Employee Performance Appraisal — An Ideal System

In America’s best-run and most-admired organizations, employee performance appraisal is a vital and vigorous management tool. No other management process has as much influence on individuals’ careers and work lives.

Used well, employee performance appraisal is the most powerful instrument that organizations have to mobilize the energy of every employee in the enterprise toward the achievement of strategic goals. Employee performance appraisal can focus each person’s attention on the company’s mission, vision and values. And ideally, the process can answer the two fundamental questions that every single person in the organization wants the answers to: What do you expect of me? And How am I doing?

But most folks scoff at the idea that there might be a perfect system for doing employee performance appraisal. They think that since their organization is “unique,” then their system for analyzing employee performance must be unique, too. How foolish.

Don’t scoff — there is an ideal method for the assessment process. In organizations that take employee performance appraisal seriously and use the process well, the system functions as an on-going process – not merely an annual event – by following a four-phase model.

Phase 1 — Employee Performance Planning

At the beginning of the year, the manager meets with each person for discussion on the planning piece of the employee performance appraisal process. In this hour-long session they discuss the “how” and the “what” of the job:

•How the person will do the job (the behaviors and competencies expected of the company’s members), and

•What results 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).

They also discuss the individual’s development plans. This discussion immediately generates improved employee performance because people know exactly what’s expected of them. And as the manager, you have just earned the right to hold people accountable at the end of the year by making your expectations of them clear from the start.

Phase 2 — Employee Performance Execution

Over the course of the year, employee performance should be focused on achieving the goals, objectives and key responsibilities of the job. The manager provides coaching and feedback to the individual to increase the probability of success and creates the conditions that motivate and resolve any performance problems that arise.

Midway through the year — perhaps even more frequently — they meet to review the individual’s progress toward the plans and goals discussed in the employee performance planning meeting. And the employee is responsible for certain elements of that progress – seeking out coaching and asking for feedback are two key examples.

Phase 3 — Employee Performance Assessment

As the time for the formal employee performance appraisal approaches, 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.

Best practice calls for the appraiser’s boss to review the completed assessment form before discussing it with the assessed employee. One key here is not falling victim to the “myth of quantifiability” — the erroneous belief that in order to be objective you’ve got to have numerical data to prove your assessments. Nonsense! An employee performance appraisal is a record of a manager’s opinion of an employee’s quality of work, so don’t shirk from candidly providing that opinion.

Phase 4 — Employee Performance Review

The manager and the subordinate meet, usually for about an hour. The employee performance appraisal form is reviewed with the self-appraisal that the individual created assessing her own performance. The manager and employee talk honestly about how well she performed over the past twelve months: Strengths, weaknesses, successes and areas needing improvement. At the end of the review meeting they set a date to meet again to hold an employee performance planning discussion for the upcoming twelve months, starting the process anew.

This four-phase performance appraisal process not only transforms employee performance management from an annual event to an on-going cycle, it tightly links the performance of each organization member with the mission and values of the company as a whole. And that’s the real purpose of employee performance appraisal in the organization. The real value is focusing everyone’s attention on what is genuinely important — the achievement of the organization’s strategic goals through demonstration of the company’s vision and values in each employee’s day-to-day behavior.