A performance appraisal is defined as: a process where a manager evaluates and provides feedback on employee job performance, including steps to improve or redirect activities as needed.

Commonly seen as an important way to help staff members improve their performance and as a platform to present rewards and/or recognition, it seems surprising that most employees and managers alike dread them.

But what is it about a performance appraisal that gives it such a bad rep? Could it be down to the way they are conducted? In this week’s blog post we briefly discuss performance appraisals and how you as a manager can take advantage of them to benefit yourself, your employees and your organisation.

Negative feelings…

For many employees, a face-to-face performance review is the most stressful work conversation they’ll have all year. For managers, the discussion can be just as tense for them. According Joel Myers (Memphis Business Journal) in many organisations, performance appraisals only occur when management is building a case to terminate someone, and being far and in between there can be a lot anxiety to the lead up of one. Furthermore, according to SHRM, second only to firing an employee, managers cite performance appraisals as the task they dislike the most, being uncomfortable in the role of judge. With these ideas in mind, it’s no wonder that the result is a mutual dread of performance appraisals.

So why do them?

Appraisals are made to help companies identify good and poor performers. Organisations can use performance appraisals to determine who should be rewarded with raises and promotions, which employees need more training and who should be terminated. Many professionals believe that if done correctly, the appraisal process can become the most valuable instrument in the manager’s toolbox. The few hours a manager invests can impact an employee’s performance for an entire year.

The ideal performance appraisal is an opportunity to praise employees who’ve done exceptional work, help those who’ve slipped to get back on track, and to have a real dialogue to clarify expectations, offer solutions to problems and set goals for the future.

According to CIPD, performance appraisals are an essential function of worker motivation – they aid in minimising employees’ perceptions of uncertainty, and in the establishment and supervision of employees’ career goals.

A few tips to help reap the benefits from Performance Appraisals:

  • Clarify Expectations. Employees should be aware of how their performance will be assessed before the review. During an appraisal session, staff should be told about good/poor performance when it happens – the performance review should not contain “new” information. Ideally, whenever you hire an employee you should explain the details of the performance review process — how often these meetings occur; how they are conducted; and what the employee can expect during the discussion. Put these details in writing for easy reference. This way, the review conversation will have a structure that is clear to both you and your employee.

  • Set and reset goals frequently. Companies that set performance goals quarterly generate 31% greater returns from their performance process than those who do it annually – those who do it monthly get even better results (Bersin, 2013).

  • Provide feedback all year. Yes, performance appraisals are annual, but that doesn’t mean performance management is. Performance appraisals are only a part of, or a tool for, performance management. As a manager you need to provide ongoing feedback and practice having honest conversations on a daily basis. Most managers dread writing performance appraisals because they take so much time and effort. However, when the process is a year-round activity, you can conduct shorter meetings to address targeted performance areas. Take the opportunity to discuss and record accomplishments, successes and challenges as they occur, this way the details are fresh in your mind. This will save you time and also show your employees that you care about them and their performance hasn’t gone unnoticed.

What’s been your experience with performance appraisals? Either as a manager or an employee, were there certain experiences better than others? Why do you think so?

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