Advice

Your complete guide to staff appraisals

8 min read

08 March 2019

Whichever side of the table we find ourselves, we rarely bound enthusiastically into the room for a staff appraisal. A little reticence is perfectly natural. But a staff appraisal is an important opportunity to have a constructive, two-way conversation that benefits all involved.

Real Business takes a look at what a staff appraisal is, why it’s important, and how to give a staff appraisal step by step.

What is a staff appraisal and why is one important?

Staff appraisals take place throughout our working lives to varying degrees of formality. You might refer to one as an annual review, personal development plan or performance review, depending on your company. The purpose, however, remains the same.

Take Business Dictionary, which defines a staff appraisal as:

“The process by which a manager or consultant examines and evaluates an employee’s work behaviour by comparing it with preset standards…and uses the results to provide feedback to the employee to show where improvements are needed and why.

Ideally, this feedback loop should happen organically throughout the year. A staff appraisal, as a structured discussion between a manager and an employee, helps to facilitate this process.

When conducted well, a staff appraisal creates a healthy manager-employee dialogue. This helps to align your employees’ interests and performance with strategic business goals. Ongoing feedback will help them better understand your expectations and give them an opportunity to identify training and development needs.

A staff appraisal forms part of the feedback loop

A staff appraisal helps to create a positive feedback loop. Source: cognology

What is a staff appraisal form and what does one look like?

A staff appraisal form is a useful way to structure a performance review with your employees. Among other things, it helps to document your discussion, as well as specific competencies, achievements and goals.

As companies grow and evolve, they tend to create their own performance appraisal forms. Your staff appraisal form should typically seek to answer the following questions:

  • What is your employee’s current performance and ability to accomplish their responsibilities?
  • How have they developed since your last meeting?
  • Have they achieved their goals?
  • Are there examples where they have performed exceptionally?
  • Does your employee understand how they fit into your organisation?
  • What suggestions for improvement do either of you have?
  • In which areas would your employee like to develop?

Here’s an example of what a good performance appraisal review form actually looks like.

Below is an example of a 360° feedback form. 360° feedback takes into account the views of an employee’s direct reports, colleagues, manager and occasionally customers – on top of their own views.

This is what a 360 degree staff appraisal form looks like

How to give a typical staff appraisal – step by step

Performance management is an ongoing process. Before any formal staff appraisal, you should have informal conversations with the employee on a regular basis.

It’s good practice for both you and your employee to prepare immediately prior to the appraisal. You should remind yourself of any goals or objectives set in previous reviews or discussions. You may also want to consider asking your employee to conduct a self appraisal beforehand.

There’s no fixed way to conduct an appraisal, but here are some steps as a guide:

Start with a general discussion

This helps to create the right atmosphere so you can have a frank, easy exchange of views. It also avoids getting stuck in specifics too soon.

Review performance over a specific period

Ensure you both understand whether you are discussing the past six months or the last year. You’ll have similar examples in mind and avoid confusion.

Discuss positives, then concerns or issues

Start with what’s going well rather than launching into where the employee or company needs to improve. This helps to make your conversation constructive.

Consider areas of development and improvement

Your employee may be doing an exceptional job and talking about improvement might seem unnecessary. But there are always ways in which an employee can develop, so devote time to this section because people are often happiest when they are learning.

Allow space for discussion

It’s important to give your employee space to raise any issues that don’t fit into neat categories. Some companies also include space for business or industry-specific discussions or additional matters such as salary, absences or holidays.

Agree measurable objectives

Work together to decide an action plan and set targets for the next appraisal. This will also help to end the meeting on a positive note.

Afterwards, it’s good practice to write up your appraisal document and send it to your employee to review, sign and keep for their records.

And here’s a great video of exactly how not to conduct a staff appraisal.

Common staff appraisal questions

The list below shows some useful questions you can ask your employee in your staff appraisal. They are fairly general and should function as a guide, covering most of the areas touched on above. You’ll also notice they are open-ended questions, beginning with ‘what’ or ‘how’, allowing the employee to respond as they choose.

There are, of course, so many more general and specific questions you can ask that may be much more suitable.

  1. Which aspect of your job do you enjoy most?
  2. What accomplishments this quarter are you most proud of?
  3. What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
  4. What skills do you have that you believe we could use more effectively?
  5. How could your job be done differently?
  6. What can I do to help you better meet your goals?
  7. What are your ideal working conditions to be most productive?
  8. How do you think your role helps the company succeed?
  9. What are your short and long-term goals with the company, and for your career?
  10. What two or three things will you focus on in the next quarter to help you grow and develop?

As you will hopefully agree, a staff appraisal is an great opportunity to have an open and constructive discussion with one of your employees. It shouldn’t contain any surprises for either of you because the formal appraisal is part of an ongoing performance management process. Indeed, the appraisal offers a chance to work together on mutually beneficial objectives, aligning your employee’s interests with those of the company.