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  • Writer's pictureSandra Francis

8 Ways Leaders Can Improve Performance Appraisals

They happen every year, often multiple times a year yet they can still prove challenging for everyone involved. Setting your self up properly and early is at the beginning of the year is key so if you are already looming towards the end of your performance year, it will be hard to recover some of the lost ground but you can still make the appraisal a meaningful one and learn some lessons for next year.

1. Get your head in the game

One of the most important parts of your role is to support the development of all your people, be they, a board member, or a personal assistant, or perceived as a high or low performer. The end point might be different, but they will all be on their own journey. Good development conversations boosts moral, contribution and engagement increases, and goal achievement is more likely. Appraisals should be broader discussions about long-term performance and set the scene for a discussion on opportunities for development. If done well there are no losers here. Not to mention it will help you feel like a better person!

2. Diarise the meetings

If you do not already have scheduled 1-1 sessions with your direct reports that can be repurposed, then get that appraisal meeting in the diary. Only then can it hope to attain the same level of importance as other things in your diary and it gives all parties a chance to prepare. Try not to move it! Moving it once is acceptable but more than that then it becomes clear to the employee that the appraisal is less than important. As a Leader you have signed up to the process, so deliver it well.

3. Prepare

Remember, this is not about the small insignificant things that might have annoyed you on a bad day! You need to know what your team members have been doing, who they have been working with and what has their work environment been like. Note the standout things that have been brought to your attention that have impacted overall performance. You need to recall what goals and objectives you previously agreed. Typically, this is when you find out whether the goals set were of a good enough quality to support the appraisal process. Diligent employees will of course have done their homework too so hopefully there is a good discussion to come and an eventual meeting of minds. But do not wing it!

4. Set the tone

Employees will naturally be nervous, that is the nature of these discussions. It will of course be easier if it follows on from a series of regular reviews but nevertheless there is likely to be a lot riding on the meeting particularly if it is an end of year review. If you are doing your job well nothing in the appraisal should come as a huge surprise. That said this is not just a chat. So, in my experience best not to beat around the bush. Acknowledge the meeting for what it is, ask how your employee is faring and get started. Remember you are being appraised too!

5. Be open and receptive

This will open the door for your team members to be the same. Give it the time and attention it deserves. The spirit in which you approach this conversation will determine how successful it is. It will not all be plain sailing, after all no one is perfect. Be honest about the level of improvements, the successes, and the room for growth. For all but especially for an underperforming employee, speak directly, and be specific. Contextualise the feedback and inputs you or the appraisee may have received so you get to common and solid ground and you can reach mutual understanding before leaving the room.

6. It is not about you!

Your job is to listen. Yes, you will talk about their performance from your perspective, but you need to be listening to what the individual has to say, understand their position, and address any questions. Typically, individuals are their own worst critics and therefore do much of the heavy lifting, but you need to be in listen mode to recognise that. There is then an opportunity to encourage employees to move the dial forward and for them to suggest what performance improvements they would like to make and why.

7. Post Appraisal reviews

Doing the review is not the end of the process. There will be actions and follow up required by both you and your employee, some may even be time sensitive. Do not do the write up and then file it away until the next time. You will also have learnt somethings about yourself and your methods, for example are you having 1-1 meetings with your team members often enough, is your goal setting process robust enough for performance management and is there a good enough balance between personal goals and business goals to make employees feel motivated and connected. Take these learnings and initiate improvements for next year.

8. Set yourself up for next year.

Start now. Remember the best approach to appraisals is to focus on continuous performance management based on setting clear goals with measurable outcomes, robust feedback received throughout the year and recognising successes as they happen. Your role as a leader is to coach and mentor your team towards great performance, this requires great and regular conversations incorporating all these elements.

If you are really struggling with how to have or structure these conversations, seek help.

Good Luck!


If you'd like more information or help on this or other leadership challenges then check out my website,, or check out my special bite size offer on challenging conversations via

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