Academic journal article Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

The Performance Appraisal Interview: A Multi-Purpose Communication Assignment

Academic journal article Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication

The Performance Appraisal Interview: A Multi-Purpose Communication Assignment

Article excerpt

The performance appraisal has become a standard topic in the business or management curriculum, most frequently covered in personnel, management, human resources, or organizational behavior classes. Students learn such things as the types of employee appraisal systems, how to create appraisal instruments, and how performance appraisals fit into the larger employment cycle. What these students seldom have an opportunity to acquire or to practice, however, are the specific communication skills necessary to effectively implement the systems they study. However knowledgeable our graduates may be in the principles and theory of performance appraisal, their ability to effectively execute these systems, particularly under difficult circumstances, is often limited unless they have acquired accompanying competence in oral and written communication.

Importantly, the communication skills and attitudes most critical to effective performance appraisal are the same skills and attitudes that are needed in a wide range of other on-the-job management communication situations. Students who develop the communication competencies necessary for conducting challenging performance appraisals will be well-served as they train, coach, counsel, direct, and motivate employees in other daily work contexts.

A brief examination of the goals and methods of performance appraisal may be helpful in providing a context for the following assignment, which is designed to help students choose and practice some of the most essential management communication skills and strategies. Further information may be found in Dessler (1983), Napier and Latham (1986), Smith (1986), DeGreforio and Fisher (1988), add Mohrmann, Resnick-West, & Lawler (1989).


Performance appraisals have become a primary management tool for improving employee performance, setting total quality standards, and communicating organizational values. Although the performance appraisal serves several functions, its primary purpose is to improve individual performance, most often through a. Clarifying job requirements and standards b. Providing feedback to the employee regarding his or her progress toward meeting these standards c. Guiding future performance by formulating an action-plan and allocating rewards and opportunities.

An effective appraisal, therefore, accomplishes a variety of specific tasks while maintaining a positive relationship between the supervisor and the employee. The difficulty of this task, from the manager's viewpoint, is largely dependent upon the type of appraisal interview required. In some cases, employee performance is satisfactory and the manager's goal is to either help the employee maintain his or her current level of performance (when no promotion is possible) or to assist in the development of a realistic career path. The interview assignment as described below, however, pertains only to those situations where performance is unsatisfactory. The management task is to communicate performance problems to an employee who, for any number of reasons, may not be completely receptive to the manager's efforts.

In preparation for the appraisal interview, managers assemble and review all relevant data, make decisions regarding various aspects of the appraisal itself and prepare the employee for the up-coming meeting. Of the wide range of appraisal methods, the three most frequently used instruments are rating scales, critical incidents, or a combination of the two called behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS). BARS anchor the points of the rating scale with fictional sample critical incidents - examples of what the employee's performance looks like for each value of the rating scale and for each dimension being evaluated. On a five-point scale covering typing accuracy, for instance, the critical incident for 1 may be "the employee submits work with approximately an error per page at least half of the time. …

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