Seven Steps to Better Performance Appraisals

By Cyr, Robert | Training & Development, January 1993 | Go to article overview

Seven Steps to Better Performance Appraisals


Cyr, Robert, Training & Development


Appraising employee performance is one of the most difficult aspects of many supervisors' jobs. It may be easy to characterize an employee's work in a particular area as "excellent" or "average." But it's often harder to explain why--and to do it in a way that helps the employee to understand the rating and to improve his or her work.

A supervisor's written comments on an appraisal should reflect a thorough, clear, and precise analysis of the reasons behind job-performance strengths and weaknesses. Generalizations can result in a review that takes individual weaknesses out of context and overemphasizes them. Ambiguous wording can lead to inaccurate and incomplete discussions of the extent of poor performance, the reasons behind it, or its effects.

Trainers can help supervisors increase the accuracy and effectiveness of performance appraisals by teaching them a seven-step process for preparing written comments:

* Select the job activity.

* Indicate the degree.

* Describe the conditions.

* Suggest an influential factor.

* Give an example.

* Point out trends.

* Show positive consequences.

Following all seven steps should result in a description of 5 to 10 sentences that justifies a supervisor's evaluation of the specific job area or activity.

It is not always necessary to respond to each area of the performance appraisal with lengthy comments containing all seven steps. But appraisers should keep them all in mind while writing appraisal comments, and should refer to the steps and provide examples to illustrate them where appropriate.

Select the job activity. A job activity is a specific, observable responsibility or task. It is an element of an overall performance process.

Comments are more useful if they focus on specific components of a work process. For example, an evaluation of the general area of "planning" is bound to be over-generalized and misleading. Such a large area of responsibility would necessitate a broad overview--too broad to be useful to the employee. A more helpful appraisal would look instead at the variety of steps and specific activities that go into the planning process.

For example, a supervisor might comment on details such as designing, preparing, anticipating, researching, arranging, evaluating, determining, and proposing. The supervisor who focuses on such process components rather than the process as a whole would be better able to identify precisely the relative strengths and weaknesses of the employee's performance of the various activities involved in planning.

Indicate the degree. The degree is the extent, amount, rate, or frequency of the activity on which the employee is being evaluated. Examples of phrases indicating degree include "every week," "never" "often," "twice," "to some extent," "moderately," and "at the expected level."

Being specific by indicating the degree to which a project, activity, or task is performed is essential to defusing the employee defensiveness that may be inherent in the appraisal process. Employees are likely to interpret over-generalizations about degree as inaccurate, insensitive, and unfair.

Describe the conditions. Describing the particular conditions of job performance indicates when or where the observed job performance happens, with whom it happens, under what circumstances, at what stage, and during what type of activity.

Again, specificity in this area helps stem defensiveness and clarify the job performance under discussion. The suggestion that an employee "needs improvement in organizational skills" implies a need for change that is broad and all-encompassing. The comment, "More care must be taken in planning and organizing the initial stage of research," clears the way for rational discussion about how to improve the relevant procedures and techniques. Such a focus fosters a discussion of process, not personality.

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