Bringing Focus to an Appraisal Conversation

If you do nothing else, do this.


Last week, I started a conversation about performance appraisal. 

In response to the question: “How do I improve my performance evaluation process?”, I would start by asking: “What is your appetite for change?”

If the answer is some form of, “Not very big,” there are a couple of quick-hit answers that can usually move people in a desired direction.

The first thing to work on is focusing the appraisal conversation: What is the message you want to deliver to the person being appraised? To get a handle on that, look at both the results and behavior of this individual. Are they where they need to be? In other words, is this person a consistently solid performer or better?

If that’s the case, you should be preparing a positive message. Most of your people will likely be in this category.

On the other hand, if results or behavior (or both) are lacking, the message needs to be a negative one. As in, “This is what I’ve seen; there are some things that are not at acceptable levels; we need to do something about it.”

No mixing these things. No feedback sandwiches: start with something good, talk about what needs improving, and end with something positive. That approach just muddles the situation. If you feed people the sandwich, your good performers walk away feeling demoralized because they are totally focused on the negative, and those you want to give a stern message hear only the positive and think things aren’t all that bad. Exactly the opposite of what you intend.

None of this is to suggest that we all don’t have development needs, things we can be working on. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Another aspect of focusing the conversation is to have only one conversation at a time.

Because the typical performance evaluation forms and processes take into account so many things (feedback, ratings, compensation, development, coaching, to name a few), supervisors can find themselves at a disadvantage right from the start because they are expected to accomplish so many things at once. Each of these components is important and deserves its own, focused conversation.

If the prescribed process won’t allow for separating the various pieces in time and space, make sure to do so yourself during the single appraisal conversation the process dictates. Do this explicitly. Even if it means taking five minute breaks to mark transitions.

Providing this kind of support to employees is perhaps the most important part of the job of a supervisor or manager. It requires huge time and effort. Do what you can to make sure the interactions at the end achieve the intended results.