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How to Survive Employee Performance Appraisals

They're a necessary evil, so you might as well make them relatively painless.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When the words "performance appraisal" are spoken, they almost immediately evoke a strong reaction--sometimes good, sometimes bad--but there's always a reaction.

So just what is a performance appraisal? Simply put, it's the process by which someone in management provides feedback to someone they supervise. This interaction may sometimes result in a change in rank, responsibility and/or salary. Ideally, the appraisal should occur once per quarter, but it happens annually in most companies. In some cases, however, it never happens at all. Whatever it entails, people feel very strongly about whether or not it should even exist.

Why is that?

On the positive side, performance appraisal meetings are an opportunity to:

  • meet face-to-face with the boss
  • review previously set goals
  • evaluate those goals and identify new ones or repeat and reinforce old ones
  • hear positive statements about one's performance and behavior
  • talk about areas needing improvement and methods of getting there
  • discuss areas of and prospects for new or increased
  • discuss plans for career pathing and movement up the hierarchy
  • identify projects and other types of work the employee may be interested in and capable of performing
  • discuss opportunities for increased learning, skill development and responsibilities

So far, these issues all sound very positive, and they're subjects that employees should be looking forward to discussing. So why are some managers and some employees reluctant to have a performance appraisal interview?

  • It is time-consuming. The boss has to review a year of an employee's contributions, actions and attitudes. This can be an onerous process.
  • Goals from the previous year may not have been clearly stated or written down, making this next step very difficult.
  • The boss has not been keeping notes during the year or has not interacted often enough with the employee to adequately evaluate his/her performance.
  • Time is money. Time spent creating the document to be discussed and delivering it is time not spent doing the company's work.
  • The feedback may be negative. Many bosses, especially those who want/need to be liked, are very reluctant to deliver bad news. They may feel uneasy and not want to hurt the other person's feelings.
  • The employee may become visibly upset and even cry, and the boss may feel embarrassed or not know how to effectively deal with the situation.
  • The manager may simply not know how to deliver negative information.
  • The boss may not know how to set up appropriate goals for improved performance.
  • The employee may protest or argue with the boss and challenge some of the evaluative statements or implications. This can further make the boss uncomfortable or feel threatened.
  • The employee may want more (grade change, salary, opportunity) than the boss wants to give.

Thus, there are both positive and negative thoughts that can sway a leader toward or away from the appraisal process. If that is the case, here are some easy and informative guidelines for preparing for and conducting an appraisal interview:

  1. Keep a record throughout the year of what works and what doesn't work with an employee.
  2. Have a written form to guide the review.
  3. Allow both you and the employee to complete that form prior to the interview so that both parties are fully prepared.
  4. Compare your version with the individual's version, allowing the latter to go first in stating the pros and cons of the past year's performance.
  5. Try to stress the positive aspects of the performance.
  6. Don't avoid stating the negatives, but do so in a direct and brief manner.
  7. Balance the good with the bad.
  8. Invite the employee to suggest ways he/she can be motivated.
  9. Ask the individual what additional areas of responsibilities or other tasks he/she would be interested in.
  10. Discuss ways to gain additional knowledge and skills so that promotion becomes possible.
  11. If the discussion becomes emotional, take a break.
  12. Have tissue on your desk--just in case.
  13. End on a positive note.

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