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Top tips on giving constructive feedback at performance appraisals
Nov 4, 2013

Top tips on giving constructive feedback at performance appraisals

It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality

Harold S Geneen


For some organisations it is coming up to end of year performance appraisals. Both sides of the desk tend to dread performance appraisals with good reason if there is a history of poor execution of the discussion.  Here are some tips for managers for a successful performance appraisal discussion.

Before completing the appraisal document keep these common problems in mind for the ratings scale:


  • Halo Effect: This is the tendency (or bias) to rate a person who is exceptionally strong in one area, high in all other areas. Particularly when the area in which they are strong is important to you personally
  • Horns Effect: This is of course the opposite of the Halo Effect – a tendency to rate a person who is especially weak in one factor, low on all other factors.
  • Middle of the Road:  This is where a manager avoids both high and low extremes, rating someone  in the middle category, for example a ‘3’ on a 1-5 scale.
  • Mini Me: Some managers have a tendency to give higher ratings to employees who are similar to them.
  • Easy road: This is where managers are aware that the employee has rated themselves highly, the manager disagrees but moves their own rating up higher to avoid a difficult discussion.

In conducting the appraisal, keep these things in mind:

  • Venue – make it private, and allow sufficient time to cover off all the issues.
  • Make sure you have read the appraisal document first!  Preparation is very important particularly where constructive feedback is required.
  • Review any previous appraisals prior to the meeting.
  • Obtain feedback from others if relevant, for example if your employee has worked in another division, ask for feedback from their previous supervisors
  • Prepare your discussion – make sure you have a list of specific things you want covered off, and examples,  to give your employee.
  • Allow your employee to speak about their views
  • Talk through the appraisal document from start to finish and openly discuss any differences in perception

If it is largely a ‘good news’ appraisal:

  • Congratulate your employee on their achievements to date and talk through some agreed goals for the next 6-12 months
  • Allow them to talk about their personal goals
  • Make sure any goals set are both specific and achievable
  • For top performers, suggest stretch goals, particularly if they are keen to be promoted or moved into a different area
  • Ensure that behavioural issues, if any, are covered off regardless of financial or other achievements - be careful about the message you are sending if financial and other targets are met but behavioural issues affecting others are an issue and not dealt with


For appraisals that require giving constructive feedback, frame the conversation carefully:

  • You want the employee to become Aware of the performance issue, Accept the issue and agree to Action to remedy the situation - the Triple A of performance management.
  • Staff will accept feedback if the person offering it is reliable and has good intentions and the process is fair (eg make sure you have concrete examples, and give them the opportunity to express their views).
  • Start with positive feedback – what they do well, and often, and that they should keep doing it.
  • Move to constructive feedback – but frame it as what they could do better if possible.
  • Ensure the clarity of your message – plan what the message will be.
  • Use examples from your own experience or feedback from others.  Make sure you do have examples – they are critical to the success of the discussion.
  • Explain the impact of the behaviour or skill level on colleagues or the business.
  • Echo back their concerns about the feedback, show empathy then…
  • Ask for acknowledgement.
  • Check their understanding and willingness to accept the feedback – give the employee time to think and respond, & provide action strategies if they don't come up with any.  People are more willing to accept and commit to a solution if they suggest it themselves
  • Set goals for improvement, or agree a solution to the problem
  • Agree on a time frame, and regular check ins on progress
  • Don’t ‘sandwich’ feedback with more good news as this is confusing and may give mixed messages, particularly if all they remember is the last thing you said.  But do end on a positive note eg, certainty the employee can improve, offer of support to achieve goals. 


Ending the appraisal

  • Be brave enough to ask for feedback on your own performance as a manager generally or on the conduct of the appraisal