How I Learned to Love Doing Performance Appraisals – And Other Lies

By BLR Founder and Publisher Bob Brady

BLR’s publisher on why he loves … and hates … doing performance appraisals.

Writing performance appraisals is something I love doing!

That’s because every time I struggle through one, I repeat the wisdom that I’ve heard again and again (and truly believe) that says, “Here’s a chance to level with people and give them the opportunity to build on their successes and address problem behaviors.”

There’s just one problem. I’m lying. Though I do like the idea of doing appraisals, and I do believe they are one of the most important things a manager does, they just aren’t fun, especially when the review has to document poor performance.

My personal performance appraisal odyssey is unusual. In my 35-year career, I’ve never received an appraisal. Not once. How can this be? Well, I started BLR when I was 30 years old, and in my prior jobs, my managers simply never did them. (They were good people and good teachers, but poor managers.)

As a result, it took some time to realize how important appraisals are. An effective manager delivers regular feedback and backs it up with formal appraisals on a regular basis. Those who don’t, create time bombs, waiting to explode.

No Performance Appraisal, No Retroactive Pay

At BLR, appraisals are taken very seriously. They have to be done twice a year in a specified format and completed on time, and they have to include both the employee’s self-appraisal and the supervisor’s assessment. The supervisor’s manager then has to sign off on the appraisal. The annual review is a full-fledged affair and ends with a salary adjustment. The 6-month is a shorter “review of the review.”

Supervisors often argue that twice a year is too frequent. I always respond, “If we miss your review, or do it superficially, you are justifiably hurt. Why do you think your subordinates feel differently?”

People need positive reinforcement, and they need to know things they should correct. In fact, their emotional well-being requires this. If they don’t feel connected to their jobs and their bosses, their performance will suffer. The appraisal is a way of generating positive energy.

There are other reasons for regular appraisals, of course. Though appraisals are not required by law, they are a must-have if you’re ever taken to court over your disciplinary actions. Appraisals are your documentation of problems, so make sure that poor performance is not “sugarcoated” for the sake of being “nice.”

Since no one wants to do appraisals, they are often late. That makes payroll a nightmare because of retroactive raises. Over the years at BLR, we’ve used various strategies to get managers and supervisors to comply.

One involves our senior managers (including me as CEO) getting a monthly list of whose appraisals are late. If the list gets too long, we decree that as of (pick a date 60 days out), there will be no retroactive raises. So if a manager misses the date, the employee loses. Unfair? There are arguments both ways.

Effective? Yes! Managers quickly understand that we are serious and that their troops will be very unhappy if the boss fails to comply. The punishment is severe enough–and the problem easily enough rectified–that the problem quickly goes away. (There are, of course, occasional extenuating circumstances when we waive the rule.)

In a future column, I will write about the “perfect” appraisal form I’ve devised. (Well, it will be perfect some day. Right now, it’s still “darned good!”) Meanwhile, I’d like to know your thoughts on appraisals. Use the “Share Comments” link or send me an e-mail at hrdailyadvisor@blr.com.

And of course, have a happy Labor Day and a great HR week!