People either love or hate Performance Appraisals, giving or receiving. Those who love them understand their purpose and use them appropriately. Those who don't easily end up in a quagmire. Here are some tips to help stay out of the swamp.
Ask yourself what purpose a performance appraisal serves. If the answer is to document poor performance, punish people, judge people, or fill out a form, you are on your way to treacherous ground.
If your purpose is to provide feedback about the work an employee does or doesn't do, how the employee behaves while doing it, and what you can do to help, you are on solid ground.
The performance appraisal, or feedback, is part of performance management. Showing employees how their work fits into the overall mission or work of the organization is the first step; training and feedback follow, with corrections, compliments and more feedback. Your job, in giving feedback, is to help them be more effective.
Separate the work from the worker, talk about the work. This takes you out of the all-powerful JUDGE of personalities role (swamp) and puts you in the position of a skilled assessor and coach of effective performance. "I think you are very friendly and sometimes that interferes with how quickly you transfer calls when all the phone lines are ringing."
Focus on behavior, not attitude. Attitude talks are actually assumptions you, the observer, have made about the employee. Behavioral descriptions decrease defensiveness and allow the employee to explain what's going on with them. "Sometimes in staff meetings you make side comments which I can't hear, I don't know how to interpret that. Can you help me out?"
Ask how your style affects their work. "What do I do that supports or helps you and what do I do that drives you nuts, or you'd prefer I stop doing?"
Determine if problems are because they CAN'T or WONT do a job. "I'm not sure why you have missed three out of the last four deadlines, what do you think the reason is?" Find out if it's medical, training, lack of interest, or...
Decide if it's really important. You may have certain expectations about how others should work. If it's important, address it, if it isn't, let it go!
Be specific, do your homework, don't store up negative feedback. The performance appraisal should confirm what the employee suspects, not be a surprise. "I discussed accuracy with you each time there was a problem and I notice that it has been correct for the past four months. Good job."
Be interactive, ask the employee's opinion of his/her performance. "What do you think of your year?"
Look both ways. "This is a time to look back and review, but also a time to look forward. What would you like us to focus on next year?"
People like feedback. If you schedule a performance appraisal meeting be prepared, set aside at least an hour, talk about the person, the job, the organization. Canceling or shortening the meeting (unless it's an emergency) is swamp land.
I've reviewed more than 200 forms. Good ones include a blank piece of paper on which you make three columns. "Do more, do less, do the same".
Bottom line tip: do what works for your purpose, at a logical time (end of a project or year) in a way that makes sense.
© Lunell Haught, PhD, CMC