Conducting employee appraisals

What are the best ways to conduct employee appraisals?

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

Appraisals are a key part of many organisations’ performance management systems.

Appraisals are about both past performance, and the future. Usually conducted by line managers, they’re an opportunity to discuss and set goals for employee performance, development, and support. Appraisals can therefore have a wide range of important outcomes. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular and effective methods for conducting them.

Prepping for effective appraisals

When you think of appraisals, your first thought might be a one-to-one meeting between employee and manager. But that’s not the first step — an effective appraisal meeting needs good planning.

Where possible you should be ready with:

  • Data on the employee’s performance — Employees are much more likely to accept praise or criticism when it’s based on objective fact, rather than just their line manager’s opinion. Performance data can also help you set appropriate discussion topics for the appraisal.
  • Records from the previous appraisal — These might include performance and development goals, and evaluation notes, made last time. Use them to measure progress and guide discussion.
  • Potential goals to set during the appraisal — Some goals may emerge from discussion during the appraisal. However, other key goals will relate to current business needs and observations you’ve already made.

Designing an appraisal form

Now you’ve prepared thoroughly, you’re ready for an effective performance review with the employee. But wait — you (or your line managers) are going to be conducting a lot of these appraisals. Wouldn’t it be better if HR standardised the format of your appraisals? Many organisations take this approach.

By using a standard template for one-to-one meetings, HR can ensure appraisals are consistent, fair, and equal for all employees.

What to cover in employee appraisals

With a standard form, HR can also make sure appraisals cover all the bases and get maximum value from them. Typical elements include:

  • Measurement of performance — against agreed targets, and through evaluation of the employee’s attitudes and behaviour
  • Manager feedback — on the employee’s performance and development, and how they can maintain or improve their performance
  • Encouragement — effective appraisals take time to offer positive feedback to employees, to reinforce good performance and behaviours
  • Employee feedback — including questions, concerns, and ideas about their own performance and role. Addressing these can be invaluable in resolving performance issues.
  • Agreeing goals — Goals can address performance issues, training needs, adapting to changing duties, or any other issue. They must be understood and agreed by both parties if they are to be acted upon and achieved.

Keep records of appraisal notes and goals

It’s a good idea for both the line manager and employee to sign the appraisal meeting form at the end, to formally agree goals set.

Forms and notes should be archived for review during future appraisals, and as a record of the agreed goals.

Make sure line managers have appraisal skills

Line managers are responsible for conducting appraisals at many organisations, probably because they’re familiar with the employees being appraised (and their performance).

It’s important to remember, though, that not all line managers are born with the skills to conduct appraisals well. Appraisals meetings should include frank and open discussion that gets to the heart of performance issues, and line managers might need training to develop the right approach.

Desirable skills for managers conducting appraisals include:

  • Asking open-ended, probing questions
  • The ability to listen and have a two-way discussion
  • The ability to give objective, constructive, non-judgemental feedback

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