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ATD Blog

The Reinvented Performance Appraisal: Coaching


Thu Oct 20 2016


You have heard the buzz about reinventing—or completely doing away with—performance appraisals. But what does that really mean? 

Basically, organizations are realizing that getting everyone up to speed on coaching skills is not just “a nice way to give feedback and develop people” but a major component for more realistically assessing performance and organizational success. 


Talent development executives have known for some time that existing appraisal systems embody the following characteristics: 

  • idiosyncratic rater effect 

  • form focused, not people focused 

  • judgmental, not supportive or developmental 

  • time-consuming 

  • rating focused, not future focused 

  • fuel anxiety, not engagement 

  • less meaningful in today’s fast-paced, service-oriented institutions 

  • forced to coincide with conceptual pay models as opposed to true performance. 

What is now being recommended are simple, periodic coaching sessions. One organization uses the following template for monthly sessions. Data can be gathered in a variety of ways by both the supervisor and employee, either manually or online using an interactive software system. The data answers the questions: 

  • What’s working and should be continued? 

  • What can you do more of to be effective? 

  • What can you do less of to be more effective? 

  • What will you begin doing over the next month to address the above? 

Then, at the end of the performance cycle, the supervisor can submit a one-page assessment that addresses the employee’s overall value to the organization—something like this (modified from the Deloitte model): 

On a scale from 1 (low) to 6: 

  1. Given what I know about this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation \[measures overall performance and unique value\]. 

  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want this person on my team \[measures ability to work with others\]. 

  3. This person is at risk for low performance \[identifies problems that might harm the customer or team\]. 

  4. This person is ready for a growth opportunity today \[measures potential\]. 

Needless to say, this approach comes with its own set of challenges, and many other support tools (not addressed here) must be implemented for this to be successful. Yet, it is evident that this coaching to performance approach is beneficial in the following ways: 

  • dialogue focused, not paper focused 

  • challenging and supportive, not labeling 

  • time relevant, not quarterly or full-year snapshots 

  • behavioral, not vague and general statements 

  • feeds into compensation, not directly linked to vague compensation constraints. 

Obviously, the cornerstone of such a system is that managers, employees, and the entire organization must learn and adopt a coaching mindset with inherent coaching techniques: powerful dialogue, two-way communication, continuous improvement, concrete development actions that are tracked frequently, and “feed forward agreements” in between coaching meetings. 

Does everyone in an organization now have to become a certified coach? Of course not (although that would be quite the healthy environment to work in!). Rather, key learning professionals within such organizations need to attend coaching workshops, join coaching forums, build coaching tools and guidelines, educate all members in the organization, and tie coaching behaviors to strategic success.  

That is why, when teaching the ATD Coaching Certificate, I not only cover fundamental skills for one-on-one coaching, but also how to introduce coaching into organizations, design measurable programs, and implement support structures that foster the concept of coaching organizations.

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