How to Report on a Performance Appraisal - An Employer's Guide

Handling the Reports of Performance Appraisals

When it comes to performance appraisals, companies have a wide range of acceptable ways to handle them in terms of how often they are performed, who completes them, and what information is used to determine the employee's success at their job. Generally speaking, however, there are more commonly used methods that may help you determine what to expect from your employee, or to give you some ideas about how you would like to approach performance appraisals with your employees.

First, where does the information used to make an evaluation come from? Traditionally, performance appraisals were completed by an employee's immediate supervisor, sometimes with further input from other managers higher up in the overall system. Even now, within the framework of multiple methods of performance evaluations, immediate supervisors usually play a key role in completing the evaluation and monitoring employees to ensure successful follow-up. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward: An individual's immediate supervisor is typically the person who has the most interaction with that employee on a day-to-day basis, especially when considering only those employees who are considered management and have a higher position in the employee hierarchy. Therefore, it is assumed that this individual will be in the best position to make recommendations that are aligned with upper management and the overall good of the company or organization.

Of course, there are some understandable concerns with this data source. First, a single individual's assessment of an employee can be easily colored by unrelated matters, such as personality conflict, mutual miscommunication, tunnel vision, and so on. Consequently, some advocates of performance appraisals recommend that evaluations are completed by more than one individual within the company. Similarly, another challenge to the supervisor-only source of data is that an employee's immediate supervisor may not actually be the person who spends the most amount of time with that employee. In fact, it may not be a supervisor at all; co-workers who are on an equal or equitable level in the hierarchy are oftentimes the individuals who know the most about what any given staff member does on the job. Of course, co-workers may not always completely know exactly what any one individual's job responsibilities are; although they may spend the most time with someone, or interact with them on a particular issue, this does not necessarily mean they understand the entirety of that person's job description as a supervisor would. Moreover, upper management tends to prefer or value the opinion of other management, more so than that of non-managerial staff.

Just as some companies are beginning to recognize that co-workers may have valid input regarding someone's ability to perform their job, they are likewise acknowledging that sometimes people who know the most about an individual's job performance may be clients, liaisons, or representatives from other companies. Thus, some of the newer methods of employee performance appraisals obtain some level of information about an employee's success from those with whom the employee works, even when those individuals may not actually be employed by the same company.

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Understandably, all of the reports made by any of these individuals is likely to be (to varying degrees) subjective in nature. This in no way minimizes the importance or accuracy of such opinions; it merely acknowledges that subjective reports can be influenced by a number of things that may not necessarily reflect an individual's overall job performance. When possible, many companies find it beneficial to utilize available objective measures. Using objective measures to demonstrate an individual's job performance may not always be possible or appropriate, depending on the type of job the individual has. For example, a tire builder is likely to have some type of quota they need to reach on a daily or weekly basis, and their job performance would naturally include an evaluation of whether they were meeting their quotas regularly. Alternatively, other professions operate within an entirely different type of system, one where there may not be a truly objective measure of success; a nurse or babysitter or pastor's success cannot be measured in the same way. Any responsible business owner or manager should give considerable thought as to whether it is fair to an employee to measure them by some objective standard before the manager attempts to do so.

Considering all the sources that may be used to evaluate an employee's performance, it's obviously necessary that the performance be measured according to their job description. There may be, especially among subjective reviews, some level of severity or harshness within the critique that may not actually be especially relevant. Certainly, we all wish that everyone we interacted with was wonderfully pleasant and friendly and wonderful to work alongside. Nevertheless, the role that plays in an employee's job performance may not always be as important as other aspects of their performance. If your company's accountant, Martin, is highly efficient and effective, then perhaps his grumpy attitude doesn't necessarily need to be as big a deal as a supervisor or co-worker might be inclined to make it. His supervisor may not like his attitude and may score him down in his performance appraisal because of it, which may be unfair. This doesn't mean that isn't still a legitimate issue - after all, having a pleasant work environment is important for the success of everyone involved. But it should nevertheless be noted that if Martin is doing his job correctly, it would be unfair to expect him to be as friendly and courteous as Candace, the receptionist, who needs to be polite and engaging within her position. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and when performance evaluations are completed, it is wrong to expect anyone to be perfect -- or even to expect two people doing the same job to do it in exactly the same way. Good performance evaluations will address the strengths and weaknesses of any given employee in relation to their specific job.

Now that you understand what kind of information may be used in a performance appraisal, the who, where, and when aspects are relatively simple. Usually, evaluations are delivered to the employee by their immediate supervisor or the next higher supervisor over that person. Appraisals are usually delivered at a pre-designated appointment. The supervising employee typically will present the appraisal in either written or verbal form (and preferably both) to the employee. Although there may be other supervising staff present, the presence of any staff member who is not within the employee's direct line of supervisors is generally considered inappropriate. It is strongly recommended that there are never more than two or three supervisors present during delivery of a performance appraisal, unless absolutely necessary; the presence of too many supervisors and managers can be intimidating and unnecessarily stressful for an employee. Again, it is not appropriate for there to be any staff at the appraisal delivery who does not supersede the employee in the company's hierarchy; thus, evaluations should never be delivered in a team or group setting, whether one individual, or 10 individuals, are being appraised at the time.

Performance appraisals are usually done in a nonthreatening environment whenever possible. Usually this might be in a supervisor's office, a conference room, or some other private place where the employee has spent time before, and thus is not suffering from added pressure due to an intimidating environment. Evaluations may be delivered in the employee's office, but when this occurs, it is important that all supervisors exit the employee's office as quickly as possible after the evaluation to allow the employee to regain the comfort of their own turf, so to speak. Performance appraisals often bring up challenging issues and are not always pleasant for an employee to hear; it is recommended that they are able to maintain their regular working environment as their safe space when possible, particularly after any performance appraisal that may not be particularly favorable to the employee.

In terms of when a performance appraisal is delivered, it is ideal for the supervisor to inform the employee of their impending appraisal within a few days prior to the appointment. This allows the employee adequate time to prepare any questions or self evaluation required, without (hopefully) generating too much apprehension.

The frequency of appraisal is still a hotly debated topic in organizational psychology, as the frequency of performance appraisals may greatly alter the effectiveness of such evaluations. Traditionally, appraisals are usually done on an annual basis at a minimum. Most businesses continue to do annual evaluations, though many have found it helpful to evaluate new employees sooner than one year; early reviews are usually given at 90 days or six months. Some companies have begun integrating mini-reviews each quarter, along with a full scale review annually. Most owners and managers find that frequent evaluations are more helpful to identify and combat particular problems early on; the challenge, of course, is for a company to find the time to perform so many reviews. Some managers are also hesitant to have more short-term official reviews as they may wish to allow their staff time to improve after identifying a problem before any formal record of inadequacy exists.

Of course, the best time to address a problem with an employee's performance is when the problem begins. When employers wait until a performance appraisal to address a potential problem, they have not only denied the employee an adequate opportunity to demonstrate that they can correct the bad action, they have also allowed the bad action to continue, taking its toll on the company and its resources. Obviously, ongoing employee performance issues should absolutely be addressed during a formal performance appraisal; specific actions, however, should first be addressed, as they occur, for the most effective and efficient management.