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Performance management matters despite Dilbert’s mockery!

Image: Stuart Miles /

It is annual performance review time for many organizations! The actual performance review may be a simple rating sheet, a multi-page document, a massive competency checklists or an online 360 review. Whatever the format of your reviews, it is your entire performance appraisal process, which includes the manager & employee performance appraisal meetings that determines the effectiveness of your appraisal system for your organizational development goals. Scott Adams has dedicated a multitude of Dilbert strips mocking performance reviews (scroll to end of article) but for organizations today, performance management still matters.

Here are some steps to help you think through your organization’s process and some practical questions and tips to improve your appraisal system.

1. Why are we doing performance appraisals?

Performance appraisals offer feedback and recognition to employees. Everyone needs to hear how they are doing and it is important to recognize good performance. The performance appraisal manager-employee meeting offers:

  • Two way communication: They offer a time for employees to share their goals with you – these may be work goals or long term career goals.
  • Employee development:  They are a tool to help employees to set achievable goals and to improve their performance.
  • Adapting to change:  All organizations must embrace some level of organizational change and development. Performance appraisals can highlight any areas where employees are in or out of sync with organizational development.

2. Performance appraisals and the performance appraisal meeting are not a wage review

The discussion should not become a wage review. However you must be clear with employees about the fairness and relevance of objectives and competencies in your appraisals if they are used to form the basis for annual compensation review or bonus structure.

3. The performance appraisal meeting is a key factor to ensuring the performance appraisal process is motivational and valuable for the employee

Consider what would engage you in a performance appraisal meeting. The performance appraisal will foster employee engagement and motivation if the performance appraisal meeting is:

  • A fair and objective review
  • A two-way discussion
  • Employee viewpoint is listened to and valued
  • Not just about performance – it is also about employee development
  • A chance for employees to help develop goals
  • Results in a clear plan of action (SMART Goals)

4. Don’t treat all employees the same

Think about your individual employee’s motivational needs. This step is about you using your knowledge of the employee to customize the performance appraisal meeting towards their specific needs. Some employees may work well with verbal recognition and praise, others value technical competencies and mastery, others want the chance to exploring their career development options and some prefer to focus on goal oriented objectives.

A simple way to gain this level of understanding is to ask your employee the question “What will need to happen for you to find the performance appraisal meeting we are planning really motivational?”

5. Have a clearly laid out performance appraisal meeting agenda

Here’s an example of a performance appraisal meeting agenda you could use:

  • Welcome employee to meeting (be friendly, this may be stressful for employee!)
  • Review of performance against objectives or competencies.
  • Review employee perception of performance objectives (note any differences and discuss).
  • Discuss employee strengths (this is REALLY important to recognize achievement and motivate employees).
  • Discuss ideas for improvement and build on strengths (be sure to get employee feedback).
  • Discuss and agree on steps to make it happen and how it will be measured.
  • Review and summarise the meeting.
  • Employee and supervisor sign appraisal form.

6. Train your managers! This is really the first step in performance appraisals

Some managers hate performance appraisals even more than the employees do. Give your managers the opportunity to practice performance appraisal meetings with fellow managers and receive feedback. Work with them on ensuring that they are able to write and express SMART goals clearly. A fun management team meeting idea is to have everyone bring a New Year’s Resolution to the training session and practice writing out the resolutions as SMART goals. Another good exercise is to pair up managers and have them perform a quick performance appraisal meeting skit from a prepared script. Have a few sets of scripts that demonstrate good and poor examples and discuss the differences.

7. Keep the spirit of employees and managers light-hearted

During performance reviews use the many Dilbert cartoons around performance appraisals and other sources of appraisal humour!

8. Performance improvement quick tip

Criticism towards an employee’s performance doesn’t usually result in the desired changes.  A better approach is to reinforce the individual’s strengths and encourage him or her to make even more use of those skills. “Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his ‘skill gaps.’ You will find that this one shift in emphasis will pay huge dividends.” ~Marcus Buckingham, Now, Discover your Strengths

Marcia Scheffler
M.A., CHRP Candidate

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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