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Guide to performance appraisal

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This is a complete guide for an appraiser for how to implement successful performance appraisals.

It details:

  1. Preparation
  2. Fairness
  3. Giving feedback effectively
  4. Setting objectives
  5. Wellbeing
  6. Skils required for running a successful appraisal meeting
Reading time
How long to understand this guide?
15 mins
Word count
How many words in this guide?
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What is a Guide to performance appraisal?

The purpose of this Guide to performance appraisal is to provide you with a flexible and customisable document to serve as a robust and effective starting point for you.

By using our Guide to performance appraisal, you can streamline your process, maintain consistency and accuracy, and save time, and it can be easily adapted to fit your specific scenario.

Applicable legal jurisdictions
In which jurisdictions can this guide be used?
Great Britain & NI (United Kingdom), Worldwide

Guide to performance appraisal


Explain the process

It is important that the indivudual being appraised understand the purpose and its process, emphasising the following aspects of it:

  • It will happen regularly as an ongoing practice
  • It is a two-way process that should be of mutual benefit and not a mere exercise of managerial judgement
  • Views and suggestions will be encouraged and valued
  • The individual should expect to be treated fairly
  • The review is and will remain confidential between those who are responsible for managing the individual.

Preparing for the review meeting is vital to its effectiveness. The manager should do the following:

  1. Give the individual adequate notice of the review meeting and arrange to meet at a mutually convenient time and place.
  2. Explain the purpose of the meeting and encourage the individual to prepare beforehand by thinking about what the wish to discuss during the meeting. Ask them to think about the following:
    1. Your job - does your job description need updating because of any changed responsibility?
    2. How well have you performed? Think about how well you have performed since the last review, set against the objectives/tasks that were set.
    3. Did you have any difficulties in achieving those objectives? Have you had difficulties with any aspects of your job since your last review? How could these have been avoided?
    4. In what areas have you been particularly successful? Think about why you were successful
    5. What have you achieved?
    6. Are there any areas of performance which could be improved? What support do you require in terms of training and development?
    7. How could the department or line manager assist you to improve or enhance your performance?
    8. Any other matters you want to discuss
  3. Arrange a suitable and comfortable venue and ensure that you are free from interruptions.
  4. Try not to carry out the interview across a desk as this can so often be a symbol of adversarial conflict or managerial judgement. Instead use comfortable chairs set at an angle to each other (rather than directly facing).
  5. Allow enough time for each review meeting for any unexpected problems or issues which may need thorough discussion.
  6. Think beforehand about the following aspects:
    1. Does the individuals job description need reviewing?
    2. How has their performance compared with the agreed actions/objectives set at the last review and against the core values/standards of performance of the organisation?
    3. Is there a skills/development gap?
    4. Are there any training and development needs you wish to have addressed?
    5. Does the individual use their initiative?
    6. Are you aware of any concerns that the individual may have? Are you prepared to answer them effectively?
    7. What are the individuals strongest attributes? This may be an opportunity to discuss specialising in a particular area.
    8. What could the individual do better in their role?
    9. What has the individual contributed to the achievement of section or department objectives?
    10. Is there anything about your work relationship that should be discussed?

When thinking about these questions bear in mind the individuals range of abilities and skills, any targets set, key tasks in their job, and any mitigating circumstances for under performance.

Establish the likely key points of the meeting: is better performance or motivation required? What praise or constructive feedback is appropriate? Prepare the presentation of these key points. Decide how to discuss negative points in a constructive way. Anticipate problems and questions.

Equally, the individual who is being reviewed will find it helpful to consider a number of questions which are likely to be raised during the meeting so that he/she is able to discuss them more freely with you.


Fairness in review is an important issue and can have potentially serious implications in terms of illegal bias, for example on the grounds of race, gender or disability and where it may be used to challenge redundancy or dismissal on the grounds of competence or conduct.

Many of the goals of the review will be thwarted if the individual believes that their contribution has been poorly or unfairly assessed. New key objectives may seem disproportionate and out of reach; relationships with the line manager may become strained; and if achievements - or problems which have been overcome - are not fully recognised, motivation may ebb (Why should I do this if nobody notices?).

There is a danger of subjectivity. Be careful not to arrive at a review based upon:-

  • Only the most recent events
  • A preference for people of the same attitude as yourself
  • Concentration on a single trait (positive or negative)
  • Initial impression
  • Concerns about being too lenient or harsh
  • Comparison to the last individual reviewed

Discussion should be restricted, where possible, to objective facts and specific examples of performance.

Giving feedback effectively

Feedback is a crucial means of offering data to enable discussion to take place on the development of performance. It is also a potential motivator: given in the right way and at the right time, recipients feel encouraged that they are achieving the appropriate standards of performance and thus are likely to repeat the effort again. On the other hand, poorly constructed feedback may leave an individual feeling blamed or criticised and this can have a negative impact on performance and unproductive resentment or anger may be generated.

Skilled line managers:

  • Start with and intersperse positive comments - even when there are also negative issues to raise
  • Pinpoint with accuracy - generalised comments such as you are tremendous or you are useless need more precise explanation to be useful
  • Comment on matters which are capable of change - fundamental points such as basic personality are not going to change
  • Review performance not the individual - the discussion should pay attention to how the individual performs in the job, it is not a debate or judgment on the individual without context
  • Avoid rapid judgment (e.g. You can't write. Look at this report!) but invite discussion of the problem and symptoms (e.g. Lets examine this report together and see what we can learn for the future.)
  • Identify and agree ways forward - where there are difficulties, do not allocate blame but seek ways to make progress
  • Raise issues sooner rather than later - dont save up comments until an informal or formal review - there should be no surprises

Setting objectives

A sound way of improving and tracking performance is to set, monitor and review objectives. When setting objectives it is important that the individual understands what is expected of him/her and agrees to achieve the objective. The characteristics of good objectives (whether job or personal objectives) are that they are SMART:

  • Specific related to a clearly defined area of activity
  • Measurable it is possible to know whether they have been achieved by the production of quantative or qualitative evidence
  • Achievable they are within the authority, ability and resources of the individual
  • Relevant to the individuals main duties and responsibilities
  • Time-related by when / how often?

Setting SMART objectives ensures that the individual is more likely to understand and achieve the objective than if a vague 'You need to do better' is used.


The performance management process gives employees an easy way to reach out. Incorporating regular one-to-one meetings as part of your performance reviews means managers stay in touch with employees.

As well as progress reports, employees and managers can use this time to cover wellbeing subjects such as whether an employee has been working late, if they've been absent or displaying other worrying behaviours.

As stated earlier, strong performance management processes are built on two-way feedback. This gives employees the chance to say if they are feeling overwhelmed or unsupported. It also allows managers to raise concerns about conduct that might point to poor wellbeing.

Skills required for running a successful appraisal meeting

Two-way communication skills are vital in review. Many people find it difficult to listen carefully, yet it is the only way to really understand someones position and to distinguish between, for example, genuine commitment and half-hearted compliance. Review also needs to be a supportive conversation, not an inquisition.

Active listening

Here, the word active should be stressed, since it enables a thorough understanding of what is being said and a demonstration of that understanding. The key methods to achieve this are as follows:-

  • Paraphrasing what has been said, e.g. So your feeling is... So what you are saying is...
  • Reflecting the implications, e.g. If that were to happen, it might lead to..., That would make the problem worse or In that case, it would be very difficult to gain commitment.
  • Reflecting underlying feelings, e.g. You must have felt very confused that you were given conflicting objectives.
  • Inviting further input, e.g. Tell me something about that training programme you went on or Help me understand how it works.
  • Non-verbal support
  • Making eye contact
  • Nodding head
  • Leaning forward slightly
  • Interpreting signs of anxiety
  • Awareness of the use of voice


A skilful line manager will deploy various types of questions during a review:

  • Closed questions to gain a decision or agreement, e.g. using words like did youwere youcould I, which obtain a yes or no as an answer
  • Open questions to gain more information, e.g. using the words whatwhywherewhenhowwhichtell me more about.
  • Probing to explore ideas further, e.g. Does that mean...
  • Reflective to open up sensitive areas, e.g. So you feel that...

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Get much more with our
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Guide to performance appraisal
guide to performance appraisal