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What is Performance Appraisal?

What is Performance Appraisal? A Waste of Time or Are We Missing Something?

What is performance appraisal? Not many people look forward to their performance appraisal and perhaps even fewer managers look forward to conducting them. Are they a waste of time, merely ticking the corporate box to show they have been done? Or is there something important we are missing about performance appraisals?

The straightforward answer to the question “what is performance appraisal?” is that it’s part of a performance management process.

Performance appraisals are conversations about improving performance. They are not a single event, a perception which all too often dominates performance management processes in many organizations. But we’ll discuss the nature of on-going appraisal later.

First we’ll explore the central elements of a performance appraisal.

What is performance appraisal? A Balancing Act?

A performance appraisal is a balancing act. It should balance the need to look backwards (the review), with the need to look forwards (the plan). It should also balance the need to address weaknesses, whilst at the same time building on strengths.

Remember though, that it’s far easier to motivate people to develop something they can do, than to try to teach them things they can’t do. Development needs should be as much about further improving what someone already does well, as about correcting weaknesses. Peter Drucker made this point emphatically when he suggested

“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”

Any performance review, whether a formal appraisal or a less formal work-review, involves line managers engaging in regular, one-to-one meetings, with each of their team members. A typical review should have the same main elements:

  • Review what’s been achieved
  • Plan what will be achieved
  • Set development and work goals
  • Plan how you will do it

Performance appraisal needs to be a joint effort; it is as much about self-appraisal as it is about the manager’s view. 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.

What is performance appraisal? It must be more than a single review.

Ensure there are no surprises at the appraisalFor any performance appraisal process to be effective, it must be based on more than one annual, formal meeting. There must be a strong emphasis on regular, “mini-reviews”, which should occur throughout the year. There are several important reasons for this. They:

  • Prevent a tick-box mentality
  • Provide support to help goals be achieved
  • Demonstrate that you are engaged and value your colleagues development

Are we missing something important about performance management? Too often performance appraisals in our organizations are ineffective: at worst they actually discourage and demotivate staff or at best are merely a tick box and form-filling sideshow.

If you want performance then appraisals need to be far more than that.

They need to be a constructive, developmental, series of discussions focused on helping people to realize their potential. Is it time for performance management and performance appraisal to be re-claimed by managers? Re-claimed from the superficial, bureaucratic process it all-too-often resembles? To do this performance appraisal will need to be done well, by managers who have developed their knowledge and skills, and who are clear what appraisal should really be about.

With this in mind we have produced two e-guides on this topic. Managing Performance and Potential to provides the essentials of performance management, whilst Conducting a Performance Review is our step-by-step guide to help you manage this critical process. Both e-guides are great value and crucial to making performance management work in the workplace.

You can read more about appraisals and the performance management process in our articles: Definition of Performance Appraisal and Performance Management Cycle.

Managing performance is about applying a process but this alone is not enough as we suggest in our article Define Performance Management: Inspire Performance. The best way to manage performance is to use the process in such a way that teams and individuals are inspired to take ownership of their own performance. To be motivated to perform.

Where to go from here:


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