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Performance Appraisals: Creating the Right Tone for Communication

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One of the major barriers to positive communication is not having any or enough feedback. There is a feedback system already in place in most organizations called “Performance Appraisals.” Many years ago, Wright Patterson Air Force Base asked me to write a course, which I called “Better Performance Appraisals.” I have taught that course two times in 20 years. Most people think they know how to give feedback. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Employees often dread receiving a performance appraisal and supervisors are seldom trained on how to give appraisals. If they were trained, they would know that reviews should be used to highlight accomplishments, identify areas of improvement and to set goals for the future. The performance evaluation is an opening for both the reviewer and the employee to help each other. By working together as a team, they can find ways to enhance their abilities.

The key word is empowerment. It is a mutual effort. You each have a chance to communicate what works, what doesn’t and how to make it work better. It is up to the supervisor to set up a review-friendly environment in which the employee doesn’t feel intimidated. Even if there are problems to be addressed, the worker must feel valued in order to overcome the natural resistance to being judged.

Reviewers need to evaluate themselves in relation to each employee. They must consider their attitude toward the worker, his or her personality, work style and values. Supervisors should consider their own personality, work style, values and relationship with the employee and take care that an employee is not unfairly evaluated according to the personality and style of the supervisor. In other words, evaluate employees according to the best of his or her abilities, not yours.

Empowerment also means it is the supervisor’s job to create an environment that makes people want to perform. It is partially up to the employee to communicate what kind of environment works best for him. The performance evaluation then becomes a two-way street, allowing both parties to determine how well they have lived up to their bargain, or whether some aspect of it needs revision.

Prior to an evaluation, both the reviewer and employee need to prepare. The reviewer needs to know the employee’s working abilities before the review process begins. The worker needs to do a self-evaluation…prioritizing strengths, listing plans for overcoming weaknesses and determining future potential. Some organizations allow the employee to fill out a blank copy of the review form, which is later compared with that of their supervisor.

Another critical element for both the reviewer and the employee is the ability to listen. Interruptions should be prevented. Both parties need to concentrate on listening to what is being said and understanding each other. If a statement is unclear, ask for clarification. Take notes so that specific points can be referred to for later discussion. Open dialog should be encouraged. The process needs to be less judgmental and more of a team effort. Better performance appraisals are only effective when both the reviewer and the employee feel a positive exchange has occurred.


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