Performance Appraisal Season

Gerwig 2015-01-09

If you work for someone else, you’re likely to receive an annual performance evaluation. Every organization has its own twist on the process, but essentially your boss sits down with you and tells you how you performed the previous year. Additionally, you receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses (although they may be called opportunities for development or something like that).

Since it’s Performance Appraisal Season, I’m going to share some best practices, advice and learnings with you. Some come from formal study, others from years of practical experience (good and bad). This isn’t an exhaustive list and you’re certainly encouraged to share your own with other LeadStrategic readers scattered around the globe in the comment section at the end of the article.

Don’t make too big a deal out of it.

Yes, it’s a big deal but it’s not “world peace.” Do the best you can, but recognize that every system is flawed. Yes, it impacts people’s professional careers, livelihood and status, but rarely is one year (good or bad) going to make someone’s career one way or the other. I know some managers who lose sleep and develop severe medical conditions because they “hate” writing and delivering performance appraisals so please keep it in perspective.

Avoid surprises by providing regular feedback.

The best leaders provide regular feedback. They don’t wait until the quarterly closing or year-end. If you see someone on your team doing a great job, tell them. Immediately. Be Sincere. Make it Personal and Specific. Provide context. Tell them Why their result matters. Connect it to the bigger picture, to their development, to the organizational vision, etc.

Remember that 90% of the people believe they’re in the top 10%.

I remember reading this in a study several years ago. You can google-it if desired (I believe the year was 2007). Regardless, the takeaway is valid, at least in my 30 years of professional experience conducting hundreds of reviews (another word for performance appraisal). Most people overrate their value-add. The overall lack of self-awareness amazes me. And know what? Many of the remaining 10% are actually your top performers. They’re hard on themselves. They expect a lot. Often, the shorter the self-review document, the better the performance. And the reverse is also often true. The longer the self-review, the worse the performance.

Be honest.

In your review, be straight and to-the-point. Use data. Share your perspective (a good review, is by nature, both objective and subjective). Be careful not to overdramatize or beat around-the-bush. Write/say it and move on.

Be helpful.

If you provide a review that isn’t helpful, you’ve failed. A good review makes it crystal clear what you did well, what you need to improve and the steps/actions needed to make the improvement. The best appraisals result in actions the subordinate and the boss will do. Always put yourself in their shoes. If you do, you’ll work hard to ensure the performance appraisal review recognizes good work and highlights work that isn’t up to expectation or standard. It is not a tool to “beat someone up,” even if they failed. If someone “failed” during the previous year, a good performance appraisal should help ensure they know the expectation, how they performed (hence the a performance gap) and what they need to do in order to succeed (action plan). It’s a mindset. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is give them a tough message. But your motivation isn’t to tear them down. It’s to help them be successful.

Don’t show favoritism.

We all have biases. But to the extent that you can avoid them when delivering a performance review, do so. This includes those times when you might have to provide feedback on performers in other organizations (or even do ratings jointly with managers from another department, site, or function). There is nothing to be gained by showing favoritism. That is all.

Top performers like feedback.

Remember that in all types of organizations, the top performers crave regular and frequent feedback, not just annually when they receive their performance reviews. So, don’t starve them.

Get input from others for calibration.

To help avoid (or at least reduce) bias, talk with others. Get feedback on your team. This can help you add specific examples to your review and helps calibrate with other leaders (assuming you’re part of a larger organization). Calibration is important as folks may move between various internal organizations over time and it facilitates a more equitable result for the larger organization.

Don’t hold the past against someone or label people.

If someone received a poor message last year, don’t hold it against them. Take a look at what they did this year. Conversely, if some has a long track record of success, don’t let that blind you to this year’s performance. Placing some weight on the performer’s history is ok, but don’t do it excessively. If a performer can never shake a poor rating and carries a negative label around with them indefinitely, it places undue pressure on the boss and creates angst for the subordinate during the annual process. It’s wrong.
Make giving and receiving performance appraisals a positive experience this year. Remember feedback is a gift. Ultimately it’s up to you whether you open the gift and whether you use the gift or discard it.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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