March 28, 2019

Rethinking The Performance Appraisal: 4 Ideas For Improving Consistency Across Your Company

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Ah, the dreaded performance appraisal.

They don’t always go by the same name, but whether your company calls them performance appraisals, performance reviews, goal setting discussion meetings, or another variation, these meetings are sure to strike fear into the heart of any employee, no matter how seasoned.

There are many reasons why these meetings make people anxious, but a big factor is uncertainty. People are scared of what they don’t know. You can understand, then, why performance appraisal meetings make employees nervous.

But an anxiety-inducing performance appraisal is a good indicator that you’re doing something wrong as a manager. An employee won’t know what you’re going to tell them during one of these meetings, but they should have a general awareness of how the discussion will go.

To see more consistent performance appraisals across the board, you’ll need to get to the root of this anxiety.

Please, please, please, don’t rely solely on annual performance appraisals.

In recent years there’s been a huge push to nix the traditional yearly performance appraisal, but some organizations still conduct these meetings only once a year. You may have heard this before, but I’m going to say it again in case you haven’t: do not conduct performance appraisals only once a year.

There are many reasons why conducting performance appraisals annually is a bad idea. Waiting this long…

  • deprives employees of actionable, relevant feedback 

  • makes employees feel anxious and frustrated

  • comes off as more of a scolding than an opportunity to show employees ways they can improve. 


If you were unsure, the annual review is the reason why performance appraisals have a negative connotation.

Instead, it’s a good idea to meet with your employees in more informal weekly one-on-one sessions for continuous communication. Meet monthly or quarterly for more comprehensive evaluations.

When you do meet for comprehensive performance appraisals, use a clearly defined rubric.

The last time you saw a rubric may have been in school, but there’s a reason why teachers and professors use these devices. Rubrics promote fairness and transparency by telling people exactly how you’ll be evaluating their performance based on a number of different measurable criteria.

Even with a rubric, performance appraisals can feel subjective or one-sided, so not using one at all sets you up for misunderstandings and violated feelings. Even if you don’t provide any feedback or constructive criticism to an employee, a performance appraisal without a measure of their performance can lead them to stagnate at work, which could lead to avoidable negative performance in the future.

Rubrics promote fairness and transparency by telling people exactly how you’ll be evaluating their performance based on a number of different measurable criteria.

To counter this, try to start performance appraisal meetings by asking employees to score themselves with a blank copy of your rubric. Once they’ve finished, compare their score for themselves with your score for them. The idea here isn’t to shame anyone or inflate your ego, but to help align expectations around employees’ performance.

ALSO READ: Perfectionists Rejoice! Relieving Anxieties Through Clear Workplace Expectations

Discouraging employees by being too harsh and not helping them grow by being too nice are hard lines to walk, but the added objectivity and two-way communication of a rubric and self-scoring exercise helps to alleviate these pain points.

Words mean things, and careless word choices can say more than you intend to say.

You will have a section in your appraisal for manager comments, even if you use a rubric. Comments are necessary, as you can’t only base evaluations off quantitative data. But comments can work against you if you aren’t careful.

Considerate word choice is important when writing performance comments. For example, read this study conducted by Doctors David G. Smith, Judith E. Rosenstein, and Margaret C. Nikolov. The researchers analyzed a military dataset of over 81,000 performance evaluations to see if there was a difference in the words used to describe leadership traits of men versus women.

The researchers’ findings show that—while leaders used positive and negative words to describe both men and women—positive words about men tended to be more task-oriented while positive words about women tended to be more relationship-oriented. The example they give is a leader describing a man as “analytical” as opposed to a leader describing a woman as “compassionate.”

In an organizational context, which one of these characterizations seems more valuable?

“These are not just words—they can have real-life implications for employees and organizations,” say Smith, Rosenstein, and Nikolov. “Language in performance evaluations can tell us what is valued and what is not in an organization.”

You may not have sinister motivations for such phrasing, but we’re all human, and unintended consequences are very real. Take an extra couple of seconds to think about word choice before jotting down the first word that comes to mind.

Before entering performance appraisal meetings, managers should review each other’s employee performance evaluations.

As long as you’re not only employing robots, bias and clouded decision making will play a role in how you measure employee performance. Using standardized rubrics and avoiding vague wording in feedback can reduce how much bias is at play, but you can never take too many precautions.

One way bias creeps into performance appraisals and makes for inconsistent performance is a matter of personal differences between managers. According to Saba, having a peer or second-level manager look over your review before a performance appraisal meeting can help you identify your blind spots.

For example, you may be an easy “grader” compared to other managers at your company. Conversely, you might be making unrealistic goals for employees, setting them up for failure.

Requesting a second pair of eyes on your review before sharing it with an employee will help the employee score higher on future appraisals and will help you be a better manager.

Use better practices, but supplement your performance appraisals with the right performance management software.

Knowing how to adjust your practices to produce more consistent performance appraisals is valuable in its own right, but pairing this knowledge with a performance management software is a win-win.

For a free, five-minute consultation, give us a call at 877.822.9526 or email us at info@technologyadvice.com. Our Technology Advisors will provide you with a shortlist of the best performance management solutions for your company’s needs to get you started on the right foot. If researching on your own is more of your thing, visit our Performance Management Software Product Selection Tool to browse and compare over 40 different solutions.