How to give performance appraisals

A junior member of your team has just sobbed out of her annual review. So how could you approach this appraisal business better? Here's a crash course.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2015

Does the cap fit? Research has shown that conventional appraisals work best for jobs where performance and its measurement are quite simple, says Monica Franco-Santos, senior research fellow at Cranfield School of Management. 'When the role is more complex, like most managerial jobs where it is the performance of the team that matters, it works less well and you should rely more upon other approaches.'

Scope it. Appraisals have broadened from being a review of the individual's performance to include business objectives, career ambitions, development goals and general wellbeing, says Franco-Santos. Cover these issues in separate meetings so the focus is not lost, she suggests.

Once is not enough. Performance should be discussed and feedback given much more frequently than once a year. Franco-Santos advocates a 'continuous conversation'. Stuart Hyland, reward strategy specialist at Hay Group, says: 'If people are surprised by your feedback, they'll ask why you didn't tell them earlier.'

Do your homework. 'Too often a secretary hands the manager the individual's file as he or she walks through the door,' Hyland says. 'Failure to prepare on both sides means you won't explore the depth of opportunities available.'

Step forward. Appraisals should be carried out by the immediate boss, says Ian Gooden, chief executive of HR consultancy Chiumento. 'That's the person who is best positioned to judge how well someone is doing,' says Gooden. 'But talk to others to get a rounded view.'

Find the right pitch. Before you stick in the knife, consider how your assessment will be received. 'Consider what will work best,' says Gooden. 'For some people, the mildest criticism will have them reaching for the tissues, while others can have the skin of a rhinoceros.' A 'praise sandwich' in which you offer praise, followed by constructive criticism, then more praise, is one favoured formula.

Set goals worth scoring. Objectives should be aligned with those of the business and include some element of motivation. 'Some organisations give people far too many - 25 or 30,' says Hyland. 'We think six or eight is enough, which should reflect business need.'

Check out the take-out. Tangible outputs from an appraisal might include a performance rating, a new set of goals or a plan to bridge the performance gap. 'To be sure that there is clarity on both sides, ask your employee to write a note summarising what you discussed and what you agreed to do,' says Gooden. Whatever you do, don't file it away to gather dust.

Do say: 'Let's reflect on all the performance discussions we have had in the past 12 months'

Don't say: 'You've been rubbish and you're not getting a pay rise'

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