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What is “Performance Appraisal”?

Performance appraisal is a formal management system that provides for the evaluation of the quality of an individual’s performance in an organization. The appraisal is usually prepared by the employee’s immediate supervisor. The procedure typically requires the supervisor to fill out a standardized assessment form that evaluates the individual on several different dimensions and then discusses the results of the evaluation with the employee.

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Too often, performance appraisal is seen merely as a once-a-year drill mandated by the personnel department. But in organizations that take performance appraisal seriously and use the system well, it is used as an ongoing process and not merely as an annual event. In these companies, performance appraisal follows a four-phase model:

Phase 1: Performance Planning. At the beginning of the year, the manager and individual get together for a performance-planning meeting. In this hour-long session they discuss what the person will achieve over the next twelve months (the key responsibilities of the person’s job and the goals and projects the person will work on) and how the person will do the job (the behaviors and competencies the organization expects of its members). They typically also discuss the individual’s development plans.

Phase 2: Performance Execution. Over the course of the year the employee works to achieve the goals, objectives, and key responsibilities of the job. The manager provides coaching and feedback to the individual to increase the probability of success. He creates the conditions that motivate and resolves any performance problems that arise. Midway through the year—perhaps even more frequently—they meet to review the individual’s performance thus far against the plans and goals that they discussed in the performance-planning meeting.

Phase 3: Performance Assessment. As the time for the formal performance appraisal nears, the manager reflects on how well the subordinate has performed over the course of the year, assembles the various forms and paperwork that the organization provides to make this assessment, and fills them out. The manager may also recommend a change in the individual’s compensation based on the quality of the individual’s work. The completed assessment form is usually reviewed and approved by the appraiser’s boss. Others—perhaps the department head or the compensation manager—may also review and approve the assessment.

Phase 4: Performance Review. The manager and the subordinate meet, usually for about an hour. They review the appraisal form that the manager has written and talk about how well the person performed over the past twelve months. At the end of the review meeting they set a date to meet again to hold a performance-planning discussion for the next twelve months, at which point the performance management process starts anew.

Of course there may be many individual variations on the basic theme, but most sophisticated companies generally follow this four-phase process.