Sunday, August 1, 2010

Appraising the Performance Appraisal

Managed well, the performance appraisal can be a highly motivational event, reviewing performance and setting objectives for the period ahead, within a climate of mutual respect and active two-way communication – handled poorly it can be a very de-motivational event, sapping the energy and innovation out of the employee and negatively impacting the corporate culture and organisational performance. Unfortunately, even within the 21st century many highly effective human resource business principles still don’t get the attention they deserve and amongst them is the performance appraisal. Beatrice van der Heijden (2004), states that, “as performance evaluation systems are among the most important and applied human resource components of an organization, it is essential to investigate their qualities critically”, (p.493).

Organisations often forget that the performance appraisal links directly to; their corporate strategy and organisational performance; the development of the human resource at all levels within the organisation (including the link to succession planning); and has a direct impact on motivation and the corporate culture; and “it is important to differentiate between the application as a decision-making instrument and the application as a developmental tool. In the latter case the aim is to provide constructive feedback in a climate in which one's growth is fostered and there is room for improving one's weaknesses without immediate negative consequences”, (van der Hiejden, 2004, p.494).

A well developed appraisal system will always include a self-appraisal element, allowing employees to appraise themselves prior to the formal appraisal interview. This has been proved to be an extremely powerful approach to appraising performance and as Gary Roberts (2003) states “self-appraisals provide employees with the opportunity to systematically assess their performance. Studies indicate that self-appraisal increases employee participation and readiness for the appraisal interview, enhances overall satisfaction, increases perceived appraisal fairness and can reduce defensive behaviour if used for development purposes”, (p. 91).

Some basic guidelines for an effective performance appraisal include;

1) The performance appraisal should focus on agreed objectives for the period being assessed;

2) These objectives link to the strategic objectives of the organisation; and are defined through the employees accountabilities and key performance indicators;

3) Performance appraisals are most effective when there is a process of self-evaluation where; the employee appraises their own performance against their objectives; recommend the objectives to be appraised for the next assessment period; and identify what specific training and development they need to improve their performance for the period ahead;

4) Those conducting appraisals are ‘thoroughly’ trained in the appraisal system and appraisal skills (too many people are allowed to conduct appraisals without understanding the principles and skills required to conduct them fairly);

5) The appraisal system supports training and development; and the succession planning process;

6) Developed and implemented correctly the performance appraisal is a powerful tool for the development of the human resource, at all levels, and through linking performance, to objectives, to the corporate strategy, has a directly impact on the organisations future growth.

The performance appraisal is not a substitute for regular employee feedback and is a formal, well planned, periodic review; where there should be no surprises in respect of performance feedback. Issues around performance (from excellent to poor) must be recognised, managed and communicated to the person when it happens (and not months later).

So, it might be worth spending some time reviewing your current appraisal system and the skills of those involved; to identify areas where you can improve the process and in doing so improve the development and motivation of your human resource; and the performance and growth of your organisation.


Roberts, G. E. (2003). Employee Performance Appraisal System Participation: A Technique that Works. Public Personnel Management, Vol. 32, Issue 1, p.89-98.

van der Heijden, B. (2004). The value of subjectivity: problems and prospects for 360-degree appraisal systems. International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 15, Issue 3, p.493-511

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