Medicine for the Performance Appraisal Blues

By Tom Davidson

One of the most dreaded but important conversations you have as a manager is probably fast approaching at or near the end of the year – the annual performance review.

Why do people dread the conversation? Because they

  • Don’t like judging other people’s performance
  • Risk positive working relationships by having to deliver bad news at times
  • Dislike the appraisal form provided by their organization
  • Have a hard time justifying their ratings
  • Have had bad performance review conversations in their past and predict a negative experience for others

Why is the conversation so important?

  • People deserve to know how they’re doing relative to goals and expectations.
  • It’s important to wrap up one performance cycle and give your associates’ a fresh start.
  • It’s the ideal time to adjust goals and expectations for the next performance review cycle.
  • The organization expects and deserves accountability when it comes to performance, goals, and results.
  • Out of fairness to all concerned, your organization needs documentation that performance measures are being applied and measured fairly.

What makes for a positive experience?

  1. Performance appraisal should be seen as a process, not an event. The review phase is simply the end of one cycle and the kick off to a new one, involving job clarity, goal setting, and performance expectations.
  2. Ensure that associates know what results and behaviors will earn them the various ratings. The appraisal process should be highly objective, a factor that begins in the planning phases, where needed results (i.e., outcomes) and competencies (i.e., behaviors) are clear and attainable from the start.
  3. There should be no surprises. If you’ve waited until the required annual review to have a conversation about how the individual is performing, then you’ve waited too long and set yourself up for problems.
  4. Keep records for the entire performance period. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on the last few weeks or months of the period. Your review should encompass results and behaviors from the entire timeframe.
  5. Give your associate a chance to give their perspective, share successes, and show evidence of what they have done well (and could have done better) for the entire period, and take that data into full account in your decision.
  6. Work with your HR department and manager to ensure you are prepared. You should not be expected to go this alone, and appropriate outside perspectives can help you with the mechanics, the language, and the chance to ameliorate the natural biases that can enter into your decision making.
  7. Rise above the form. Most contemporary appraisal forms are just fine; its how people use them that causes problems. Make the form work by adding clear expectations tied directly to the person’s job description, and most forms will work just fine.
  8. Separate the final evaluation conversation from the planning conversation. Bundling too many factors into one conversation can be overwhelming. After the appraisal conversation, set up a time to revisit the person’s on-going or changing goals and aspirations a few weeks later. At that time, review and adjust the all-important job description to make sure it is up to date and accurate. Encourage ownership for the new performance cycle by getting the associate to start developing potential goals for the new performance cycle, ones that are relevant and inherently motivating.

Above all, set others up for success early by being crystal clear about what is expected of them in terms of results and behaviors. This is the key to a happy ending at the end of the year, and it’s the nature of leadership.

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