5 Tips for Better Performance Appraisals

Whether your company does official performance reviews quarterly or yearly, they can seem to cause a great deal of stress. Managers can find them psychologically taxing because they don’t like giving negative feedback. Employees can worry that a mistake they made or a goal they fell short of will hurt their livelihood. And people take any remark that isn’t absolutely glowing personally. It can get messy.

The ideal performance appraisal would be 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. Is there a way to create this dialogue without all the anxiety and frustration?

Consider these tips to help you conduct more effective performance appraisals at your organization.

1. Do the Pre-Work

Employees and managers each have some work to do before performance reviews. Managers should work up an agenda or evaluation form for each employee beforehand. They should also “give thought to the messages they want to convey as well as the overall focus for the discussion,” says Robin Schooling, an HR consultant. It’s up to the manager to set the tone for each meeting and keep discussions on track and productive.

Schooling says employees also should prepare. “Whether completing a self-appraisal or not, they should have knowledge of items to be discussed, such as a review of competencies, overall performance, attainment of past goals, and setting of goals or personal development plans for the future.” The employee should be able to reflect on these items beforehand and take an active role in setting future goals.

2. Set the Stage

“It’s important to set the stage when preparing to review your employee’s performance,” says Ernie Tamayo, an HR specialist with the Army Reserve. Tamayo recommends a neutral location, such as a conference room. “A casual yet private location will encourage open communication and make your employee more receptive to your feedback.”

3. Avoid Bias

Appraisals only work if they’re as fair and honest as possible. “Personal biases or stereotyping of employees can easily creep in if managers are not cautious,” Schooling says.

Two types are especially pervasive: “Recency bias occurs when the appraiser remembers and evaluates performance based only on the employee’s most recent activities (good or bad) and forgets actions from the more distant past.” The halo-horns error happens when a manager puts too much emphasis on an aspect of good performance or a negative one, thus skewing the entire review more positively (halo) or negatively (horns) than is deserved.

4. Stay Positive

The goal of a performance review is to make work better and easier for the future. That’s a good thing, so the overall tone of the review should stay positive, Tamayo says. “As a manager, you should have been providing feedback throughout the course of the year, and an annual performance review should be a recap of items discussed previously. During your review, emphasize to your employee that while you are reviewing the past, you are doing so in order to improve future performance.”

To keep the conversation positive, Tamayo suggests helping employees see reasons for past failures and devise ways to avoid them in the future without assigning blame.

5. Continue Monitoring Performance

Once you and the employee have identified areas for improvement, Tamayo suggests setting new goals and benchmarks. “Remember, the issues in a performance appraisal shouldn’t come as surprise to your employees; be sure to touch base often.” Make sure to amend goals and objectives if the need arises and be sure to continue tracking performance going forward, recording successes and missteps.

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