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How Should I Open the Discussion?

The best way to put the individual at ease is to eliminate small talk and get right to the point. Here are some suggestions that will help you make the opening seconds of the meeting productive and comfortable:

  • Welcome the individual.
  • Describe the meeting’s importance to you.
  • Provide the overall time frame for the meeting.
  • Tell the individual where you’d like to start.
  • Describe how you’d like to proceed.
  • Describe your plans for the planning meeting for the next appraisal period.
  • Make your kickoff statement.

Tell Me More

The opening few seconds set the tone for the entire meeting. The following script incorporates all of the suggestions in the previously mentioned list:

I’ve been looking forward to this chance to talk with you about your work last year, Mary. This discussion will be helpful to both of us.

I’d like to go through the process slowly and carefully. This is one of the most important things you and I will do together all year. I have set aside an hour for our meeting, but we can spend more time if we feel it’s useful.

I want to start by having you tell me about the appraisal you wrote of your own performance—what you felt were the most important items and how you came up with the evaluation that you did. Then I’d like to talk about the appraisal that I wrote.

The most important part of the appraisal form deals with your key job responsibilities and the goals that you set at the start of the year. I’d like to start there and spend most of our time together talking about the results you achieved. Then I’d like to look at the section that deals with competencies.

I think the most effective way is to start by discussing those areas where you and I generally agree. Then we’ll talk about those in which our views seem to differ. I’ll give you my reasons, and I want to get your point of view.

When we’ve completed that, I’d like to talk about my overall rating and how I arrived at it.

When we’re done, Mary, I’d like to wrap up by setting a date to get back together for our performance-planning meeting for next year. We’ll update your key position responsibilities and goals, and also talk about your development plans for next year.

Why don’t you start by telling me how you feel this past year has gone . . . ?

In this sample script, the manager covered all of the key points. She came across as knowledgeable and well prepared.

There are certainly other items that could have been mentioned. For example, if changes in compensation are announced at the time of the performance appraisal, the manager might say something like this in his opening remarks: ‘‘As you know, the final performance appraisal rating affects the amount of merit increase employees get. I’m pleased to tell you that starting with your next paycheck you’ll see a 4.8 percent increase. We can talk at the end of our discussion about exactly how that was calculated.’’

The better planned the opening few seconds are, the more successful the following hour will be.

Hot Tip

Note the manager’s kickoff statement: ‘‘Why don’t you start by telling me how you feel this past year has gone . . . ?’’ By saying that, the manager has put the conversational ball squarely (and appropriately) in the employee’s court. The manager said earlier that she wanted to ‘‘. . . start by having you tell me about the appraisal you wrote of your own performance . . .’’ At the end of the introduction, she kicked off the actual performance appraisal discussion by asking the individual to begin by discussing her own views of her performance.