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The One-Stop Guide to Effective Performance Appraisals

By January 26, 2019 March 6th, 2020 No Comments

effective performance appraisals


Developing a process for effective performance appraisals could make or break an employee’s career. (No pressure, right?) But all jokes aside, most employees place high stakes on performance appraisals and reviews.

These sessions often give workers just what they need to enhance performance and earn promotions. Effective reviews help people turn their “jobs”  into flourishing careers.

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Alternatively, these sessions, if poorly planned and executed, could leave employees confused and frustrated. A bad review could be the sink-or-swim point where some employees decide to start looking for new jobs.

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The Case for Performance Appraisals

Despite murmurings of eliminating performance appraisals, trends demonstrate that reviews and appraisals are ingrained in the cultures of most companies. In a survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management, about 72% of all companies reported conducting reviews annually.

What’s more, research conducted by Gartner came along with the conclusion that removing performance reviews leads to a 10% drop in employee performance, a lack of effective management, a decrease in employee engagement, and a stagnation of informal conversations.

Your takeaway? It’s time to solidify your game plan for effective performance appraisals.

Below, you’ll find everything you need to know to establish processes that result in effective and engaging performance appraisals and reviews.

Performance Appraisal Methodologies

There are many pre-established performance appraisal methods available today, each with its own benefits. Take a look at some the options below to figure out what methodology might work for your company.

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Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS)

Best for: Companies that want to limit performance appraisals to a specific set of performance indicators. The BARS method is also ideal for companies who don’t mind investing time to establish the review process; it takes a while to establish a review template for each position, but after that initial setup, the actual review process will take less time than many other options.

In the Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS) method of performance appraisal, reviewers assign numerical ratings to each of an employee’s core functions. Reviewers rate the employee on a variety of job duties.

For example, one segment of a BARS appraisal for executive assistants might read:

Responsibility: Liaises between company departments and maintains valuable collaborative relationships.

4 – Exceeds Expectations: Employee went above and beyond to establish processes and methodologies to improve interdepartmental collaboration.

3 –  Excellent: Employee establishes and maintains productive working relationships with people across the company.

2 –  Satisfactory: Employee communicates promptly and effectively.

1 –  Needs Improvement: Employee struggles to achieve consensus among groups of people and lacks follow-through when groups discuss plans during meetings.


Essay Writing Evaluations

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Best for: Companies who don’t have other key processes linked to performance appraisals. Since essay evaluations vary greatly from person to person, they are not a good fit if your company relies on appraisals to determine raise rates and promotion status. This method is a good fit for companies made of small, tight-knit teams, as the content of the appraisal can become highly personal.  

Far less structured that the BARS appraisal method, essay evaluations are exactly what they sound like. To conduct an essay appraisal, a manager writes an essay about a few pre-established parameters of an employee’s job.

Essay evaluations introduce a lot of variability into the appraisal process; even within the same team, each employee’s evaluation could look radically different. According to SumHR, this structure gives managers a greater chance to explore and expand upon what they see as key strengths and areas of improvements (instead of fitting each person’s evaluation into a company-wide mold). You can also couple the essay with an evaluation template to provide a comprehensive look at each member of your team.

This method will be most effective if managers commit to the process and if they also enjoy writing. If you’re considering essay evaluations, then be sure everyone is on board.


360-Degree Reviews

Best for: Companies that prioritize collaboration. 360-degree reviews provide an excellent snapshot of how well an employee can work with others across the organization. This review format is ideal for companies looking to “decrease silos” in the company culture.

A 360-degree review requires feedback from a generous sampling of people the employee works with. Most 360-reviews focus on feedback from supervisors, team members, and a selection of associates in other departments, who all work with the employee regularly.

The burden of soliciting this feedback usually falls on the reviewing manager. It will be up to this person to decide who to get feedback from and keep timelines moving. Establishing a well-defined process methodology for a 360-review would make life easier for reviewing managers by giving them a clear set of instructions.

Because 360-degree reviews involve so many different people, the process is complex and requires diligent planning to make sure appraisals are truly effective. To get it right, read some tips from the experts and even explore software solutions that take the burden of process management off your back.


Checklist Appraisals

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Best for: Companies with well-established recruiting strategies. Checklist appraisals work best when responsibilities are firmly established for specific positions. This method does not work as well in flexible companies where goals and responsibilities might shift as new candidates take over establishes roles.

In this relatively straightforward appraisal method, reviewers and reviewees simply go through a laundry list of established responsibilities and goal. The they evaluate, with a simple “yes” or “no,” if the employee effectively lived up to expectations.

The true meat of this methodology is in the discussion. It would be unsatisfactory if checking off “yes” or “no” made up the entire performance appraisal, but this method allows plenty of room for further examination.

For example, if both parties agree that the reviewee fulfilled a responsibility or goal, then the pair could discuss what strengths the accomplishment required. If the reviewer and reviewee disagree on a certain responsibility, then they can use the conflict as an opportunity to clarify what the responsibility means to each of them and find out where the confusion comes from.

Many companies use an employee’s job description to establish the appraisal checklist, therefore this methodology is relatively quick and easy to introduce at any company.

Didn’t find a performance appraisal format that works for your company? Look through this roundup of posts to find even more appraisal options.

Performance Appraisal Best Practices and Guidelines

Always use an established review structure. (In other words, don’t wing it!)

Even if reviewers and reviewees work together a lot, know each other well, and understand each other’s roles, they probably can’t pull off a truly effective performance appraisal without following a set structure and protocol.

Choosing a standard format for the appraisal process will help everyone get the most from a review. See our format and methodology ideas above to get started.

Make appraisals an ongoing process.

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According to HR Daily Advisors, companies should have infrastructure in place to keep reviewers accountable for following up after the appraisal. This follow-up increases the reviewee’s chances of meeting the goals discussed during the review.

How-to: Provide managers with direction by creating a check-in timeline. If your company’s current procedures include filing or reporting performance-appraisal results to Human Resources (or any other department), then make these check-ins reportable events as well. Keep the timeline conservative so no one feels overwhelmed by the rolling review process. One main annual review and subsequent quarterly check-ins should be plenty.

Work “order of operations” guidelines into the appraisal process.

Writing for the International Risk Management Institute, Inc. (IRMI), one HR expert says it’s always a good idea to let employees assess their own performance before they hear from the boss. This way, reviewers can use the self-assessment as the starting point to provide guidance and additional feedback.

This methodology truly captures employees’ needs better than a review format where an employees simply listens and nods as a manager rattles reads off a list of feedback.

How-to: Outline the appraisal process in a series of steps that begins with the reviewer asking the reviewee to complete a self assessment, following the established standard format of course!

Clearly communicate expectations to avoid surprises

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Some experts recommend establishing a formalized process to make sure new employees have a firm grasp of their role’s expectations and key performance indicators.

How-to: Try to work “establishing of expectations” into the new employee onboarding process if your company does not already include something similar. Managers may choose to relay expectations through methods other than meetings, as long as the expectations are made clear.

Part of this conversation (or handout, etc.) should also communicate that all performance appraisals will be based on the outlined expectations.

Focus on future potential instead of past failures

Some employees see performance appraisals as just a time for managers to lay out a list of grievances and small failures; they see performance appraisals as punishment. Strive to cultivate a culture of appraisals that’s more positive and focused on growth and moving forward instead of atoning for prior shortcomings.

How-to: Include a manager training aspect with your performance appraisal strategy document. The training can include notes on how managers can encourage optimal performance from their employees by inspiring progress instead of dwelling on mistakes.

If your company has no policies or suggestions about giving employees ongoing feedback, remind managers to address mistakes when they happen and then move on. Mistakes should never be “saved” for someone’s performance appraisal.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for planning and implementing effective performance appraisals? We’d love to hear perspectives from both reviewees and reviewers.


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