Excellent advice for difficult performance review conversations

The balanced-message technique which managers are typically instructed to use for discussing performance appraisals is categorically wrong, according to Dick Grote in his book How to be Good at Performance Appraisals: Simple, Effective, Done Right. It is a time-proven failure and the reason why people hate performance appraisals, annoying and demotivating good performers while cheering and heartening poor performers. Instead, an effective performance review gives a single clear message, concentrating on strengths or on improvement needs.

The book contains plenty of other helpful advice, including:

  • A performance appraisal is a formal record of a manager’s opinion of the quality of an employee’s work, so it should be drafted by the manager, not the employee.
  • Performance appraisal is necessary to identify gaps in talent within the organisation, best performers who need to be the subject of retention strategies, and worst performers who should be salvaged or cut loose.
  • Useful practices which are rarely used include calibration sessions to ensure consistency in appraisals, assessing how well managers do appraisals, and greater use of 360-degree feedback.
  • SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound) goals are a bad idea because they tend to aim too low.
  • If the appraisal is a positive one, it is helpful to give it to the employee an hour before the meeting, but if the appraisal is a negative one this is not a good idea as the message should be delivered verbally.

I found the book very helpful, reasonably short, and entertaining to read. I would recommend it to anyone who has the job of conducting performance appraisals, and I would particularly recommend it to anyone who has the job of designing performance appraisals.