Just as every kid wants to make the soccer team, every employee wants to receive a stellar performance appraisal. But if you rate every member of your team as a water-walker, managers who use the appraisal to decide promotions, raises or high-profile assignments won't be able to distinguish your truly gifted subordinates from the mediocre or troublesome ones. A useful performance appraisal is an honest assessment of an employee's strengths, weaknesses and capabilities.
Unlike you, most readers of the appraisal won't understand the full scope of your employee's duties. Start the appraisal with a background paragraph that outlines the employee's daily duties and any extra responsibilities, such as serving as back-up for another employee, overseeing a project or participating in a task force. Describe the complexity of the work and state whether the employee does it under close supervision, with minimal guidance or with complete independence.
Don't overwhelm your audience with a lengthy narrative. Create a separate section for each duty the employee performs and include a rating for each one. You can use a numerical rating – usually on a scale of 1 through 5 – or statements such as “building basic skills,” “fully competent” and “excels”. Avoid giving the employee a perfect score in every area (unless it's truly warranted) because it will detract from the credibility of the review. Include a short paragraph to explain the rating, and provide specific examples of the employee's achievements.
Performing one's duties is only part of the job. Some employees are technical whizzes but they can't get along with their co-workers and they drag down the team's performance. To be fair and balanced, you also must rate how well the employee interacts with team members, people in other offices and customers. Provide an example or two to support the rating you give the employee in this area.
Most managers don't like to include “Areas for Improvement” in an appraisal because it sounds like criticism. It is important, however, to give the employee a path toward professional growth and you can do this in a positive light by using the heading “Further Skill-Building.” Use this section to explain what the employee must do to reach the next level. This may be training, increased responsibility or a greater level of self-dependence. This portion of the appraisal serves as a work plan against which you can measure the employee's performance in the next rating period.
Present the appraisal to your employee as a draft that can be changed if appropriate. For example, the employee may remember an achievement that you left out. If, however, you believe that a criticism or a lower rating really is warranted, stick to your guns, but include a section for the employee to add comments. This is where she can state any disagreement with the rating or explain underlying reasons for a less-than-stellar performance. It allows the employee to feel that she got to state her case without compromising the integrity of your assessment.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.