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"Danger Will Robinson" Performance Appraisal Ahead

The performance appraisal process can be difficult for both employee and manager. When I began my career in the early 1980's the process was not formalized and could vary with the direction the wind was blowing and who was doing the appraising.  There were actually comments like "Be careful of out-performing your supervisor" or "The next time you bring your boyfriend to a company outing, he should cut his hair first."'  Seriously, these were actual comments.

Over the years companies have done a much better job of putting standardization into the process.  We often think of performance appraisals from the employee side of the equation. But as a manager, there are a multitude of considerations prior to delivering an appraisal.

When I first started managing people, I applied concepts to the appraisal process that I would have appreciated as an employee.  I wrote substantial comments on the employees positives attributes as well as challenges. In addition, I provided suggestions for improvement.  The simple "rating" assignment just didn't seem to provide sufficient input.  What does "meets expectations" really mean anyway?

Dependent on the employee, this approach could be perceived as threatening. Seeing a long narrative may send the employee into a tense or defensive mind-set.  This taught me an important lesson on successful delivery of a performance appraisal. In addition, I later learned that sometimes the written recommendations I provided would be improperly construed or interpreted by a succeeding manager (especially if the manager had some difficulties with the employee). So I adjusted my process and found some elements that seemed to balance both sides of the equation.  These tips are not necessarily specific to appraisals that may have reprimands or improvement plans attached.  These are ideas for the typical evaluation.

1) understand and apply the process as outlined by your company. Deviation from that process could cause issues down the road.

2) Most employees appreciate constructive feedback. But there are a couple of key factors to pay attention to:

  • Don't wait for performance time to bring up an issue that should be timely addressed.
  • Conversely, use caution in providing excessive real-time feedback. If an employee feels you are always looking for things to criticize, they will become leary of your presence.
  • Consider what should to be formally documented on the appraisal form and what can be informally documented or relayed to the employee. You may judge your "feedback" as helpful but you don't know how it may be viewed by their next supervisor.

3) If you have difficulty putting constructive criticism into the right phrasing, make sure you have examples or specific points to support your rating. If you rate everything "meets expectations" invariably an employee will want to know what they should do to exceed expectations.  It is important to be prepared and have an answer.

4) Start off with a positive accolade. Employees are nervous enough.  It may help put them at ease prior to passing the written form across the desk.  However, don't ramble. Employees want to hear the meat of the evaluation.  If you elaborate about weekend plans or other social issues, it can be nerve racking.

5) make the evaluation specific to the individuals performance. Have examples you can point to regarding their accomplishments or challenges.  Relay specifics about how they either stand out in the crowd or mesh into the team atmosphere. Employees like to know their individual efforts are noticed.

6) Consider providing the employee an opening to give feedback on their overall observations and experiences in their job. Don't "argue" a point with them. (Unless what they are relaying is totally impossible or incorrect). The intent is to understand both perceptions as well as realities.

7)  Have a plan for executing the evaluation. Plan: how to start the discussion; what to focus on; how you will allow for employee feedback; how to conclude the session; timing length for the process. All of these will assist in eliminating any unintentional rambling.

8)   Don't sugar coat everything. I had a manager once who didn't like to deliver bad news or say anything negative. Employees sometimes share comments and if they feel their review was "the standard line" they will question the value of the process.

Last, be honest, open but respectful. Just because you are the manager does not give you a license to rip apart someone's confidence. Watch for both verbal and non-verbal clues the employee is giving you.  It may help understand how they are internalizing the message.

 By Lynn Fountain, CGMA, CRMA, MBA


Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: VP, Thought Leadership
Company: Stampli
LinkedIn Profile
(VP, Thought Leadership, Stampli) |

My golden rule was always for a direct report to be in no way surprised by my "formal" appraisal report of his or her performance. If there were ever any level of surprise, then I considered it a failure on my end in effectively managing a direct report.

One of my best direct supervisors let me read his appraisal reports of me before he submitted them. Did he ever change them, not ever in a meaningful way, but it showed me the level of personal and professional respect he had for me.

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

Good input. Thanks Ernie

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

BetterWorks just came out of stealth. It is based on Intel/Google's employee review concepts (OKRs) in app form. As they say....there's an app for that!

Lynn Fountain
Title: MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executiv..
Company: Business Consultant
LinkedIn Profile
(MBA CGMA CRMA, Past Chief Audit Executive, Business Consultant) |

Wow, an App for performance appraisals. Talk about fitting a square peg int a round hole. Thanks Emerson for the input