Staff Appraisals: Tips, Checklist and the Most Common Pitfalls

Supervisor and employee having a performance review

Whenever people mention staff appraisals, they tend to think immediately of the annual performance review, which causes considerable anxiety for most employees. But things don’t have to be this way! Properly implemented staff appraisals are valuable tools for promoting employees’ development and strengthening employee-manager relationships. This article familiarizes you with the most important tools for optimally training managers for staff appraisal meetings.

Use these guidelines to improve staff appraisals within your company with lasting effect.

What Counts During Staff Appraisal Meetings

Staff appraisals are a management tool within HR that supports staff development. Appraisal meetings should be held regularly to ensure that the matters discussed remain clear in people’s minds and optimal learning and development effects can be achieved. This is in contrast to annual meetings, where feedback for a full year is discussed in a single meeting.

However, it is ongoing, informal exchange that is essential, meaning that feedback should form an integral part of a company’s culture to ensure that it is put into everyday practice. Feedback can take a whole range of forms: Meet for a coffee and talk about the most recent project; have a recap every time a project is finalized to discuss what has gone well or not so well; or message each other via the company’s internal communication tool.

Establishing Appropriate Intervals

Without any doubt, annual appraisal meetings are a good time to discuss performance in a formal setting. Processes ensure that those involved don’t approach these meetings randomly. However, staff appraisal meetings should never be limited to just a single meeting per year. Meetings should instead be held at least quarterly, with some going into greater depth and others staying more informal.

What to Discuss During Appraisal Meetings

How are things going at the moment? What’s the outlook for the coming months? Staff appraisal meetings are about facilitating exchange regarding expectations, plans and goals (including, but not limited to monetary goals) to arrive at a common denominator. They are about promoting employees’ personal and professional development, about motivating them through appreciation and about strengthening employee loyalty.

Occasions For Appraisal Meetings

A basic distinction can be made between event-related and institutionalized appraisal meetings. Event-related meetings can be initiated by managers or employees. They always relate to a current event, for example:

  • Particularly outstanding or poor performance
  • Conflicts
  • Necessary interventions in work processes, process changes
  • Failure to meet requirements
  • Optimization of work processes
  • Accidents at work
  • Prolonged or frequent employee illness

Institutionalized meetings, in contrast, are conducted regularly without any specific occasion. They serve to assess employees’ overall performance and are conducted in a standardized form that relies on set guidelines. During these meetings, managers evaluate employee performance over an extended period and develop options to further employees’ careers.

Preparation Is Key

Performance SoftwareYou will benefit most from staff appraisal meetings if you prepare well for them. This involves documenting your employees’ development and evaluating core findings transparently. Personio makes this process a breeze.

Checklist: Organizing and Conducting Appraisal Meetings

If staff appraisals are to be constructive and focus on future development, HR needs to establish relevant structures. It is essential that appraisal meetings are thoroughly prepared in terms of both content and structure if they are to be effective in motivating employees and enabling them to improve their performance. Appraisals must ensure that employees know where and how to improve.

Staff appraisal notes can contain both praise and criticism for the work performed. However, any criticism should always refer to specific situations to ensure that employees feel they are being assessed objectively and transparently.

HR can provide managers with tools and tips on how to prepare appraisal meetings and conduct them in a structured manner. Use this checklist for orientation:

Preparatory Stage

  • Invite employees well ahead of time and let them know about the points you would like to discuss.
  • Book a suitable room where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Schedule sufficient time.
  • Conduct employee appraisals in a timely manner and provide employees with a self-evaluation sheet.

Prepare Contents:

  • Which points would you like to raise?
  • Do you have all the information and evidence/examples you need to support your reasoning?
  • What change would you like to see after the meeting? Think about what you’d like to achieve with the meeting.
  • What are the employee’s strengths? What do you appreciate most about working with the employee/the employee’s work?
  • Get an overview of the employee’s personal situation, e.g. family or health problems. This is particularly important when you want to raise a criticism.
  • How did past meetings between you and the employee go? Prepare yourself for possible points to be discussed.
  • How will you deal with the situation if you can’t reach agreement with the employee? Think about possible reactions.

During the Appraisal Meeting

  • Create a pleasant atmosphere for the meeting without interference, e.g. from mobile phones.
  • Encourage dialogue and allow the employee to share.
  • Define goals and contents to be discussed at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Be attentive and listen actively.
  • Document important points.
  • Finally, make realistic agreements. Employee goals and target agreements should always motivate employees rather than overwhelm them. HR managers can support this goal by defining a performance management process that systematically records goals to promote both employee development and loyalty. Read this article for specific examples of employee goals and target agreements.

After the Meeting

  • Reflect on how the meeting went. Are there any points where you could do better at the next appraisal meeting?
  • Create a record of the meeting that both the manager and employee acknowledge.
  • Support the employee in implementing the agreed goals.

Guide: How to Conduct Staff Appraisals With Confidence

Performance Review Template TitleHow can you design staff appraisal meetings that are clearly structured and target-oriented as well as relaxed and constructive? Refer to our guide to find out.

5 Pitfalls in Staff Appraisals

Share the following five potential pitfalls with managers within your company to help prevent negative impressions, which could result in demotivation and a lack of appreciation.

1. Spontaneous meetings & too little time

Treat staff appraisals not as a necessary evil, but as a valuable part of your management tasks. Staff appraisals should form a fixture in your schedule, and you should communicate with employees about their appraisal meetings well ahead of time.

Schedule enough time for each employee to avoid having to conduct meetings under time pressure. You don’t want to give the impression of being stressed for time. If necessary, spread meetings out over several weeks. This will ensure that you leave your employees with a competent, committed impression, and it will make it easier for you to reflect your outcomes from appraisal meetings back to the HR department.

2. Poor preparation

If appraisal meetings are conducted annually, their purpose is to review an extended period of work and to discuss jointly what has been achieved over that period and what hasn’t. You therefore need to know how the respective employee performed throughout the entire past year. Otherwise you’ll look as if you are poorly prepared, which communicates a lack of appreciation to the employee.

Preparing for workplace appraisals is not an easy task and requires not only selective but continuous records. Log certain things, set reminders and keep track of any events that may be relevant to the staff appraisal meeting throughout the year. This also includes that you are aware of further training opportunities, salary potential and other organizational matters. If your schedule is too tight to allow you to prepare appropriately for a meeting, it is better to postpone it.

3. Accusations and unspecific statements

Situations where employees do not perform to their managers’ satisfaction are not uncommon. In this case, it is important that managers do not harangue their employees with broad, negative statements or accusations, but give specific feedback on specific facts instead. Statements such as “your performance is unsatisfactory” or “your work isn’t up to our expectations” should be avoided at all costs, as they are unspecific and reproachful.

This type of criticism neither allows employees to identify what went wrong nor helps them to see what they did wrong. In the worst case, this approach can even result in the employee losing trust or feeling offended on a personal level. It is therefore best to stick to specific observations and examples. Avoid generalizations and keep in mind that, in the best case scenario, employees should be able to come up with a concrete plan for improving their work at the end of the meeting.

4. Failure to involve employees in goal-setting

Setting goals is an important part of reaching goals. If employees are not involved in this process and goals are imposed in a top-down approach instead, it can happen that employees already know that goals will be unachievable as soon as they are set.

When staff appraisal meetings are conducted appropriately, it is essential that employees and their managers engage in a dialogue as equal partners. Otherwise, it is not possible for both sides to present their arguments and opinions. This also ensures that any failure to achieve set goals can be dealt with and future collaboration can be improved.

5. Use of career opportunities & salaries to apply pressure

Achieving goals and employee development are closely related. Productivity problems or unsatisfactory outcomes cannot be solved by simple if-then equations. This is where you need to show real leadership skills and work together with employees to establish how goals can be achieved. If you apply excessive pressure in your position as a manager, you usually have more to lose than to gain.

Conclusion: Respect Is Key

Some employees eagerly anticipate appraisal meetings months ahead, seeing them as an opportunity to vent their anger, receive praise or address a hoped-for salary increase. Give them the space to do this and allow a frank discussion.

Prepare specifically for each meeting, listen attentively and try to make the most of this opportunity to reflect on your collaboration to date. If you keep the pitfalls outlined above in mind as you prepare for your next appraisal meeting, you’ll find that you’ll be able to turn the dreaded performance reviews into a productivity driver for you and your employees.

Software Makes Life Easier for You and Your Managers

Assessing employees, scheduling meetings and documenting outcomes: Preparing and following up on staff appraisal meetings can be time-consuming. Not so with Personio, which keeps feedback transparently in one place.