Here is a four-step process for writing an effective performance appraisal:
1. Gather all of your information.
2. Get the big picture—the core message—clearly in mind, by asking:
‘‘What is the single most important message I want to communicate about the individual’s performance through this performance appraisal?’’
3. Identify the three key elements:
- Particular strengths demonstrated
- Most critical needs for improvement
- Most important development needs
4. Muster your courage to tell the truth:
- Most accurate rating category for each individual objective
- Most accurate narrative description for each explanation or summary
Tell Me More
Gather all of your information. You’ll need information about both the job itself and the way the person did the job. In the next few pages we’ll tell you exactly what information you need to collect.
Get the big picture—the core message—clearly in mind. This is one of the most critical steps in writing a performance appraisal that brings about performance improvement.
The research on performance appraisal is consistent—and dismaying. Consistently, performance appraisal research demonstrates that people retain very little of what they are told in a performance appraisal discussion. What little they do remember, they usually misunderstand. That is the challenge managers face in trying to communicate clearly about performance in the course of an appraisal discussion.
To overcome this challenge, it’s important to develop a clear core message. What is the core message? It is the single most important idea that you want to get across in the course of a performance appraisal discussion.
Here’s how to think about it. Imagine that a few weeks ago you had your annual performance appraisal discussion with Joanne. This morning, as you’re walking down the hall, you see her walking toward you. You pull her aside and say, ‘‘Joanne, a few weeks ago we had a performance appraisal discussion. Tell me something . . . what do you remember from that discussion?’’
Joanne, caught off-guard and unprepared for your question, will hesitate and stammer a little bit. Then she’s likely to say, ‘‘Well, one thing for sure that I remember that you said was . . .’’
What do you want her to remember? What is that one thing that you want to have stuck in her memory? Whatever it is, that is your core message.
Before writing anything on the appraisal form, think about what it is that you want the individual to get out of the discussion. One problem with performance appraisal discussions is that the manager tries to communicate too much information. Instead of trying to communicate thirty different things, you’ll be much more successful trying to communicate three genuinely important things.
If you have clearly identified one core message, it will then be easy to continually focus the discussion on that key item. You’ll discuss plenty of different topics in the course of a performance appraisal meeting, but whenever you need to get back to the main point, it will be easy to say, ‘‘Well, Robert, that brings us back to the key point again,’’ and then restate your core message one more time.
Identify the key elements. There are three key elements to any performance assessment: the particular strengths that the individual displayed; the most serious problem areas or improvement needs; and the most important development needs for the individual’s future with the organization.
Muster your courage to tell the truth. This is by far the most important requirement for performance appraisal success. If the manager doesn’t have the courage to tell the truth about the individual’s performance, then the process will be a sham.