A few years ago, I was promoted to my first managerial position. I was to have 30 employees reporting directly to me, and I was clueless on how to be an effective manager. My biggest struggle as a new boss was learning to properly conduct performance appraisals.
My company required that managers conduct informal appraisals (one-on-ones) several times throughout the year and formal appraisals at the end of the year. I felt like appraisals were awkward and, honestly, a waste of time. I wasn’t given a go-to guide on how to conduct appraisals, so especially as a new manager, it was very hard and it made me feel inadequate.
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Whether we like them or not, the performance appraisal, if done correctly, is a critical component of a team’s development. Over the years, I have learned how to be effective and confident in handling performance appraisals. As a result, I have become a stronger manager with more engaged employees.
Whether you are a new or seasoned manager, the guidelines below will help you have a successful and painless performance appraisal with your employees.
1. Prepare yourself.
With anything in life, preparation is key. As my old professor used to say, “Be proactive and not reactive.”
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When you are hired on as a manager, figure out when the mandated annual appraisals should occur. Schedule appraisals as far in advance as possible so that each employee has it on his or her calendar. Carve out 30 minutes minimum for each appraisal and 45 minutes maximum. An appraisal that is too short seems rushed and an appraisal that is more than 45 minutes feels long-winded.
In the months leading up to the appraisal, make sure you are documenting everything. When I say everything, I mean every single thing. As a manager, you should keep track of the good, the bad, and the ugly and file it away in a space that will be easy for you to locate when the time comes. Before you file away anything, be sure to check with your HR department for proper documenting and filing procedures.
Next, organize your thoughts on paper so that you stay on track during the appraisal. Prepare an itinerary of everything that will need to be discussed and also prepare open-ended questions for the employee that cannot be answered with a simple yes, no, or I don’t know. These open-ended questions will help you gather information from your employees that will help you improve as the team leader and will create an easy environment for dialogue.
As you get closer to appraisal time, practice each appraisal on your own before you conduct it. In the privacy of your office, run through the appraisal and critique yourself on how you should communicate certain things. Just as you would do before a job interview, practice on your delivery and you will have a better chance on communicating effectively.
2. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the year. Appraisals aren’t time for surprises.
I once had an employee who gave himself high marks for every area on his self-appraisal. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he wasn’t so great. When I conducted his appraisal, it was extremely awkward to tell him that he wasn’t the world’s greatest employee after all.
The first mistake that I made with the aforementioned employee was that I wasn’t honest with him in the time leading up to the appraisal, as he was making the mistakes. Sometimes it is hard to engage in certain conversations with your employees because you don’t want to seem like you are nagging them and you don’t want to appear mean. By not being direct with them, you are not being honest with yourself and you are not helping your employees grow.
When your employee isn’t performing at your desired level, let him or her know as the falters happen. There should be no surprises during the appraisal.
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3. Find a meeting place that is not your office.
Being called into your manager’s office is a lot like being called into the principal’s office as a schoolchild. It doesn’t make you happy – it makes you anxious.
Managers often meet with employees in the manager’s office, but personally I think it is the worst location for a manager-employee meeting. If there are conference or meeting rooms at your job, I recommend using one of them instead of your office. It doesn’t matter how close employees are with their bosses, being called into the manager’s office can make anyone nervous – especially if you haven’t prepared properly and notified them of their performance appraisal ahead of time.
If a conference or meeting room isn’t available, figure out another place to have the appraisal. Be creative. If you cannot think of an alternate location, consider meeting in the employee’s office if s/he has one with a door. From my experience as an employee, being able to meet in the comfort of my own office makes me feel at ease. When I meet with my employees, if I cannot find a meeting room, I always meet with them in their offices. I don’t mind going the extra mile if it keeps them relaxed.
4. Show more facts and less emotion
When you are conducting an appraisal, it can be easy to let emotion cloud your admonition. If you decide to tell your employee that s/he is not creating quality work, provide concrete examples of when the lack of quality in their work has been apparent. Preferably, remind the employee of the time when you may have issued a verbal warning about the infraction or when you emailed after they submitted an assignment wrong.
One lesson that I learned early on as a manager: Always follow up via email with employees with when they do something that isn’t favorable. By doing this, you are covering your butt by having the discussion in writing and you are also reminding them what is expected of them.
At all times, try your best to leave emotion out of your appraisals. Be honest, get to the point, and most importantly, state only the facts.
5. Listen to them.
Most employees think that the performance appraisal is the time each year when they are scrutinized by their bosses. At least I know that’s what my perception used to be.
During the appraisals, ask open-ended questions, state your facts, and leave time for them to speak. Give them the opportunity to talk during the appraisal and after the appraisal. By encouraging them to talk, the appraisal will feel more like a casual conversation and not a formal evaluation.
When you give them the opportunity to speak, listen to them. Take notes, written and mental, and ask them questions where clarity is needed. If the employee was asked to complete a self-appraisal before the meeting and the self-appraisal differs from what you completed on them, carefully explain to them why the two differ and listen to them if they have any comments.
6. Set goals and show support.
Toward the end of the appraisal, be your employee a rising or falling star, set goals for improvement. All of us can afford to do better. Let the employee take the lead in creating her or his goals. This will make the employee feel more excited about improving and developing and more in control.
During your appraisal, you should also be asking your employees of their short- and long-term goals. Listen clearly, and find a way to support them – even if it seems like their goal is to eventually work somewhere else. Figure out different ways that you can train them or give them new projects so that they can grow and so that you can show them that you are supportive of their growth.
One of the best traits in a quality manager is the ability to follow-up. Often times, managers become “too busy” and they fail to follow-up with employees, which makes the employees feel less valued.
When you follow-up, be intentional. Explain during the appraisal that you will follow up with employees on their performance and goals within a specific amount of time and mark it on their calendar. This will show that you are both serious and dedicated to making sure that they are on the right track.
What are some best practices you’ve found in conducting performance appraisals? Leave a comment below and let us know.