Keys to a Successful Performance Appraisal Program

If done well, a performance appraisal program can be an excellent tool to help improve employee engagement and performance. They also provide an opportunity for managers and supervisors to build stronger relationships of trust with employees and can lead to greater work satisfaction. If done poorly or haphazardly, however, performance appraisals can have exactly the opposite effect and can result in low employee morale and higher turnover rates. Below are 8 tips on how to make your performance appraisal program successful.

Do your research before conducting appraisals

Before writing up an employee appraisal, you should do as much research as you can about the employee’s performance during the appraisal period. Review their personnel file to determine if there were any commendations or discipline. Identify any notable accomplishments, exceptional performance on a project, or other significant contributions. Analyze production records to determine if they are meeting standardize or employee-specific goals. The more information you can collect about the employee, the more effective your appraisal will be.

Be honest in your appraisals

Appraisals only have value if you are honest in your assessment of the employee. Being honest is easy when you have something positive to say. It gets harder when your critique is negative.

You must fight the urge to avoid conveying bad news to employees, because failing to do so will give employees a false sense of their performance which will continue year after year. The longer you put off correcting an employee’s poor performance or behavior, the harder it will be to correct in the future. Moreover, downgrading an employee’s performance in a subsequent appraisal without an actual change in the employee’s performance can wreak havoc on the employee’s morale.

Not being honest with employees about their performance in appraisals may also lead to trouble if you later decide to terminate the employee for the performance failures. Federal agencies investigating discrimination claims and state unemployment offices will take the favorable appraisals at face value and may conclude that poor performance was not the motivating factor for the termination.

Avoid focusing too much on recent events

It is natural to best remember what has happened most recently. However, appraisers should avoid giving too much weight to recent events in their reviews because they may unfairly skew the outcome, either positively or negatively. Appraisers should assume the responsibility of documenting noteworthy events that occur for each employee during the appraisal period. Getting additional input from other supervisors or managers who have worked with the employee can help as well.

Many companies ask employees to self-report noteworthy events that took place during the appraisal period as part of the performance appraisal process. Although, this can be helpful, appraisers should not rely exclusively on the employees’ self-reporting as it may be incomplete or inaccurate. Additionally, over reliance on self-reporting will tend to benefit employees who are open with their accomplishment more than employees who are not.

Discuss the results of the appraisal with the employee in person

Performance appraisals should be in writing, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to discuss the results in person with employees. One-on-one discussions with employees about the results of their appraisal is a vital component of their success. These discussions allow the appraiser the opportunity to explain the reasons for performance assessments in more detail. They also give the employee the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarifications. When done correctly, these meetings can help improve the relationship between the employee and the appraiser which should lead to greater investment by the employee in the performance appraisal program.

To make the one-on-one meetings more effective, you can provide the employee a copy of the appraisal several days before the meeting. This gives them a chance to digest the result and come up with questions to ask during the meeting. It also gives them time to think about ways in which they can improve their performance that can be discussed in the appraisal meeting.

It is also worth considering conducting the appraisal meeting in a location that is more comfortable for the employee. For example, supervisor or manager offices can make the employee feel uncomfortable and can make it feel more like a disciplinary meeting. This may have the effect of putting the employee on the defensive and will undermine the collaborative, morale building purpose of the appraisal process.

Provide meaningful positive feedback

When conducting employee appraisals, it can be easy to focus on areas where employees need to improve, because for an employee to improve, you must identify deficiencies. However, positive feedback is just essential to a successful performance appraisal program. It boosts employee morale, it helps reduce the apprehension employees feel about performance appraisals, and can soften the blow of negative feedback.

The key to making positive feedback work is making sure it is meaningful. It should be concrete and specific. Don’t just tell the employee their production has increased; show them the numbers that demonstrate the improvement. Additionally, performance appraisal are most effective when there is more positive feedback than negative feedback.

Develop a plan for improvement

One of the main purposes of a performance appraisal program is to help employees improve. This, by its nature, means that you will have to give the employee negative feedback. However, the negative feedback provides the employee no benefit if it is not accompanied by an improvement plan.

When you develop a plan, you must identify specific areas of improvement and establish specific goals related to those areas. Where appropriate, the goals should have deadlines for the employee to meet. It is also important to ask for an employee’s input on their improvement plan. This gives them ownership of the plan and can improve their chances of meeting the goal.

Formally review the appraisal with employees throughout the appraisal year

For a performance appraisal program to be successful, it cannot be a once-a-year event. Supervisors and managers should follow up with employees periodically to discuss the employee’s progress in relation to their appraisal. In these follow-up meetings, the supervisor or manager should discuss the employee’s progress in meeting improvement goals and should make any changes necessary to those goals to ensure the employee is progressing.
Many employers set specific times throughout the appraisal year, e.g. quarterly, monthly, etc., to sit down with the employee to go over the annual appraisal. These periodic meeting demonstrate to the employee that the company is invested in making the performance appraisal program meaningful and that is it not just a waste of their time.

Give feedback at times other than during the appraisal meetings

Supervisors and managers should not limit giving feedback to employees just during appraisal meetings. They should offer employees both positive and negative feedback when needed, such as after the completion of a project or after a protracted period of performance issues. By giving feedback at times other than during appraisal meetings, supervisors and managers demonstrate that their interest in an employee’s improvement is authentic and not just the product of their obligations under the performance appraisal program.


A successful performance appraisal program takes time and a consistent effort. But when done correctly, it can be well worth the investment by improving employee engagement and performance. The 8 tips listed above provide a strong foundation upon which you can build a successful performance appraisal program that works for your business.

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