How to conduct an effective appraisal meeting

Appraisals can be difficult meetings to have. Whether it's because it may mean that the employee gets some negative feedback or just because talking about issues in a one to one setting can sometimes be a bit cringe-worthy, an appraisal isn't usually at the top of peoples list of reasons to become a manager.

There are some steps managers can take that may ease the pain though and we've listed a few of them to help you organise your appraisal system.

Schedule the meeting, remember that this should be a one to one meeting and so the entire focus of your time at that point should be the employee.

Don't allow the time to be pushed back or postponed as this is a sure sign that you don't value speaking with them.

Schedule a series of meetings at monthly or quarterly intervals and at times that are more likely to be convenient for both parties.

Monthly is much better as it gives a chance to affect behaviour and examine the results much quicker giving you a more responsive process.

In the first meeting, explain the format and aims of the system.

Appraisals should be an ongoing process and not something you do when you have a spare half-hour or a specific complaint so it's important to set an expectation of an ongoing structured process.

The appraisal should be based on a two-way conversation rather than the manager spending all of the time talking. It's important that the employee is given the chance to speak about how the month has gone for them. What has worked well and what has gone less well. The manager should use open-ended questions to elicit more in-depth responses rather than simple one-word answers.

The aim of the meeting should be to walk out with both the employee and manager having set some targets for the next month and with both knowing exactly what they are and what constitutes success.

When setting the targets it is a good idea to use the SMART method. Appraisal targets should be;

Specific – saying 'I want to be better' isn't specific enough to be a sensible target. Saying that I want to sell 50% more is specific enough so that it is clear exactly what a measure of success it

Measurable – Being a better salesperson is specific because it relates to a particular part of the employee's duties but it isn't in itself measurable. Targets should be set in such a way as to be clearly measurable and that there can be no question whether they have been achieved or not. A target to sell £1000 more motor oil is both specific and measurable as it will be obvious to all whether it has happened.

Achievable – there is simply no point in setting a target that nobody believes is achievable. If the employee has sold £1,000 of motor oil per month for the last year then a target to sell £20,000 in the next month is likely to be dead in the water as it will simply demotivate the person who is expected to complete the task. Instead of setting a target that is a stretch but that is still achievable will probably gain the best outcome.

Relevant – A good target is one that is relevant to the company and department that the employee works in. Asking a finance employee to make sure that the vans are serviced is probably not a relevant target for them as it falls within the purview of the fleet manager and isn't likely to be affected by anything the finance team can do.

Time-bound – Targets should have a start and end date. So selling £1,000 of motor oil isn’t smart, Selling £1,000 in the next 30 days is. Having time-bound targets ensures that it is eminently clear whether it has been achieved or not.

Using SMART targets ensures that when a subsequent appraisal meeting is held, the review of last months targets will be fairly simple and straightforward.

 Make sure that targets and outcomes of the meetings are written down and then both the manager and employee get a copy, even better use a shared document on a network to allow both to edit during the month. This way the likelihood of misunderstandings is reduced and everyone should understand what is expected.

 One of the better ways to set goals is to explain the SMART system to the employee and ask them to set their own goals. The benefit of this is that they naturally tend to be more invested in the outcome of targets they have set rather than ones forced upon them by managers. It is also more difficult for the poor performing employee to argue that the target was unreasonable when they themselves set them.

It's important that the manager is reasonable in expectations. Setting too many stretch targets is a recipe for disaster. It's a good idea to set some simple, easy to achieve goals for the first one or two meetings to build up a track record of success and give the employee faith in the system. Setting hard targets from day one, then having the staff member fail is likely to mean that they are less engaged and enthusiastic about the appraisal process in the future.

When reviewing last months achievements and goals it is helpful to have the employee lead and talk through, again focusing on what went well and what badly. The manager should then give their feedback in as neutral a manner as possible, avoiding any subjective or emotive language. Two-way discussion is again the key, with each side leaving the room with a better understanding of the point of view of the other.

Once the target setting and reviewing process is over the employee should be given the chance to ask any questions or air any points that are on their mind. Of course, questions should be answered fully and as honestly as is possible, or if the information is not available then the manager should promise to get back to the employee as soon as practicable, and keep their promise!

Following the appraisal, a record should be written and stored within the terms of the firms' HR policies. This will allow the manager and employee to look back at progress made over time and also provides an insight into the employees' work-life for any subsequent managers.

Having a fair and structured appraisal process is an important step in building a great team. Honesty and integrity are important and by implementing a top-quality appraisal system the manager can ensure that they have the best chance of developing a first-class department.



    SMART is all very well but the emphasis in appraisal should be that it is a 2-way exchange about performance, issues, problems, frustrations, training needs etc. and FROM THAT mutual and personal goals for each.

    For this reason QUARTERLY should easily be frequent enough and in my experience 6-MONTHLY was more than enough in most cases, supported by an OPEN-DOOR policy in between.

    Good management relies on employees feedback about how to make processes better, safer, more efficient, more pleasant, more accurate etc. and mutual appraisal is a great opportunity to get and monitor that valuable feedback.

    Any compainta about staff performance should have been conveyed at the tiem and in private, whilst praise should also be current but public.  So the appraisal is just a summary of what the employee should already know and THEIR chance to speak up and be heard.

    What's unpleasant about that?