Employee Performance Appraisal

Before we get started, have you read the first article in this series on employee performance appraisals? You might get more from this post by starting there.

If you want to look at a sample form, then click here (but again, I recommend you read on before you download!)

As we said in the earlier article, an employee job performance appraisal should be the climax of the regular Performance Feedback and Discussion meetings you have been having with your team members.

Isn't it interesting that in many organizations, time is only made to sit down and talk with team members when there is a crisis?

Leaders in high-performance organizations are far more proactive than this. 

They not only say the words, "Our people are our greatest asset," but they put them into action by making sure they frequently connect with their people. They take the time to regularly meet face-to-face and discuss how their team members can perform at their best.

Many of the ideas below can be used on a bi-weekly or monthly basis for informal get-togethers with your team member.

Before the Meeting You and the Team Member Pre-Plan

Two weeks before the formal employee performance appraisal, review and feedback discussion, set a date and time.

Personally hand the Performance Feedback Form to your team member.

Ask the team member to bring notes of points they wish to discuss.

Ask the team member to bring three lists to the performance feedback session. These lists should contain areas where:

  • 1
    The team member performs well (the strengths s/he brings to the team).
  • 2
    He or she has shown recent improvement
  • 3
    She or he feels weak and believes s/he needs to find new ways to operate differently to get better results
  • 4
    There is a fourth list, just as vital as the first three. The fourth list is the team member's response to the question: "What can I, as your leader, do differently so you can be more effective in your job?"

Three Ps of Performance

I like to think of performance in terms of the three Ps. You may want to steer your team members down this pathway as they are getting the above lists together.

  1. 1
    Productivity - What was done: Output, impact on profitability, results 
  2. 2
    Personal Traits - How it was done: Motivation, co-operation, discretionary effort, 
  3. 3
    Proficiency - Ability to keep up with current and future job requirements:- Skills, knowledge and capability 

It is critical to let the team member know that you will also complete these lists before the meeting. Then during the discussion,  together you will fill in the performance appraisal form.

When you do this, team members are more likely to bring candid responses to the table.

Share with the team member the purpose of the pre-work

Say something like: "I want your input because generally, you know best where you shine and where you need support. I will also share with you my perspective on areas where":

  • 1
    You shine and how you contribute to the organization;
  • 2
    You have shown recent improvement; and
  • 3
    There is a performance gap that we need to cover off."

The key point here is that your team members will hear you say that there are performance areas you value in their work, and just as importantly, that the s/he can still improve in other aspects of the job.

It is Human Nature Not to Want to Discuss Faults

I'm not a fan of employee performance appraisals, particularly those with ratings attached to them. 

The reason for this is because you are on a hiding to none before you even get started. Employee performance appraisals are emotional discussions - there's no avoiding it. And when people feel threatened they fight frantically to maintain their self-worth.

Every one of us knows that stepping into a performance appraisal meeting we are going to be rated. Rated and probably found wanting. Because of course, none of us are perfect. (Even though we'd like to think we are!)  Because of this, we have our flight for flight instinct switched up.

Loss Aversion In Employee Performance Appraisals

There's a psychological principle that you should be aware of called 'loss aversion.' Humans are hard-wired to screen for a loss. We mentally ask ourselves about every single event we encounter, "What could this cost me?"

The cost in a performance appraisal is a loss of salary potential, loss of self-esteem, and loss of status.
Because of loss aversion even if you say 15 great things about an individual and one weakness ... you can almost guarantee they'll spend more time focused on that negative comment, than all the great things you said.

You've taken steps to soften loss aversion

It is human nature not to want to bring up our faults. Equally, it is also human nature to prefer to point out our shortcomings rather than having someone else do it.

Because, in the pre-work, you've asked your team member to identify areas where she or she could improve performance, you've taken long strides towards overcoming this challenge.

You can soften the blow of negative feedback by saying something like, "One of the areas you could enhance performance is in ...."

a bit more about loss aversion

What Loss Aversion theory tells us is that people's feelings are much stronger around loss. Some studies suggest that people feel two to three times more pain around a loss - than around gains.  

For example, I'm sure you've heard of people who won't sell their house for less than what they paid for it. They may have moved into their new home and the old home is sitting empty and costing them thousands of $ each month in mortgage repayments.

Yet they are stubbornly holding on to the figure they want. And they've actually now lost more than if they'd settled for a smaller price in the early days!

Not convinced? Which of these two sentences has a greater impact on you?

  • Is your emotional intelligence gaining you $29,000 per year!
  • Is your emotional intelligence costing you $29,000 per year?

Changing just one word, makes the second sentence two times more motivating than the first. (BTW - If you access the Insights to Success program you'll discover how to stop that leak from your salary!)

Create the Right Environment for the Employee Performance Appraisal

Schedule one hour of uninterrupted time:

the discussion may well take less than an hour, but it is important not to rush the meeting. If you do hurry the session, you might just be closing the door on an open exchange of views. 

Allow ample time. Don't schedule an important meeting 20 minutes after the performance appraisal meeting or have a lunch date waiting in the foyer. Your team member needs to feel that you take this incredibly seriously.

Set up a comfortable environment to talk:

Choose a suitable environment which allows free and relaxed conversation, privacy, and is free of disturbances. Book a meeting room or arrange to use an unoccupied office. Have the door closed with a 'Do not disturb sign.' You want to discourage people from popping in 'to ask a quick question!'

Electronic devices and office phones should all be switched off.

Ideally, the team member should be speaking about 80% of the time.

The focus of the leader, while the team member is presenting his or her assessment of their performance, is to listen without interrupting and use questions to aid clarification (your time, to offer your viewpoint, comes after the team member).

Keep the Meeting on Track

It is crucial to keep the meeting on track.

Of course, you must cover the areas outlined in the employee performance appraisal form and/or the pre-work you completed.

If, however, during the meeting, it becomes clear that an issue is coming up that needs more in-depth discussion, make sure you park it and move on.

For example, say you identify the need to re-organize workflows because the process is hampering people's performance. It is a mistake to get caught up in that discussion. Advise that you will park this for another conversation and move on with the performance appraisal.

No Surprises

Remember that a Performance Feedback & Development discussion is not designed to replace feedback on "day-to-day" work issues. Throughout the year, you will be addressing performance issues as, and when, they occur. When a team member arrives for the performance appraisal, he or she should come to this meeting clear about your perception of his or her performance. There shouldn't be any surprises and/or bombshells.

An employee performance appraisal is not the time to raise contentious issues for the first time.

Nor are they disciplinary meetings. However, if you've spoken several times about a controversial issue or pattern of behavior that is causing concern, it won't be a surprise to them if you raise the subject again. Merely use it as an example, but do balance it with other behaviors that the person is getting right.

Want a sample employee performance appraisal form to download? Go to the performance appraisal form page.

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