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Conducting a performance appraisal.


The focus of performance appraisals has shifted over recent years towards a well-prepared, open discussion on performance improvement and development needs, over recent years. Appraisals should take place every six to twelve months, possibly alternating with development-focused reviews, and should focus on behaviours and outcomes; issues and problems; constructive development to improve motivation; and growth and performance of the appraisee. It should not involve discussions involving personality or subjective gripes.

The process offers managers an opportunity to learn more about the way each job-holder works, and gain more understanding of his or her potential and needs.

It should motivate employees, encourage them towards ownership of, and responsibility for, their performance, and give them a clear picture of what is expected of them. Priorities, possible feelings of overload, and personal development plans and targets should be discussed. Feedback on past performance should be constructive, and future goals should be agreed.

This checklist is for managers who are responsible for carrying out performance appraisals, and will help in developing a consistent approach to guiding and developing others.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards:

D: Working with people, units 5, 6


Traditional performance appraisal centres on a face-to-face discussion, whereby one employee's work is discussed, reviewed and appraised with another (usually their manager), using an agreed and understood framework. Other approaches to appraisal are possible, but the traditional approach is dealt with here.

Action checklist

1. Prepare for the meeting

Much of the hard work of appraising performance should be carried out prior to the meeting itself. If there is an established scheme or programme, then this will provide a framework for action. If not, the following outline structure of discussion headings provides a starting-point.

* Objectives for past 12 months; level of achievement/progress?

* Continuing or unresolved problems during this period?

* Evaluation of any development activity during this period?

* Objectives for next 12 months?

* Support required in order to achieve these objectives?

* Personal development objectives which may vary from the above or provide a means to their attainment?

* Any aspects of major importance or worry in next 12 months?

Gather your thoughts, information and evidence and fit these to the framework which will steer the discussion.

2. Arrange for the appraisal discussion

In a pre-meeting briefing inform the appraisee of the purpose of the appraisal and the structure that it will follow.

* inform the appraisee of work to prepare in advance, such as identifying strengths and achievements, or weaknesses and failures, over the past year

* get the appraisee to prepare an assessment of how well the last objectives were achieved, and what the next year's objectives should be

* ask the appraisee to reflect on the value and practical application of any training or development activities which took place during the past year

* explain that this is the opportunity to turn over problems, and discuss and agree work directions and methods for the next year

* explain that appraisal is not linked to pay or promotion--unless it is linked, of course

* introduce documentation for notes or record-keeping at this stage * agree the time and place for the discussion.

If unaware of the appraisee's preferred learning style and type of activity, now is a good time to tackle this.

3. Prepare the environment

The environment for the discussion should be informal and friendly, private but comfortable, confidential, free from interruption, convenient and non-threatening. Don't sit the appraisee in front of your desk if you can avoid it--sit in chairs without a barrier.

4. Use the consultative approach

It is important to be conversational but positive, discussing specific activities and issues. Focus on looking forward to improvements, and ask open questions. Listen attentively to what is said, reflecting back what you hear and responding appropriately.

5. Start the discussion

At the start of the discussion, it is important to relax the appraisee. There is no formula for this, but respectfulness and tact are always important. Otherwise, how well appraiser and appraisee may know each other and work together should provide some gauge for required levels of formality, and the admissibility of relaxing banter:

* re-state the meeting's purpose and structure

* emphasise the aim of supporting appraisees' development

* re-state the purpose of the documentation--it serves better than memory to remind us of what we agreed, demonstrates that the meeting took place and provides a base for measuring progress.

6. Develop the discussion

In theory, and with thorough preparation by both parties, the discussion can follow the framework outlined. In practice this does not always happen. The appraiser should:

* encourage self-assessment and support (rather than lead) problem diagnosis

* maintain and build the appraisee's self-esteem, where appropriate

* offer help and suggestions, but let the appraisee arrive at solutions

* concentrate on job performance not personalities

* discuss specific examples not generalities

* summarise the discussions at critical or agreed action points

* guide on and reach agreement about goals and plans.

7. Deal with difficulties and focus on improvements

Rather than pointedly raising the question of poor performance, ask the appraisee where there may be difficulties. Ask not only where, how and when they think they could improve, but also what they need to be able to improve. Be prepared to admit that you--as appraiser--might be the cause of problems yourself, or that you might do more to help the appraisee. If things do become uncomfortable and give rise to disagreement or anger, stay calm but firm. Avoid arguing, but listen carefully, and isolate facts from feelings. Remember the focus stays on what the job-holder does, not on the job-holder.

8. Agree areas for improvement

Try to distinguish any areas that may be in need of remedial attention from those that are developmental and progressive. Agree the preferred outcome of training and development activities, and encourage the appraisee to identify ways and means of achieving them. If this encouragement is not successful, then steering and guidance should precede instruction. Remember that there are many types of training activity and that a standard public two-day course may be inappropriate as a learning tool, as well as expensive.

9. Rate the performance

Some appraisal schemes will use performance ratings. They can vary in nature and scope and can be useful or destructive, depending on how the rating is done and what the general understanding of such a rating is. If ratings are to be used then they should be:

* fair--reflecting performance against expectations, not other people

* honest--respecting what the individual has to say

* flexible--reflecting the level and extent of individuals' achievements

* consistent--across different sectors of the organisation.

10. Close the discussion

Ensure that you have reached understanding and commitment in terms of objectives, the means to achieve them and dates which serve as targets or review points. Ensure that you know who is doing what to set up these activities. Agree on a follow-up date and ask the appraisee to write up the objectives and plans--preferably on a form which lays out the framework structure--so that you can both sign it off. End on a positive note.

Managers should avoid:

* being critical of personalities or trying to change them

* using closed, rhetorical questions

* becoming preachy or holding forth in a monologue style

* being afraid to call upon specialist help or advice

* ignoring job-holders views and thoughts

* planning action without agreeing on what is needed.

Additional resources


The performance manager, 2nd ed, Corinne Leech

Chartered Management Institute, Pergamon Flexible Learning Oxford: Elsevier, 2004

Appraisal and feedback: making performance review work, 3rd ed, Clive Fletcher

London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004

Motivate and reward: performance appraisal and incentive systems for business success, Herwig W Kressler

Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003

Appraisal and performance management, Alison Naisby

London: Spiro Press, 2002

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Journal articles

Appraisal interviews: the role of the performance review in learning needs analysis, Sarah Cook

Training Journal, Nov., 2005, pp 50-53

Songs of appraisal: when best practice is bad practice, Terry Gillen

Training Journal, Dec., 2005, pp 24-27

This is a selection of journal articles available from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Using 360 Degree Feedback (074)

Performance Management (180)

Internet resources

Information on performance appraisals and performance evaluation, including free forms, tips, etc.
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Title Annotation:Checklist 036
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: People Management
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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