Teaching Business Students to Write Performance Appraisals

By Nelson, Sandra J.; MacLeod, Laura | Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication, September 1994 | Go to article overview

Teaching Business Students to Write Performance Appraisals


Nelson, Sandra J., MacLeod, Laura, Bulletin of the Association for Business Communication


Many business students will become managers or supervisors, and in that capacity, they will be required to write performance appraisals. Therefore, a unit on employee performance appraisals is appropriate for the business communication course, and the purpose of this article is to discuss the content of such a unit. A unit on performance appraisals typically includes the following topics: content of job descriptions and specifications, advantages and disadvantages of various appraisal methods, legal issues of performance appraisals, and steps in conducting appraisal interviews.

The requirements for completing a performance appraisal form often are overlooked in an appraisal unit. Therefore, the focus of this article is on the following steps for completing an appraisal form: writing supporting comments, drawing conclusions concerning performance, and making recommendations to improve performance. The role of a job description and specifications in completing these steps are also described.

While completing an appraisal form, the students are given the opportunity to reinforce writing techniques previously taught, such as using a positive tone, selecting concrete words, and writing clearly and concisely. In addition, analytical report skills previously learned, such as analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations, can be applied in this unit.

An example of an assignment that requires students to prepare the supporting comments, conclusions and recommendations of an appraisal form is shown in Appendix A. A job description and diary of the employee's performance are included with this assignment. Appendix B provides an example of the completed appraisal form. A copy of this form with the employee's numerical ratings in the seven areas would be included with the assignment.

A discussion of various appraisal methods and the content of appraisal forms is an appropriate way for the instructor to begin a unit on performance appraisals.

CONTENT OF APPRAISAL FORMS

Various methods of appraising employees exist, ranging from a simple rating scale to the narrative method. A simple rating scale requires the appraiser to rate the employee's performance on a four- or five-point scale, considering factors such as quality and quantity of work. On the other hand, the narrative method requires the appraiser to write paragraphs describing the employee's strengths, weaknesses, and potential. Rating scales are less time-consuming to complete than narrative methods, allow appraisers to make comparisons among individuals and departments, and permit more than one performance dimension to be considered. However, rating scales prohibit an in-depth discussion of performance and could result in inconsistencies since evaluators interpret factors and rating scale points differently.

The narrative method provides an opportunity for a complete discussion of the employees' performance. However, this method is time consuming and prohibits accurate comparison among individuals or departments (Cascio, 1986). An appraisal system combining rating scale and narrative methods, therefore, incorporates the advantages of both methods.

The form shown in Appendix B incorporates a rating scale and the narrative method (Famularo, 1982). Using this type of form, the appraiser gives the employee a rating on a four-point scale. Frequently, a phrase is included for each point on the scale to assist the appraiser in selecting the appropriate rating. However, such descriptive pbrases are not included in the form shown in Appendix B.

Frequently space is provided after each rating for the appraiser to write supporting comments that explain and justify the ratings provided. This method requires extra effort on the part of the appraisers because they must document their subordinates' performance. However, these comments help employees understand their strengths and weaknesses. …

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