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Definition of Performance Appraisal

What is your definition of performance appraisal? Far too many managers might believe that it’s an annual review of an employee’s performance within an organization. Indeed, this is a common definition so it’s hardly surprising that this is the case.

However, this definition is perhaps too simplistic if performance appraisal is to be truly effective.

In this article we consider five elements that form the foundation of an effective definition of performance appraisal.

  1. A performance appraisal needs to be a series of constructive, developmental discussions, between line managers and their reports. They should focus on helping people to realize their potential. To be effective, appraisals need to be a series of conversations that culminate in the performance appraisal review. It’s much more effective (and easier) to appraise performance by regular meetings to discuss progress and provide support, rather than to wait for a single, annual appraisal meeting.
  2. An appraisal should not be a top-down process, where one side asks questions and the other responds. An effective appraisal meeting should consist of an open dialogue, more of a two-way conversation. Performance appraisal needs to be a joint effort – it’s as much about self-appraisal as it is about the manager’s view.
  3. Appraisals are a shared assessment of performance, where performance is appraised jointly and goals are agreed together. The individual’s goals need to be aligned with those of the team or organization.
  4. Performance appraisals should be based on trust and mutual respect. An appraisal works best when manager and employee know each other and there is mutual respect between the two. Such conditions need to be built over time with the manager taking the lead.
  5. Appraisals are a key part of the performance management cycle. Appraisals are an important part of performance management, but an appraisal in itself is not performance management. Performance management is a broader process of which an appraisal is only one stage. For example, in the performance management cycle, the review and planning elements typically form an appraisal. However, the development and performance stages are part of the broader performance management process. To manage performance requires more than just a performance appraisal!

So, a definition of performance appraisal could be:

A process of mini reviews culminating in a one-to-one conversation betweeen managers and their reports. These are used to develop a shared understanding of the individual’s performance.

At these meetings, the individual’s development and future goals are discussed, especially where the best contribution can be made, based on the successes of the review period.

In summary a performance appraisal should be:

  • A series of conversations that culminate in the appraisal review
  • A two way conversation
  • A shared assessment of performance and of future goals
  • Based on mutual trust and respect
  • Part of the performance management cycle

We’ve discussed appraisals more widely in our article: “What is Performance Appraisal?” You can also find out more about a typical performance management process in our articlePerformance Management Cycle.


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