Performance appraisal time has the effect of creating discomfort amongst both the judge and the judged.

A lot has been written about the effectiveness of performance appraisal methods and no definitive best practice has been identified. Lately, employers have put a positive spin on the benefits of the process for both the employer and employee by putting more emphasis on two-way communication.

Employees might dislike the process for various reasons. It may be that internally the process is applied inconsistently throughout the organization, or there is a push to achieve a normal distribution curve despite evidence of general high performance. Managers can be biased, they can make errors and many try to avoid conflict and want to get it over with as soon as possible.  What needs to be understood is that performance appraisal is a process not an event, designed to benefit both parties. Regular feedback throughout the year avoids surprises at the end.

Performance appraisals come in different forms

  • 360 degree reviews include input from your peers, subordinates, line manager and even others that you interact with on a day-to-day basis.  This is an expensive exercise which needs tight HR management and is therefore mostly only used in large organizations.
  • Line Manager / Employee review without input from others is common especially in smaller organizations.
  • Peer reviews from co-workers, customers and suppliers.
  • Upward reviews from subordinates and team members.
  • Self-appraisal is often an element used in all of the above to round out the picture.

Whatever form it will take, formal preparation for an appraisal interview is critical, whether it has been requested or not.

Preparing for your performance appraisal

Let’s see how an employee can turn his appraisal, a bit like a visit to the dentist, into a dialogue that can provide openings into possible career opportunities and insights into personal development.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you, is not to wait till year end to discuss expectations and performance with your boss. Make it a regular conversation and have a discussion with your supervisor at least once a quarter. This will ensure both of you are on the same page and avoid surprises later on. Ask your boss how you are doing and what you can change/do to ensure that you get the rating you want.

It is also good to take your self-appraisal seriously. This requires taking a long, hard look at your work accomplishments and referring back to the expectations provided to you in your job description or by your manager.  Throughout the year, collect any supporting points and factual documentation that you can use to support your point of view and have your last appraisal ready for reference.  Many appraisers come unprepared and become subjective in their judgements, so it is crucial that you should be ready and well prepared.

Consider these questions and discussion points:

  • How well did you do overall?  Where/what did you do best?
  • What could you have done better/more efficiently?
  • How good were your working relationships with co-workers?
  • What skills training or coaching do you need to do your job better?
  • What are your goals for the next year?  What must change for this to happen?
  • What can your manager change to help you to succeed?

The performance appraisal and its outcome

The discussion can take the tone of what is called a “feedback sandwich”.  The tough issues will be fitted in between compliments and positive comments on your performance.  Be honest with yourself and stay objective in the face of criticism. Stay in control and don’t allow yourself to be drawn into arguments that don’t relate to your performance on the job.

Remember you are here to compare your achievements to the goals that were set, hopefully together, at the last meeting. Based on this comparison you can arrive at a performance rating that reflects your contributions.

Take the opportunity at the meeting to get clarity about what to expect in terms of remuneration, training and development opportunities and the possibility of a promotion or work expansion.  This information is very helpful in clearing up misunderstandings about pay, increases, benefits, etc.

At the end of the appraisal conversation, the aim is to leave it having the satisfaction of knowing that you have been heard.  It is also important to listen, even if it feels painful, as there may be clues in it for you that could determine  your future path.

Discuss with your manager how you feel he could help you to be successful.  Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion and managers like to see their staff do well as it reflects positively on them too.  Take away the positives from the conversation and consider how you can use this new knowledge to advantage.

Not all employees have a shot at a performance review, make yours work for you.

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