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How to Make Year-End Performance Appraisals a Constructive Event


Tue Dec 11 2012


(From Forbes) -- It’s that time of year again. The time in the business world where managers and employees face, often with anxiety, year-end performance appraisals. The managerial challenge? How to make these evaluations a candid and constructive but not demotivating event.

I well recall an appraisal I had at one point in my career. I walked into the room, sat down, and my manager presented me with a long list of  job-related items, none of which I was aware I was being evaluated on. She proceeded to fairly rapidly go down the list, with minimal explanation, placing next to each item either a check (good) or a cross (bad). There were more checks than crosses on the list, but a reasonable number of crosses too. And that was about it. Minimal context and conversation. I remember walking out of the office literally and figuratively scratching my head. Did I do well? Not so well? And what were the implications for my career? I hadn’t the slightest idea.


Over time I came to realize this was a classic example of how not to do a year-end evaluation. I had little idea what I was being evaluated on, the assessments were capricious not fact-based, and the overall takeaway was unclear.

With that background, let’s consider a more thoughtful and constructive approach. While there are many ways to handle such year-end appraisals, and different organizations have different formats, whatever your company’s format, following are five suggestions that can help make the event a constructive experience.

Significant preparation: Year-end evaluations aren’t just a one-time, one-hour meeting, but something to substantively prepare for. Significant thought should go into it, not just about top-line results… but what are the key messages you want to convey, what’s the overall feeling you’d like the employee to leave the meeting with? It’s a good idea to talk to other employees and others in management to get multiple perspectives on an individual’s performance. In an ideal world, as I discussed in a post in October, 4 Steps To Painless (And Effective) Performance Evaluations, if you’ve been communicating regularly and candidly with an employee all year, the final evaluation should contain no surprises and be almost an afterthought. However, since our world is real and not ideal, there frequently are surprises and sensitive issues to address.

Clarity about objectives: Differing opinions about objectives are often the shoals on which appraisals  founder. If manager and employee disagree on what expectations are, how can one hope to end up with a constructive meeting of the minds? Thus, it’s critical there be clarity about the overall objectives. Ideally, they are measurable (truly objective, not subjective), though depending on the function, that’s not always possible. Ideally, the employee has been involved in their creation earlier in the year and fully “buys into them.” If for some reason none of this has occurred (reorgs, management changes, function changes and so on), which of course does happen in the real world, a pre-evaluation conversation about the objectives may well be helpful to set the stage before for the more formal appraisal takes place.

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