Performance Appraisals: Nightmares or Sweet Dreams

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Some managers think of performance appraisal meetings and recollections of torn Achilles' heels or root canals immediately surface. They're sort of "been there, don't want to go again" situations. The more it can be put off, the better.

Study after study shows that both managers and employees are very dissatisfied with performance?appraisals?and often view them as a necessary evil to get over with quickly. Here are seven strategies to turn performance management?from a nightmare into a sweet, or at least tolerable, dream.

1. Prepare for the appraisal meeting. Give yourself adequate time to review an employee?s file, complete an evaluation of their performance and outline topics for the session. It?s also a good idea to note some talking points and do a mental walk-through of the meeting.

The employee also needs to prepare in advance. Ask the person to assess his or her performance.??Suggest that she also?jot down concerns, questions and opinions regarding?her work and suggestions for improving it.

2. Explain the reason for the meeting.? When you begin the appraisal session, state the purpose of the meeting in straightforward terms. No matter how often employees have been through appraisals, they may not understand how their work is being judged, why it is being evaluated or what the performance appraisal is for. Reassure the employee that your role as manager is to help them succeed in their job and identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement.

3. Remain positive.? Avoid using judgmental phrases and words like "poor performance" or "weakness." You are there, however, to suggest ways that an employee can improve their work and discuss causes of below-average performance. Express your concerns in concrete terms and use detailed examples.

4. Ask questions.? Your discussion should be guided by open and closed questioning techniques. Closed questions, which tend to elicit a "yes" or "no" response, require specific answers. Open questions encourage a general discussion and usually begin with "could," "would," "how," "what" or "why." Use open questions at the beginning of the appraisal to stimulate discussion and closed questions at the end to summarize.

5. Foster productive and open communication.? In general, when you reflect the employee?s thoughts, they feel understood and acknowledged.? But be prepared for negative reactions. When you talk with an employee about poor performance or inappropriate behavior, they may deny, blame, fall silent, respond abusively or display an emotional outburst, such as crying. If the appraisal session deteriorates, terminate it and reschedule the meeting.

6. Suggest improvements. During the appraisal, discuss any areas in need of improvement and offer specific, realistic and concrete suggestions and solutions. Be prepared to sell your improvement suggestions to the employee - they may not be receptive to your ideas. Together you and the employee should develop a plan to correct any problems.

7. Close the interview.? Summarize the major points and be sure to end on a positive, encouraging and upbeat note - even when the employee is very troubled or deficient. If you can?t provide the employee with immediate feedback, follow up as soon as you can and finalize the appraisal in a timely fashion.

Work SMARTER, not harder.? Make sure your? performance appraisal meetings get RESULTS.

Marcia Zidle, the 'people smarts' coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ? to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to and get the bonus report "61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers". Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ? resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ? fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.

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