• February 2010

Can Performance Appraisals Really Be Stress-Free?

By Sharon Armstrong, owner,
Sharon Armstrong and Associates
co-author, The Essential HR Handbook
author, The Essential Performance Review Handbook

Performance appraisals are one of the most important responsibilities of a supervisor — and one of the most dreaded. Why? Perhaps the better question is: What can we do to remove the ‘dread factor’?

One way is to identify the five most important tips and make sure all your managers get a copy.

Tip #1: Take time to prepare

  • Start by familiarizing yourself with the form and the ratings. Think about the goals each employee has been working on, the employee’s strengths and areas for development. Pull out all the examples and observations you’ve collected throughout the review period and add them to the appraisal form to support your ratings.
  • Plan your discussion in detail – not just compliments, but also areas for improvement.
  • Then, schedule the meeting and plan enough time for a thorough discussion. Select a time when you and the employee are not under pressure.

Tip #2: Start the meeting in a positive way

  • Always conduct a warm-up and try to put the employee at ease. Stress the routine nature of it and tell the employee you have many positive things to say (if that’s true).
  • Outline what you want to cover and in what order. Let the employee know he or she will have a chance to raise issues and be an active participant in the meeting.
  • Explain that appraisals are designed to help the employee know how he or she is doing. Make sure you are on the same track in terms of realistic goals and priorities.
  • Provide a forum for problem resolution and feedback to help the employee succeed.

Tip #3: Plan the discussion in detail

  • Start with the positives. Say things like “You’ve made important contributions this year.” “I’m impressed by your performance on _________.” “You’ve been more conscientious about ________.” “I was pleased to see ______________.”
  • Work your way through each section of the form- use it as a tool for facilitating discussion.
  • Review significant accomplishments – give praise and credit (nothing is more stimulating/motivating).
  • Ask open-ended questions to get a general reaction. Many start with “How do you think things have been going?” “Do these ratings seem fair?” “What would you do differently?”
  • Consider asking other questions to facilitate discussion:
    1. What did I do for you in the last 6 months that really helped your performance?
    2. What hindered your performance?
    3. What can I do in the next 6 months to help you?
    4. What do you want most from your job?
    5. Under what conditions do you do your best work?
    6. How would you like to receive suggestions for improving your work?
    7. How can I help you reach your career goals?
    8. What inhibits your best work?
  • Discuss areas where the performance falls short – with specific examples. “I was concerned _______________.” Focus criticisms on performance, not personality characteristics.
  • Don’t discuss areas for improvement in a way that will seriously disturb a good employee. The net result is to be encouraging. Identify specific actions the employee can take to improve performance. Ask for their suggestions.
  • Work for understanding rather than complete agreement. You can agree to disagree.

Tip #4: Close the meeting in a positive way

  • It’s just as important to end the meeting in a professional and positive manner, as it was to start the meeting. You want the employee to leave the discussion with a positive impression of the process.
  • Ask the employee to summarize what was discussed.
  • If the employee introduced issues that would make you consider changing their evaluation, apologize for your oversight and tell the employee you would like a few days to consider how this information might affect your evaluation.
  • Settle on a plan for the future. It’s important to let the employee have input. Write goals together. Make them measurable, challenging but achievable.
  • Offer your help. Express confidence that the two of you can successfully work through any issues.
  • Think about training, skills development, opportunities or added responsibilities.
  • Ask the employee to add any last thoughts/questions/reactions to the performance appraisal meeting; (“What’s been learned?” “Surprises?” “Was it fair?” “Your general reaction?” “ If you have more reaction later, my door is open.”).
  • If the employee disagrees with any points brought out, let the employee know he or she has the response options offered by your organization.
  • Share your ideas on where the department is headed. Employees want to be in the loop.
  • Close on a friendly note – let them know they’re part of the team, that their performance matters to the company and the department.
  • Both sign and date the form. Explain that signing the form merely indicates that the form has been discussed with him or her and indicate the date of the appraisal discussion.
  • Tell them you’ll continue to give feedback throughout the year.

Tip #5: Remember your follow-up responsibilities

  • Follow up on commitments you’ve made for support, training, etc.
  • Begin observations for the next performance discussion with employees and record them!

Following these simple steps will eliminate the stress and uncertainty usually associated with performance appraisals. Now your managers can start to focus on making the performance appraisal a powerful management tool.


About Sharon Armstrong

Sharon Armstrong has over 20 years of experience as a Human Resources consultant, trainer and career counselor. Since launching her own consulting business in 1998, Sharon Armstrong and Associates, she has consulted with many large corporations and small businesses. She has facilitated training, completed HR projects and provided career transition services for a wide variety of clients in the profit and non-profit sectors.

Sharon received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Southern Maine and her Masters Degree in Counseling from George Washington University. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR).

Sharon is the co-author of a humor book, published by Random House entitled Heeling the Canine Within: The Dog’s Self-Help Companion in 1998. Career Press published her first business book, Stress-free Performance Appraisals: Turn Your Most Painful Management Duty into a Powerful Motivational Tool in July 2003. The Essential HR Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager or HR Professional was published in August 2008. Her next book, The Essential Performance Review Handbook will be published spring 2010.

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