Appraisal skills for managers

35What characterises an effective appraisal meeting? How are the outcomes different from a poor one? Managers who carry out appraisals need to learn the skills to ensure the appraisal is a positive experience for all concerned, with outcomes that encourage performance optimisation.

They need to ask the right type of questions, develop listening skills, and give effective feedback to help employees appreciate the impact of their actions and behavior. Feedback can be used positively to reinforce good points, and also be used to identify opportunities for further positive action.

Appraisal skills for managers

ZiglarA constructive appraisal meeting is one in which:-

  • The appraisee does most of the talking.
  • The appraiser actively listens and respond to points.
  • Solutions are proposed and discussed
  • There is reflection and analysis.
  • Performance, not personality, is analyzed,
  • The whole period is reviewed, not just recent or specific events.
  • Achievement is recognized and reinforced.
  • The meeting ends positively for both parties, with an agreed action plan for sustained and improved performance in the future.

A bad appraisal meeting:

  • Focuses on a list of errors, problems or omissions.
  • Blame is allocated
  • The appraiser does most of the talking, there is not a two way dialogue
  • Solutions are not proposed.
  • Ends in argument or disagreement between appraiser and appraisee.
  • Leaves the appraisee feeling demotivated.

Managers who are expected to carry out performance appraisal should have some appropriate training. This should include the reasons the organization carries out appraisals, and the skills of performance appraisal.

Managers need to appreciate how the process fits into the wider strategic process of performance management, and how the data collected contributes to an analysis of the organization’s human resources, and its capability to contribute to business strategy and value.

They should have an opportunity to practice the skills needed to carry out an effective appraisal. They need to learn to ask the right questions, listen actively and provide constructive feedback.

In this context asking the right questions means using both open and probing questions.

Open questions are general and enable people to answer in various ways, take the conversation where they want it to go, and encourage them to talk freely.

For Example:

  • How do you feel things have gone this year?
  • How do you see your career developing?
  • How do you feel about that?
  • Why do you think that happened?

Probing questions dig for more specific information on events and reasons.  They indicate support and encourage provision of information about feelings and attitudes, they can “reflect back” and check understanding.

For Example:

  • That’s interesting. Can you tell me more?
  • How important is that to you?
  • Just to confirm, do you mean that ….?


A good listener should:

  • Concentrate on the speaker
  • Be aware of behaviour, body language and intonations.
  • Respond when necessary but not interrupt.
  • Ask relevant questions to clarify meaning.
  • Demonstrate understanding by making short comments such as “I see “.

Giving feedback is a skill that managers need to learn and practice. Feedback should be based on facts, not subjective opinion, and should be backed up with evidence and examples.

Feedback should be used to help employees understand the impact of their actions and behaviour. It is best used positively to reinforce good points and identify opportunities for further positive action. Sometimes corrective action may be needed.

Feedback will work best when:

  • Events are described rather than judged.
    E.g. X became upset when Y was said “Is a description rather than a judgment such as “you upset X by saying Y “.
  • Feedback is accompanied by questions asking why, in the individual’s opinion, certain events happened.
  • People accept feedback better when they are encouraged to work round to their own conclusions about what happened and why.
  • Feedback is related to actual events, and observed actions.
  • Understanding is reached about what went wrong,
  • The action decided is to correct the problem not apportion blame.

360 degree review or feedback

An alternative approach to performance management is the use of 360 degree assessment. Here comment and feedback is gathered from a wide range of people, including the person’s direct reports, line manager, colleagues and customers.

Sometimes to provide anonymity for contributors, the feedback is collated and presented to the appraisee by HR, or even a peer in another branch or department.

Management of team performance

A danger with performance related pay or bonuses is that they can create a competitive atmosphere which does not produce the best results for the business, as people vie with each other to maximize their individual earnings .Individual bonuses can be divisive and disruptive unless they are carefully managed.

Consequently many performance targets are based on team results, to ensure everyone pulls in the same direction.

A downside of this is that people may lose sight of the target and fail to understand what is required of them to achieve the group target. Not everyone in a team can contribute to specific targets, so they need to understand they must do more in the achievement of the targets they can influence.

A good way to manage this is to hold regular team meetings-say quarterly, for an annual target. Each target should be examined, progress against milestones and targets evaluated, and suggestions made as to which part of the team can achieve this target and what each of them need to do .

For example in a retail organization the team may have a turnover target of £1m, and be at £200k at the end of the first quarter, Taking into account seasonal fluctuations the likely result on current performance is forecast to be £950k. This means the team need to generate an additional £50k as a minimum to protect the bonus.

Only certain members of the team can influence this directly – Buyers by creating more demand, or merchandisers by converting more of the existing demand into sales that could otherwise be lost by stock shortages.

The briefing manager should divide the target by the number of buyers and merchandisers and challenge each of them to contribute that figure as a minimum.

This will require some preparation by the management team, but if handled correctly, can produce spectacular results.