The First Rule of Appraisals: No Surprises

Samantha and James ran into each other in the break room and began discussing their upcoming employee review. James is feeling a great deal of stress because he has a lot of uncertainties. Samantha is looking forward to meeting with her supervisor and getting a chance to discuss her future with the company. Samantha feels confident there will be no surprises because her manager engages in the following employee appraisal process:

  • Give frequent informal feedback: These do not need to be scheduled formal discussions, but rather, quick check-ins after meetings or projects. “Hey, let’s check in about that meeting – I thought you did a nice job with ____.  Next time, consider doing _____. This will help ___.” Here, you have stated briefly what went well, and what could benefit from a course correction, with the reason for the course correction – understanding why is essential for building buy-in.
  • Point out patterns. As you see patterns, point them out – both as strengths and if adjustments are needed. Here’s an example: “I’ve noticed a pattern over the past few weeks with your writing. You are great about including lots of facts, which shows you know your stuff. With senior audiences like you have been writing for, though, we need to keep it at a higher summary level. Let me send you an example of what I am looking for.”
  • Name Achilles’ Heels. If you have difficult feedback to deliver, don’t save it for the formal review. There’s a real chance you could help the person change patterns before they become habits – give feedback as soon as you detect the pattern that needs to be corrected. Here’s an example: “I’ve noticed in the last couple of meetings with ___, ___ didn’t seem to react well to your ___. Let’s talk through what happened, and see if we can come up with some new strategies.” Talk about your observations and the impact – the feedback recipient may not even be aware of it. Done well, this kind of timely focused discussion can lead to real change, rather than being one of many points listed during an appraisal.
  • Offer examples or support. Appraisals without surprises also mean offering new tools and support along the way. Don’t wait until the annual performance appraisal to talk about development and training needs – find those opportunities throughout the year. You may be surprised at how much this changes the conversation you would have had to have without this ongoing coaching.

The performance appraisal is one conversation of many during the course of a year – for many, it is tied to salary and bonus decisions, and so it naturally comes with more significance. However, making sure there are no surprises can reduce the stress, lead to incremental improvements throughout the year and result in better overall performance. And THAT should be the goal of every organization.