performance appraisal

Effective Performance Appraisals, Part 1

When used correctly, the performance appraisal process is a valuable technique to hold your employees accountable for desired results and align them with your business strategy. The process also provides a dialogue to facilitate career development, training assessment, and performance improvement planning.

Effective performance appraisals result in the following outcomes:

  • An understanding between your employees and leadership about current performance and future expectations.
  • A sense of belonging by linking employee roles to your company’s success.
  • A history of work performance for different periods to help assess an employee’s potential and needs.
  • A record of discussions and feedback on employee behaviors and needs to reduce surprises.
  • Defining employee development objectives and career goals.
  • Plans to help the employee grow and improve, including training assessments and future training plans.
  • New work objectives and performance expectations for the upcoming appraisal period based on a collaborative effort between supervisors and employees.
  • A record of all job expectations, achievements, new and ongoing objectives, and performance requirements.

How do you develop an appraisal process that meets your needs and the needs of your employees? There are nine areas to focus on to ensure leadership and employees get the most out of performance assessments. 

Performance Appraisals Focus Areas

The appraisal process takes strong leaders who are willing to learn how best to use this tool to:

  • Plan work objectives.
  • Clearly communicate expectations to employees.
  • Monitor ongoing performance.
  • Provide timely feedback.
  • Maintain detailed documentation long before the one-on-one appraisal meeting.
  • Have ongoing conversations and regular “touch-base” employee meetings between appraisal meetings.

With an increase in remote work and increased daily workloads, some leaders have defaulted to condensed performance appraisal processes that can make the exercise ineffective and less informative for leaders and employees alike. 

The leadership of your company should stay in touch with your employees throughout the year. They need to communicate their vision and develop a sense of trust with employees so that they will continue to benefit them.  Effective performance requires clear expectations and consistent feedback.

Avoid Bad Appraisal Habits

When providing feedback, it’s important to avoid practices that hinder progress and make development impossible. To provide real direction, it’s important to avoid the top deadly appraisal habits that hinder progress so you can maximize the performance appraisal process.

Yearly-Only Performance Appraisals

Dealing with performance issues once a year reduces the effectiveness of any feedback provided. Positive feedback comes too late to motivate further improvements. Any constructive feedback is disconnected and vague, which can lead to defensiveness instead of action.

Employees are caught by surprise, leaving them upset with the feedback and less willing to make needed changes. Too often, this leads to conflict and low employee morale. Unfortunately, supervisors often blame the system for these issues rather than the disjointed feedback.

Implementing monthly or quarterly performance reviews allows supervisors to keep up with the needs of employees and better align job performance with company needs. 

Setting Unclear Expectations

If supervisors are unclear about what effective performance looks like for a role, it’s difficult for them to communicate expectations during an appraisal. It’s also difficult to provide feedback if supervisors don’t have a clear understanding of the employee’s perceptions. 

There can be a massive gap between how employees and their supervisors perceive performance expectations. Direct and clear communication with employees helps them know what is expected from both the appraisal and the employee’s performance. Making use of job descriptions and performance metrics will help ensure the performance appraisal runs smoothly.

To encourage a culture of openness within your team, you should also reach out and allow employees to have their voices heard. An example of this would be to add a self-appraisal component to the process. 

Forgetting to Set Actionable Steps

Appraisals should provide supervisors and employees actionable steps to improve performance and morale. Strong appraisals provide guidelines for:

It’s important that employees know that their quality of work and effort is being judged. To help create actionable steps, supervisors should keep notes of employee performance all year for consideration in the appraisal. Supervisors should revisit written notes after a short break to ensure the information gathered during the appraisal is accurate. They should also avoid completing an appraisal during times of extreme stress and emotions. 

Compliance Only Appraisals

The compliance-only supervisor is busy and sees the appraisal as an annoyance and obstacle preventing them from doing the work that “really matters” in their mind. These appraisals have minimal meaningful feedback and goals are often the same for all employees. The attitude is, “Let’s hurry and get these appraisals done so I can get human resources off my back.”

The appraisal process is haphazardly completed, and the employee is left feeling like they don’t matter. This type of appraisal is a waste of time for both the supervisor and the employee as nothing substantial is accomplished or discussed.

To make the performance appraisal effective, personalize it for each employee. Provide valuable and appropriate feedback, honest performance scores, and relevant goals.

Political Appraisals

With a political appraisal, the supervisor uses the appraisal tool to manipulate salary increases, promotions, or other benefits for their team. The appraisals are not accurate but rather skewed to make it seem like the team has shown more effective performance.

An excellent example is scoring team members higher to get their desired pay without regard to the scores they deserve. This undermines the appraisal process, prevents organizational changes, and discredits the leader.  It can also come back to haunt you because if the time comes to terminate an employee, the termination will likely be denied because of bias.

Appraisals should give an accurate representation of performance. Supervisors should make note of good performance as well as issues addressed during the appraisal. This helps ensure that all teams are working effectively.

General Appraisals

The general appraisal avoids details when providing employee feedback. The generalist tends to speak in generalities without providing specific examples or substance to their comments.

This type of appraisal is unhelpful to the employee. General appraisals don’t provide examples or advice on how to improve performance. Employees can’t clearly understand what they did right or wrong. As a result, general appraisals tend to cause defensiveness and are a poor way to communicate.

Instead, provide specific examples of strengths and opportunities for improvement. Provide reasonable steps for improvement and offer SMART goals to help personalize the appraisal. 

Defensive or Aggressive Appraisals

Effective performance requires leaders to listen to employees to understand how everyone can improve. The defender ignores this need, tending towards a stance of “I’m right, you’re wrong, and I will defend my views throughout the meeting.”

This approach does not provide clear direction for employees and tends to cause frustration rather than better performance. The defender approach can cause the employee to close off, disengage in the discussion, escalate in defensiveness themselves, or eliminate their openness to do things differently.

The ability to provide feedback requires the supervisor to present relevant information in a way the employee will be receptive to. The appraisal should not attack or scold the employee. Instead, concerns should be discussed in a way to help the employee improve. 

Employees should not be surprised by concerns listed on the appraisal. As situations arise, these concerns should be discussed in coaching or counseling sessions.

Engage the employee in finding what could be the cause of some of the issues. Encourage them to help find solutions. Listen to their feedback as well. Show receptiveness and note their feedback but stand by the appraisal unless the situation warrants a change.

Remember, it is an appraisal and not a negotiation. They will need to feel heard to be receptive, but that does not mean they will be right or that the appraisal should change.

Rater Errors in Recall, Rating Process, and Observation 

Maintaining notes throughout the year is essential to effective appraisals. Some supervisors try to remember everything independently without keeping good notes throughout the year, resulting in recall errors. 

Others don’t understand or follow the appraisal training or rating process, resulting in inconsistent ratings across departments. Some leaders misperceive performance and fail to gather the facts adequately.

An effective appraisal process requires proper training, understanding, and adequate fact-gathering processes. 

Seeking Popularity 

Supervisors with a need for popularity are so concerned about being liked by everyone that they are reluctant to provide constructive feedback. They avoid confronting performance concerns and focus on praising employees.

This behavior often leads to falsified scores and an unrealistic understanding of performance gaps. This type of appraisal may be used against the company in a wrongful termination lawsuit or be viewed as a joke. 

Additionally, the employee’s performance and development are stunted without honest feedback. Give employees honest and constructive feedback to help them grow and succeed. This provides them with a clear path to follow that showcases their potential.

Drive Effective Performance

It is everyone’s responsibility at your company to ensure that appraisals meet the needs of your company and your employees. Appraisals should drive effective performance across departments by providing accurate feedback for employees and leadership.

To help this process, you need to ensure supervisors get proper training on how to do appraisals and clear instructions on how to score and communicate results.

In addition, create policies to regulate these reviews. If there are concerns about getting value from appraisals, you can start with a set plan based on department needs. You can find more tools to develop and perform affective appraisals with our HR eSolutions platform.

Next Article: Effective Performance Appraisals, Part 2.

Written by: Penny Clark, Content Specialist 

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