Running appraisals: a guide for new managers

appraisal 1-2-1 manager

Managed well, a performance review has the power to supercharge your direct report’s motivation, confidence and ambition levels. And yet, for many employees, the very idea of a performance review elicits “frustration”, “anxiety” and “boredom”.

As a manager, you may too be approaching appraisal season with something less than enthusiastic anticipation. One study found that 95% of managers – who can spend up to 200 hours each per year dealing with the review process - are not satisfied with their firm’s method for enacting reviews, while a similar volume of their support managers in HR admit to feeling “weary” of the system.

But don’t despair; there is a glimmer of hope! Seven out of ten employees say that despite their reservations, they see that the core purpose of the performance review is to help them develop and grow. As the manager, delivering on this hope is your objective.



Every firm has its own process for conducting a performance review. Ensure you’re well acquainted with this well ahead of time. Ask for time with someone from your HR department if there’s anything you’re unsure of; collate all relevant materials including your direct reports’ past appraisal documentation; request formal training if you feel you need it.



As soon as possible after you’ve put the time in with your direct reports to kick off the process, follow up with a quick chat, in which you take care to alleviate any nerves or worries they might have about the process. If you can, let them know that you see the session as a two-way conversation in which you’ll not only discuss past performance but also look ahead to the future. Plant the seeds to get your employees thinking about the avenues they’d like the chat to go down. This might be the first time they’re going to reveal to you where they’d like to go within the organisation, so the more time they have to frame their points, the more productive the appraisal is likely to be.



Once you begin to collect your examples of the workplace behaviours and outcomes you want to focus on during the session, beware of concentrating on the last three months or an even more recent time frame.

As Dominique Jones, Vice President Human Resources of Halogen Software states, “Managers aren’t superheroes who can see and remember every little thing you did in the year.” However, it is worth bearing in mind that one of the biggest issues employees report when it comes to their appraisal is that it doesn’t account for past work. Look at previous appraisal notes, write-ups from 1-2-1s and any important email exchanges you’ve saved to jog your memory as to older successes or issues that shouldn’t be forgotten. And to make the job easier on yourself in future years, you might consider starting a notebook in which items for future performance reviews can be recorded. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t raise them as and when they arise in your employees’ 1-2-1s; it simply means you have a fuller picture of material to draw on when you come to summarise the period since the last official appraisal.



Your firm may have a process for gathering 360-feedback on your direct reports. This isn’t just a useful tool through which you can deliver advice and objectives; it’s also something employees welcome: 80% see crowdsourced feedback as more accurate and 21% are more likely to be satisfied in their roles after receiving it. If there is no formal 360-degree feedback gathering system at your organisation, there’s nothing stopping you making your own enquiries. You might approach senior figures who have a view on your report’s leadership potential, their peers with whom they work daily, or even those they themselves manage. Be as specific as possible in your request for feedback and what you get back is likely to be of most use. Collecting the feedback in person can also yield more detail than over email.



Nearly four in ten everywomanNetwork members are comfortable giving a wide spectrum of feedback to their colleagues and direct reports. But a slightly less confident 13% find the prospect of offering developmental feedback daunting, while 50% simply avoid the issue of feedback altogether.

Wherever you sit on the spectrum, think about the various techniques you could use to ensure the core feedback you want to deliver really hits home. In our everywomanNetwork workbook Preparing for a successful appraisal we share some of the following common complaints of managers:

“I give feedback as kindly as possible, but then it’s ignored.”

“My direct report thinks I’m being overly critical; I’m just trying to help them get better.”

Ensure that any feedback you give is clear and explicit, but also that it’s framed within the context of enabling your employee to grow, develop, move beyond any “stuck” thinking or behaviours, and stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones.



You framed the performance review process as a great conversation designed to encourage growth and goal completion. Ensure you follow through on this aim but paying close attention to what your direct report has to say, how they respond to feedback, and any worries, concerns, hopes or dreams they choose to share with you.

Emotionally intelligent leaders use occasions like these to really tap into how their direct reports are thinking and feeling. Keep your body language open, stay present in the conversation, demonstrate that you’ve listened by summarising back what you’ve heard, and touch on how you’ll follow up in future 1-2-1s.



In our workbook Preparing for a successful appraisal, we encourage employees to make a study of their bosses, aiming to better understand the goals, pressures and constraints they face in their own working lives and how these might play into their demands of them. If you and your direct report haven’t always had a sharing relationship, it’s worth considering if you could take steps towards helping them understand you and the context of your work better. Do they know the objectives you’ve been handed down from your own boss? Are they aware of any immediate pressures you face? Are there any ways they could better support you either day-to-day or in the long term?

Statistics: Globoforce Moodtracker (2013); CED; everywomanNetwork Giving great feedback webinar poll, October 2015.


More advice for new managers on the everywomanNetwork

Clarity & explicitness: a crash course in the most under-taught skills of leadershipa>

Delivering feedback: 3 ways for new line managers

7 ways to unleash your team's creative side

Workbook: Giving and receiving feedback