performance appraisal processAnything You Say Can and Will be Used Against You

Tis the season for Year-End Performance Appraisals. I thought a back-to-basics post was in order --  something that prompts HR to remind all of those reviewers out there what good feedback looks and sounds like. I know, every year you are shocked that someone still needs to be told how to provide constructive comments. You have already been through the song and dance about how comments that are specific and constructive are more readily accepted by an employee, more conducive to development, and less likely to get the company in legal trouble. Balanced and professional comments will help improve our performance and bottom-line you have exclaimed! But alas, you are still spending time reviewing and adding an “EDITED FOR CONTENT” stamp to all too many performance appraisals. So, if you are sick of spending your time reading through comments that contain vulgarities, insults, and back-handed compliments read on for a better approach.

The HR Guide to Ensuring Reviewers Provide Constructive Written Comments:

1. Solicit comments by competency. Since the goal is specific feedback, consider asking for comments on each competency in addition to or rather than overall comments. Provide training that ensures reviewers understand the behaviors encompassed in each competency so that specific feedback and applicable examples can be referenced.

2. Transfer in goals. If your organization tracks goals throughout the year, bring these into the year-end evaluation and ask for comments specific to each individual goal. Flexible performance management and HR software can be a big help here. Provide open-ended areas for the employee and his/her manager to comment on how the goal was executed. If the goal was not achieved in full, consider soliciting comments on how the goal can be better targeted in the future.

3. Provide appropriate cues on the evaluation form. Make it easy for reviewers to provide balanced feedback by prompting them whenever possible. Some of our clients encourage reviewers to provide both Strengths and Development Needs in a variety of areas on the performance appraisal form. Remind reviewers that balanced feedback is critical to feedback acceptance and that understanding both positive and negative aspects of performance is important for development.

4. Make sure the process is well understood by reviewers.  Will Manager feedback be seen directly by the employee, or will it be grouped with all other reviewers? Will individual reviewer feedback appear on the employee version of the performance evaluation, or is their feedback being solicited only for Manager review in order to provide a more comprehensive performance appraisal? Reviewers need to understand if feedback will be aggregated somewhere along the line or presented word for word on the employee’s performance appraisal. Further, reviewers must know who their audience is in order to provide an appropriately written review.

5. Leverage your rating scale. Some of our clients have leveraged performance management technology to ensure comments are required depending on the rating provided. For instance, items rated at either very low or very high levels should require some written explanation to help support such extreme ratings. If this is implemented, it is extremely important to ensure that reviewers are utilizing the same benchmarks when they make ratings.

Take the time to explain to participants what each point on the scale represents. Training on “these competency-related behaviors are indicative of level 3 performance, as compared with these behaviors at levels 1 and 5 respectively” is very helpful for getting your reviewers in sync on the scale, as well as enabling them to provide helpful written comments to support the quantitative rating.

6. Remind Reviewers that the reviews they provide are attributed. Even if your process does not attribute reviewer feedback back to the employee, help reviewers understand that they are still responsible for the feedback they provide. The employee’s manager and at the very least HR are privy to reviewers’ attributed feedback. Remind reviewers what they have to say and how they say it about others is extremely important and reflects either positively or negatively on them personally.

7. Don’t rely on standard comments. Some performance appraisal software solutions offer "writing assistants" which provide ready-made written content which managers can insert into their performance reviews. While using these comments can make the completion of the review faster and easier, "canned" comments erode trust and impede leadership development.  Read our Whitepaper to learn more: Excuse Me, But Whose Words Are These?– Using Writing Assistants in Performance Evaluation.

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