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5 Tips for Mastering the Performance Appraisal Conversation
Performance Management

5 Tips for Mastering the Performance Appraisal Conversation

Gaurav Sharma
March 19, 2024

Results from a recent survey by XpertHR showed that about 7 in 10 employers prepare their staff for the performance appraisal process. A fair number, but not good enough.

5 tips for mastering the performance appraisal conversation
Image via XpertHR

It’s sad that about 30% of employers are not taking any steps to foster an effective performance appraisal conversation. Yet it could lead to a productive discussion on work expectations and goals.

Frequent and effective performance appraisal conversations foster a safe environment where employees are free to express themselves and ask for guidance when stuck.

It leads to a productive workforce.

Let’s look at some simple ways to better your performance appraisal conversations.

How to Carry out an Effective Performance Appraisal Conversation

Here are 5 tips to have an open conversation that’s honest and productive.

1. Consider Team Feedback

Feedback is an important component of any performance appraisal discussion. It helps in breaking bad habits and reinforcing good behavior.

Peer review or team feedback, in particular, is effective.

It gives managers a true picture of an employee’s strengths and weaknesses. When we talk about peer reviews, it’s where colleagues assess the capabilities and performance of their workmates.

In most cases, peer performance evaluations are anonymous, which fosters honesty.

Use team feedback collected employee surveys to get a holistic picture of the employee’s performance and fill any gaps in your assessment. It’ll also help you understand any inconsistencies between the employee’s self-evaluation and your evaluation.

Based on the data collected, discuss with the employee how they contributed to the team’s performance and objectives. Talk about areas they need to improve or change to better the overall team performance.

If you don’t have an effective peer review program in place, set up one. Here are some important tips:

  • Guarantee the reviewers complete anonymity and provide it. It’ll eliminate employees’ fear of retaliation for giving negative feedback
  • Reviewers should have a working knowledge of the job duties of the peer they’re reviewing. For instance, a marketing assistant shouldn’t review an accountant
  • Do not tie peer reviews to rewards like pay raises and promotions. It could encourage bias.

Be sure to communicate the importance of honesty to the reviewers.

2. Make the Conversation Forward-Looking

It’s natural to associate peer reviews with past performance. But focusing on the future makes the performance appraisal conversation more useful.

You and the employee can come up with a common way forward that incorporates the employee’s personal career goals and meets the management’s expectations as well. 

For this reason, the performance appraisal conversation should mainly focus on addressing skills gaps and developing the employee’s competencies.

Here are some future-focused questions you can address in the performance appraisal conversation with an employee:

  • Which skills do they need to learn to provide more value in their role?
  • Are they in the right role based on their career aspirations, skills, and qualifications?
  • How can they optimize their strengths to contribute more to the organization’s goals?
  • What are their career aspirations and do they align with the company’s objectives and purpose? If they don’t align, how can you correct it?
  • What obstacles are standing in the way of good performance? For instance, if they’re in customer service, which challenges of CRM are they experiencing?
  • What kind of networks do they need to develop to perform better in their role and be successful in their career aspirations?
  • Which leaders and peers can coach them and improve their future performance?
  • What training can help them achieve their goals? Studies show 33% of skills needed 3 years ago are no longer relevant

Focusing on their past performance makes the employee feel like they’re on trial. Focusing on future performance sets you up as their coach.

It makes it easier to work together towards achieving their personal goals and the organization’s goals.

3. Use the Right Tone and Language

Use the right tone and language in the performance appraisal conversation. It’ll create a safe environment where the employee can freely express themselves.

Understand that your words can either motivate improvement or lower employee engagement.

But this doesn’t mean you should let performance issues slide by.

Your aim should be to focus on the bad behavior or performance and not the individual. It takes the personal edge out of the conversation and makes it more productive.

Avoid giving general feedback. This includes the positive as well.

Be specific about the kind of behavior you want them to start, stop, or continue. For instance, instead of saying ‘you’re proactive,’ say ‘your initiative to create shoppable videos has led to more sales.”

Here are a few other tips you can apply:

  • Use powerful action words
  • Always be positive
  • Focus on solutions, not problems
  • Focus on the opportunities for improvement and growth

4. Involve the Employee in Creating the Solutions

Research shows employees are 3.8 times more likely to perform higher in work environments where they’re seen as people and not resources.

It’s one of the reasons companies transitioning from traditional HR to people operations are thriving.

You need to give voice to your employees’ ideas and opinions in your performance appraisal conversation. 

Make it collaborative. It should be a two-way conversation where you actually listen to what the employee says and not simply give them talking time.

Enquire what they think they could do better to improve their performance.

Find out what you could do on your part to help them overcome obstacles limiting their performance. For instance, should you invest in more user-friendly e-commerce tools? Are they getting tasks they’re not qualified to handle?

Always repeat back what they’ve said to ensure you’ve grasped it. And ask follow-up questions that help you understand them better and paint a fuller picture of their ideas.

Once the employee feels involved in creating the solutions, they’re likely to be more committed to seeing them through.

At the end of the conversation, check if you’re in mutual agreement regarding the way forward and future expectations.

5. Have More Frequent Performance Appraisal Conversations

The survey by XpertHR also showed that 63% of employers carry out yearly performance appraisals while 18% conduct them twice a year.

A far smaller number, 1%, conduct performance appraisals either once a week or once a month while only 8% conduct them quarterly. 

5 tips for mastering the performance appraisal conversation
Image via XpertHR

It’s best not to wait 12 or 6 months to follow up on the implementation of the solutions or action plan you come up with in the performance appraisal conversation.

A lot of workplace changes could occur during these months. Constant communication will keep you aligned with these changes.

You can have quarterly or monthly performance appraisal conversations. Pair them with an end-of-year review of general performance and goals.

This continuous communication will help the employee understand where they are and how they’re progressing. And managers can provide timely coaching to help them overcome obstacles.

Ready to Improve Your Performance Appraisal Conversation?

A performance appraisal conversation doesn’t need to be comprehensive and time-consuming to be effective. You only need to focus on the right things, which are:

  • Evaluating feedback from the people that are interacting with the employee daily
  • Creating an action plan that’ll help the employee reach their performance goals
  • Communicating effectively and listening actively
  • Encouraging the employee to contribute their ideas

Make the performance appraisal frequent and you’re bound to see an improvement in your employees’ response.

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