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The Performance Appraisal Discussion

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Your one-on-one discussion with an employee will be the most critical step in the Performance Appraisal and self-development process. 

Thoughtful preparation for the appraisal discussion will ensure a more successful and productive outcome. Paying attention to the following issues has proven helpful to many Front Line leaders and managers:

  • The meeting should be private, taking place where there will be neither distractions nor interruptions. This tells the employee you consider this to be an important meeting, worthy of your undivided attention. If your office is not satisfactory, look for a conference room. 
  • Transparency is important. Both the employee and the Front Line leader should complete a draft Performance Review document of the employee’s performance against the Standards. They should share their assessments with each other. This emphasizes that the discussion is not a lecture, and is evidence of your desire to be fair and reasonable as well as open and collaborative. It clearly demonstrates that you ‘walk-the-talk’ regarding adult-to-adult relationships. 
  • The discussion should be unhurried. The length of time required for an appraisal discussion will depend on the employee, the Front Line leader, the level of the job and the anticipated depth of the appraisal interview. Allow sufficient time, frequently an hour, so that both parties can jointly complete a third (and blank) copy of the Performance Appraisal document. Those performance achievements that both parties agree to can quickly be noted, recognition provided and then move on to the areas of disagreement. The employee should never feel that performance feedback is a chore you have sandwiched between higher priority business appointments. 
  • Be up-to-date. Make sure your review of the employee’s performance is based on current and adequate information, preferably learned through first-hand observation and/or fact-based reports. Make sure you have sufficient information on the day-to-day problems faced by the employee. Be aware of the halo effect. 
  • Take the employee's input seriously. The employee is the one doing the job – knows the Performance Standards – and their input should be taken seriously. This is not the time for the Front Line leader to go on an ‘ego trip.’ Likewise, the Front Line leader should not give in where doing so would indicate a lack of sincerity or integrity. Disagreements on performance issues are not arguments; they are opportunities to see the other person’s viewpoint. 
  • Remember that you are a role model. Ask yourself if you would like to see your own behaviour modeled in the employee. Do not always assume the employee knows which behaviours are important. You may find that you have a simple misunderstanding to deal with rather than conscious resistance. 
  • Try to anticipate the employee’s response. It may be cooperative, defensive, submissive or hostile. The employee may see no need for change and therefore be unwilling to commit to improving performance. Or the employee may not believe you really understand his/her position. Keep these points in mind when preparing for the interview and plan ways to deal effectively with these issues. 
  • The aim of the Appraisal is to assess the individual’s total performance. Consider performance in relation to all the specific responsibilities of the job, taking into account their relative importance. Don’t zero in on one responsibility only. And don’t focus on one or two incidents that happen to stand out in your memory. Try to consider performance in all areas of the job over a significant period of time, eg: the last Appraisal. 
  • The halo effect. A major detrimental dynamic in a Performance Appraisal discussion, occurs when the Front Line leader holds very positive, or very negative, views about the employee’s performance in the recent past. For example, satisfying a customer last week overshadows many months of mediocre or lacklustre customer satisfaction levels. 
  • Performance assessment is made in relation to the individual’s accomplishments in the job. Subjective factors — such as your like or dislike of the employee or your knowledge of his/her private affairs — have absolutely no place in a Performance Appraisal discussion.  
  • The interview is not the place to make decisions concerning difficult salary problems. This is a separate step and requires the consideration of factors that go well beyond the current Performance Appraisal discussion. Do not let your knowledge of existing salary problems affect your objective assessment of performance. (Some of the factors you may wish to take into consideration at salary review time are the accuracy of the job evaluation, the employee’s past performance, future organizational plans and comparison of this employee’s salary with that of others in the organization.) 

Pitfalls to Avoid in Conducting Performance Appraisals 

  • Halo effect - seeing only the good
  • Horns effect - seeing only the bad 
  • Recency effect - considering only recent performance rather than entire appraisal period 
  • Personal bias - can be positive or negative for the employee (an organizational negative) 
  • Distortion - improper (too much or too little) emphasis on certain performance 
  • Organizational culture - historical value placed on appraisal in some way 
  • Central tendency - tending to mark only middle values, avoiding marking extremes 
  • Similar-to-me - rating those most like yourself higher than those who are different 
  • Stereotypes - allowing stereotypical views to influence ratings given (e.g. seeing some jobs as best performed by men, other jobs best performed by women, etc.) 
  • Contrast - ratings based upon a perceived or desired rank rather than job 
  • Standards (e.g. a supervisor rates all employees lower than self or applies a desired ranking of employees then makes scores fit

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