Crafting Effective Performance Appraisals


A performance appraisal is something most of us hate. Often it is used to placate a boss or to meet a company requirement, but what does it really mean? What does it really get us? Why do we go through the pain every year or for some, twice a year?

I’ve had different experiences with performance appraisals in corporate America. I’ve had times where it was a good tool and great discussion and it really helped me to see how my boss saw my work. There were other times where I was encouraged to rate myself as “average” on everything so we didn’t have to comment or supply additional documentation.

No matter where you stand on performance appraisals, they are not going away. They can be very useful tools. Some of my clients have found ways to implement performance appraisals in a way that is positive and encouraging. A few have found ways to tie performance appraisals to promotions, bonuses and raises.

Here are the three things you might think about when crafting an effective appraisal.

1.Voices. You should have multiple voices in the appraisal. Get a variety of viewpoints. Most of us don’t work in a two-person office. We work in a large organization. There are multiple people we interact with daily. For the performance appraisal to accurately review the performance of an employee, it has to be looked at from many sides. Think about conducting a 360 review beyond subordinates and supervisors. Consider having colleagues and peers weigh in on performance. When we take all the voices into consideration, we have an opportunity for a more comprehensive view of how an employee has performed the last year.

2.Timing. Doing performance appraisals once a year at the end of the year can be the most inappropriate time. During the holiday season, employees may not be at their best. Some people are dealing with family drama or their thoughts are on an upcoming vacation. Perhaps you do appraisals at the end of your fiscal year, when everyone is struggling with getting a budget together. Is that really when your employees have the most time? Is that when you have the most time for an effective appraisal? The best time is during a down cycle of your year. I realize most of you are busy 24/7/365, but there is a season when you have a slowdown. So, do it every six months and try to plan your appraisals based on your company’s down times so people can give thought and be reflective in what they provide during the appraisal process.

3.Questions. What questions are you going to ask? What questions do you need to have answers? Some best practices will suggest that fewer questions is better. Opt for open-ended questions so employees can provide a narrative feedback. Another strategy is focusing on competencies and skills rather than vague questions. You judge them based on competency, not just on a narrative or an opinion. Though these are best practices, the key is to focus on the usage of the appraisal. Be honest. If the appraisal is just going in a file never to be seen again, then make it easy. Ask simple questions. Give it a rate scale and that’s enough. If you are going to use the appraisal to discuss employee performance, however, you might want to have deeper questions with more voices.

I often suggest to clients an appraisal that incorporates multiple voices and rates employees and managers in terms of alignment with organizational values, leadership skills, work-based competencies and development goals. I have found that these four areas will give you the most value in your appraisal.

Appraisals don’t have to be painful and they don’t have to be useless. Performance appraisals are something that can be an effective tool for employee engagement and employee development.

Employees want feedback. They want to know how they’re doing and they want it more than once a year. They want to be able to have an open, honest conversation about their work, about how it is going and where they need to improve. They also want to have a voice to tell you, the boss, how you can improve, how you are performing.

When we craft effective appraisals, they can be one of the most effective tools in the human resource management toolbox.

Dr. Stevie Dawn is Chief Leadership Officer for Stevie Dawn Inspires, a corporate training company. Stevie Dawn Inspires assists organizations in reducing employee turnover, increasing employee engagement and developing their next generation of leaders through engaging and fun, on-site and on-line training. She can be contacted at

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