the issue with them as soon as possible. When offering feedback, remember to give specific examples. If you have had cause to discuss a particular issue with the employee previously, it is important to discuss this as part of the formal performance review process. Equally, don’t be afraid to celebrate success outside of the formal review process.

7. Ensure objectives are SMART

Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Make sure the employee is in agreement with all of these points before finalising the objective, as they may have a different view. Objectives should also be aligned to overall business goals so that employees can see where they fit into the ‘bigger picture’ and how they can make a positive contribution. Consider taking copies of your own personal objectives, team goals and the business priorities over the coming months and years so they can be considered as part of the objective-setting process.

8. Document a record of the discussion (either electronic or paper-based)

A copy should be issued to the employee as soon as possible after the meeting. Offer them the opportunity to suggest any required changes once they have had time to reflect.

In summary

Traditionally, performance appraisals have tended to reflect on past performance, but it’s equally important to focus on the future.

An effective performance appraisal is a two-way, personalised conversation between appraiser and appraisee. It should incorporate:

  • Feedback on the employee’s contribution to individual, team and corporate goals
  • Setting SMART objectives for the upcoming review period
  • Discussion on training needs and potential development opportunities for the future

Your organisation may opt to conduct annual performance appraisals, but it is important to ensure this is not the sole opportunity for staff to discuss their performance. Managers should strive to offer regular performance feedback throughout the year on an informal basis.

To avoid performance appraisals being based on the subjective opinion of one manager, consider collecting 360 degree feedback prior to the appraisal meeting. The Thomas 360 Degree Assessment quickly and easily enables people to gather performance feedback from their managers, colleagues, team members and customers. They can then compare this with their own perception of their work performance.

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