The 'Annual Performance Appraisal' Needs a New Name

by  Leigh Steere  |  Career Development

A performance review, done well, should not come as a surprise. A good manager provides coaching and feedback throughout the year, so employees consistently know where they stand and what’s needed for improvement. A good manager also asks questions so that every performance discussion is a dialogue. The manager knows the employee’s frustrations and career aspirations, because there is regular, transparent, two-way communication.

What’s between your annual reviews? An information vacuum?

Surprisingly, a number of organizations still deliver once-a-year performance appraisals without providing much interim feedback. The dangers of this approach?

  • Employees do not get the ongoing guidance and correction they need to do their best.
  • Workers wonder whether their boss likes their contribution; being in the dark can create anxiety.
  • Managers may not know the “pulse” of their direct reports—are those employees happy? Frustrated? Adequately challenged? About to resign?
  • The annual-only review gives the manager an excuse to postpone confronting a performance shortcoming. Instead of talking with an employee at the time of the problem, the discussion may occur months later or not at all.

But here is one of the more insidious problems of once-a-year reviews: The manager puts off filling out “the forms” until the last minute and ends up providing top-of-mind feedback regarding only the last few weeks, instead of the whole one-year performance cycle. If an employee made a recent mistake, it can overshadow a year’s worth of good work.

And a related problem? Sometimes, there is no dialogue. The manager is often so harried to get these performance reviews checked off the to-do list that the appraisal goes something like this:

The manager hands the form to the employee to read, or delivers the feedback as a monologue, followed by, “Do you have any questions? If not, go ahead and sign here.”

If the feedback contains any shocking or upsetting information, employees may become flustered. They want more time to think before responding. Instead of saying the “wrong thing,” they choose to say nothing. If they want to refute the evaluation, they must schedule another meeting and end up fretting or stewing (or looking for a new job) in the meantime.

Sure, you may have paid a consulting firm six figures to design your wonderful forms. But consider making this New Year’s resolution: Rename the annual performance appraisal. Instead, call it the “Annual Summary Review.” Commit to having performance discussions with each employee, at least once a quarter (if not more frequently). At the end of the year, the employee thinks, “O.K. You’ve complimented me on this. You’ve coached me on that. But how am I doing overall?” The annual form answers this question. It’s a culmination of a year’s worth of coaching and dialogue—not a once a year event.

Do you agree?

About The Author

Articles By leigh-steere
Leigh Steere is a researcher, product developer, and adviser in the field of people management. She writes on fostering creativity, employee engagement, and high performance in the workplace. Visit http://www.managingpeoplebetter.com/mpb/index.html for a free assessment of your management style and tips for managing more effectively.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Kip Backscheider  |  18 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Leigh— You’re absolutely right–annual performance reviews are too often completed at the last minute, one sided, and generally hated by all concerned are an anachronism to be left in the dust bin of operations.
The excuse that they are needed for salary increases is a justification after the fact. Salaries are more often set by budget availability and the market.
Fancy forms are useless. A far better way is to evaluate performance based on a series of goals which are specific, time limited and have weighted values assigned to each. They are preset by the parties together and are addressed frequently thereafter. As they are accomplished and replaced with new ones a summary evaluation is made of what has been accomplished. The essential question for the supervisor is always ” how can I help you (employee) succeed?” The essential question for the one supervised is always “what can I do to help my boss succeed?” There is no once a year event, There is, instead, a series of ongoing conversations to improve everyone’s performance.
The process only works when started at the top.

Skip Prichard  |  18 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Good thoughts. I’ve also written on the best way to provide feedback to employees. Nothing should be a total surprise. Continual feedback is required. Informal coaching sessions are the best learning opportunities. I agree with you, Leigh–the annual form is only a summary.

Wally Hauck  |  20 Jan 2013  |  Reply

The typical appraisal is flawed because it is inconsistent with systems thinking and leaders today must be able to appreciate systems if they are going to effectively compete in the global economy. For ten years my clients have been using The Complete Performance Improvement Process which includes tools for “Fearless Feedback.” I agree the typical appraisal name should change but the process must change with it.
More informaiton is here: http://www.wallyhauck.com/page.asp?PageID=2913

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