How to Make Performance Appraisals Unnecessary

While rifling through my personal files this week, I came across my last performance appraisal.  It was a flattering one so I guess that’s why I kept it. It was also twelve pages long.  Twelve pages!!!

Really, it’s easy to see why there is such a hate on toward performance appraisals.  In fact, many people want to get rid of them altogether.

What a great idea.  But wait…

If you take away the mechanism that helps you evaluate individual contribution to the achievement of organizational goals, how will you know what those individuals have done?  How will you know what people need? How will you know how to engage them? Or reward them? Or help them?

Well, not to over simplify, but I think it’s a Leadership thing.  It’s also a Coaching thing and a Management thing.  What it’s not is an annual fill-out-a-form-without-much-thought-and-get-it-over-with thing.

So, with this in mind here’s what I think needs to happen before we can abandon the old view of performance appraisals and create something that most people can live with, use and participate in.

Leadership Thing ~ Doing the groundwork

Provide clarity about the big picture:  No one likes to work in a vacuum so it’s important to make sure each person under your charge is clear about the vision, goals and purpose of your team, department or organization.   In other words, clarity around the big picture provides people with a common view of what success will look like from one end of the year to the other.

Provide resources for learning and growth where needed: It’s one thing to have a clear vision and set of goals.  It’s another to ensure that you have the capability to achieve them.  It is a leadership responsibility to find out what is needed and to provide the tools that will allow the vision of success to become a reality.

Remove obstacles: The road to success is often littered with obstacles.  Communication systems break down.  Supplies dry up.  Other unanticipated events get in the way.  As leader, if you want people to fulfill your performance expectations, you must be prepared to pay attention to their journey by reducing the size of these obstacles to something they can reasonably negotiate.

Coaching Thing ~ Being the Sponsor and Champion

Be clear about individual contribution to the vision of success:  This is about working with people individually to ensure they know what piece of the overall goal belongs to them and more specifically, the expectations you have in terms of what you want them to produce.

Gain agreement: This involves conversation.  People will have questions, opinions and even doubts about their assignment and your expectations.  It’s important to make time to listen and come to agreement about what will be needed, from both of you, to deliver a successful result.

Encourage:  Sometimes the work gets hard, or frustrating or discouraging.  People need to know that you are in their corner as they go about meeting the expectations you and your organization have of them.  A word of encouragement is often all it takes.  That means having people on your radar all the time.

Challenge: When you have people regularly in the frame, you come to know what they are capable of.  Sometimes, you will be able to see it more clearly than they can.  Challenging them to go beyond what they believe they are capable of builds skill for the organization and confidence for the individual.  What’s not to like about that?

Celebrate: This is an often over-looked activity. However, acknowledging people for work well done; for accomplishments above and beyond expectations; or for life’s other little victories, has a way of spurring us on and helping us believe that we are engaged in something worthwhile.  Do it often, with sincerity, and keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be a big boo-rah to be appreciated.

Management Thing~ Controlling the Process

Make Time: As a leader, your job is not about producing widgets.  Mostly it’s about people.  It’s about giving them the tools they need to produce the widgets.  This means you have to make time in each day to talk them; to listen to what they have to say; and to be aware of who they are and what they do.

Keep it simple: Having agreements and knowing how people are progressing on an ongoing basis allows for a simpler and more accurate performance appraisal in the end.  On the other hand, spending time creating and completing convoluted assessment processes that result in twelve page documents, to me, places the em-pha-sis entirely on the wrong syl-la-ble.


Here’s the bottom line.  If we all were to lead and coach people every day and manage our time accordingly I believe that performance appraisals in their current distasteful form would be unnecessary.  Until then I think we’re going to be stuck with something that bears a painful resemblance to this.

What do you think?


Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Management

13 responses to “How to Make Performance Appraisals Unnecessary

  1. The only thing worse than having a performance appraisal is never having one. In a certain place I worked I had no feedback in the five years I was there.

    Good choice of video!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Leslie ~ Wow, five years. How sad for your former employer to have gone so long without knowing or apparently caring not only what you brought to your job but also how much more you might have produced given some time and attention. On the other hand, a faulty, neglected or ill-used appraisal system can do more damage than not having one at all. You may have dodged a bullet there 🙂

  2. Gwyn
    I personally always found value in performance appraisals and feedback but in my experience the value of appraisals is not in the paper or form filling part but on the reflection and review.

    I noticed when I led and managed teams that sometimes appraisers fell into the trap of making the process more important than the people.

    So often as you indicate managers and leaders forget to give the praise or feedback as a matter of routine and as a result miss out on a really easy way to get people motivated and engaged.

    Duncan Brodie
    Goals and Achievements Ltd

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Duncan,
      You make an important point. When the appraisal process takes precedence over the person, that is the time to reassess its usefulness. Thanks for that and for taking the time to comment!

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  4. I can relate! I can also relate to some of the other comments about poor and infrequent performance appraisals.It is so difficult when an employer lags on their duties when you are performing well, and then only gives you a performance review for slipping or messing up something. Great post!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Adam ~ You have pointed out one of the major reasons we love to hate performance reviews. Nobody welcomes a review that is half-hearted, not well thought out, not consultative or focuses only on the areas in which we have managed to mess up. And yet, the performance review has the potential to be a very positive management and leadership tool. As Duncan suggests, if we can keep the process simple and encourage managers to focus on the people before the process, our attitude toward performance assessment might very well be different. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  6. Hi Gwyn,
    At one of the organizations where I’m consulting, an employee shared something with me that speaks to the heart of why a performance appraisal can be so damaging to employee engagement. After a training session, this employee pulled me aside to discuss an incident with her boss where she was completely ignored and disrespected. I won’t go into detail, but when it became clear that her boss was clearly the one at fault, rather than apologizing he said, “I give you a good review every year, don’t I?” In his mind, her “good review” wiped away accountability for all his negative behavior throughout the year. That day the employee told me something that I’ll never forget when thinking about performance appraisals. She summed it up like this, “If you fed your dog once a year, would it still be alive?”

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Theresa,
      Brilliant! That is something memorable and, as you say, gets to the heart of the matter. Thank you for that. I doubt I’ll soon forget it either.

  7. One point that I think that you are missing is to continually do feedback. I have seen the benefits of continually looking for feedback (the good and the bad) if you wait until once a year, you may have waited too long for a learning moment or a time to celebrate. Although I am not commissioned to the company, Rypple, I really like the idea of their platform and their continual feedback methodology. Especially as we will need to depend on generation Y, we need to find an appropriate way to communicate with them, which by the way is a two way street, and allow them the a mechanism to help bridge the gap.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Thanks for adding that, Linda. Finding ways to give and receive feedback effectively, and regularly, as you point out, is indeed important.

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