How to conduct an employee performance appraisal
How to conduct a performance review
Employee performance reviews can often be viewed as one of the more challenging tasks for managers, however with the right preparation, and a growth mindset, appraisals can be productive, stimulating and a boost to your self-confidence. A well thought-out and effective performance review can engage and invigorate both you and your staff, allowing them to feel motivated to achieve new objectives and refocus on their next career progression goal.
Performance reviews are an opportunity to:
- Revive flagging motivation
- Kick-start projects that may have fallen by the wayside
- Reward productive employees with opportunities to grow
- Raise any perceived problems
- Set objectives for the future
- Assess training needs
- Learn more about the group dynamics of your team
Benefits to your staff
Many employees look forward to their performance appraisal and the feedback that they receive. They welcome the chance to receive constructive ways that they can improve their performance.
This meeting is a chance for an employee to:
- Gain recognition and reward (remember appraisals are generally not pay reviews - these should ideally be handled separately)
- Look ahead and set objectives that will aid their career progression
- Identify areas for improvement
- Identify support you can provide
- Resolve grievances
- Seek reassurance and appreciation
Employee performance review preparation
To make the performance appraisal session productive, prepare by reviewing past information and taking notes. Consider reviewing the employee’s job description and objectives set in previous reviews, then consider their recent performance and whether it has met these expectations. Identify areas where they have excelled and gone above and beyond expectations, as well as areas for improvement.
Some performance review questions to add to the pre-appraisal form could include asking them to rate how well they’ve achieved their objectives, identify opportunities for improvement, self-report on their strengths and weaknesses and note any other issues they would like to raise in the appraisal meeting itself. The latter is important as it will give you a heads-up of any challenges you might not have been aware of.
Things you can do to make the appraisal more beneficial include:
- Ask your employee to complete the appraisal form in full.
- Ask for the form back prior to the meeting so you have enough time to review it.
- Review previous appraisal notes; what were the objectives set?
- Review notes you’ve made about the employee’s performance since their last review period.
- Assess work completed and projects executed. Could it have been done better? What was done well?
- Think about future departmental objectives and wider organisational strategic goals - how can the appraisee contribute? How can you develop the appraisee to ensure they can help meet the required objectives?
In the performance appraisal
Start with letting the appraisee know that this will be a two-way conversation, with their open, honest, and constructive feedback also necessary for the success of the meeting.
Then set the organisations expectations of the outcomes from the meeting. Explain the importance of the appraisal and that the purpose is to focus on the appraisee and their career progression. A reminder that salary is not on the agenda is not out of place but be sensitive to individual circumstances.
The discussion should typically centre around:
A review of objectives set at the previous appraisal
- What objectives were met? Is the appraisee deserving of special acknowledgement?
- What wasn't met? Why?
- What skills (technical and soft) has the employee developed since the last review?
- How does the appraisee view their performance and contribution to the team’s goals?
- Is the appraisee feeling fulfilled by their current role? Does it align to their personal purpose?
- How does the appraisee assess their skills? Do you agree? Is any upskilling required?
- Does the appraisee have a clear idea of their own role and the department's role and how these contribute to the organisation’s overall success?
- What career progression plans does the appraisee have? How will these be achieved?
- Where could their development take them within the organisation?
- What specific targets can you set for the year ahead? Can the targets be realistically met?
- How will performance be measured?
- What training needs are required to fulfil these objectives?
- What other issues would the appraisee like to raise?
Throughout the performance review process, focus on the appraisee’s performance and outcomes and how they deliver wider strategic goals. Review their results and achievements and how well they met the objectives set in their previous appraisal. Ask for specific examples rather than relying on purely anecdotal feedback.
Delivering home truths
Confrontations can arise when delivering uncomfortable news. You may be required to spell out in no uncertain terms that the appraisee is not meeting expectations in a particular aspect of their job. This could be as simple a matter as timekeeping, or more sensitive, such as competence at specific tasks or ability to get on with colleagues.
Decide in advance of the meeting how you can best sensitively share your thoughts, thinking through how the information might land for the appraisee. Once delivered, work collaboratively with them to uncover solutions to the problem. Ask for their thoughts on the issue raised and how you might, together, overcome it. By involving them in coming up with a solution, you’re more likely to gain buy-in on the change needed.
Handling confrontation during performance reviews
In many cases, performance appraisals can be a positive and engaging experience until you ask the appraisee if they have any issues to raise. This can open a can of worms that’s difficult to prepare for. Grievances such as personality clashes, office ergonomics or perceptions of unfair treatment, workloads or resources might be surfaced. Issues that may seem of little significance to you can be of enormous importance to the appraisee and hinder employee morale.
Most of these should not come as any surprise if you have regular check-ins with your employees. But if issues aren’t raised try to coax it out in this more formal performance review meeting, so it can be addressed in a formal way.
If you are made aware of something you hadn’t previously been, ask for specific examples rather than generalisation, listen carefully to get on the same page, and tackle head on. Again, engage the team member in problem solving to promote professional growth. For example, if the issue is one of resourcing or ideas, perhaps the appraisee could be given a special project to scope out a solution.
Obviously, if the complaint is of a more serious nature, such as harassment or discrimination allegations, further investigation will be required. Make it clear you take the matter seriously and will take the appropriate steps immediately following the conclusion of the appraisal. Then return to the main appraisal.
Offer takeway objectives
Ensure that a key part of the discussion is setting objectives for the appraisee to work towards for the next performance review period. Even high-performing employees should be given performance metrics they can improve on, new skills to develop, additional targets to meet or new projects to run to encourage employee success. Ensure the objectives are realistic, set each one with an end date, and clearly map out how they ladder up to the organisation’s or department’s goals as well as the employee’s career growth plan. Without takeaway objectives, performance conversations feel unresolved.
Any appraisal that delivers positive action begins with the initial meeting. Set time aside to complete any documentation, write up your notes, including any actions that need to be taken to address issues raised, the objectives that were discussed and agreed to and the aspects of performance that have been done particularly well. It's usual practice to ask the appraisee to review and sign the notes and share a copy with them to help keep them accountable for achieving the agreed objectives.
You also need to ensure that you follow through with any agreed upon action points. If you have committed to exploring further training or arranging meetings with other departments to further the employee’s goals, for example, set up these sessions as soon as you can.
Knowing how to conduct a meaningful and effective appraisal for your team members will ensure you continue to improve performance within your team, and in turn your appraisal will be positive too.
Commonly asked questions about conducting performance reviews
What should a performance review contain?
- A description of the employee's job duties and responsibilities.
- An evaluation of how well the employee has performed these duties and responsibilities.
- Any areas in which the employee needs improvement.
- Suggestions to enact those improvements.
What are the 5 steps of the performance process?
- Planning and preparation for the review.
- Meaningful conversation about career progress so far.
- The employee can voice any concerns or complaints.
- Use measurement-oriented language to set future goals.
- Post-appraisal action on complaints or plans.