How to Write a Performance Appraisal for Star Performers

An employee performance appraisal is beyond what a supervisor or manager can normally observe or is more than performing the job description itself. In order for an employee to achieve his or her best potentials, the team leader should intentionally create a system to help each employee succeed in their positions.

Here are some suggestions to a supervisor/manager – a 12-Step system that I created throughout the years. While I did not invent most of these steps, I discovered that utilizing them in this order creates a system that helps me successfully write a PAR with the partnership of each of my team members.

  1. Conduct one-on-ones. These are great tools to help build up the performance appraisal. Never let a day pass without visiting with each of your team members (if your team is small enough to do this). Daily informal one-on-ones are also great ways to build genuine relationships with your team. You can meet with them at their level emotionally, so you can discern first-hand if something’s bothering them or to see what motivates them to do a good job.
  2. Conduct more formal and structured one-on-ones:
    1. Create an Excel list of all the team members you are responsible for preparing performance appraisals. On the next column list their anniversary dates (or when their performance appraisals are due).
    2. Plan to meet with each of them on either a monthly or quarterly basis. I normally do quarterly formal or structured one-on-ones. Then, list on the next 3 columns the dates you would meet with each of them for every quarter. For example, if the anniversary date is Oct 10th, write down Jan 10th, May 10th and August 10th or a few days before/after those days. Then, let each of your team members know about these dates, so they can be prepared.
    3. Encourage your team members to start their own performance journals. They can log all their accomplishments on a day-to-day basis, things they want to improve upon, areas they want to get cross-trained at, and even to generate a career development. They can bring this to their quarterly one-on-one with you.
    4. Transfer the one-on-one dates to your calendar – both on your planner and your Outlook calendar.
    5. Then, conduct one-on-one meetings based on the calendar you’ve created. Try to be as consistent as possible (avoid habitual postponement or cancellations). One-on-ones are designed to talk about the progress of the team member towards a successful performance appraisal meeting. Talk about the content of a performance appraisal report and how the team member has been faring so far. Talk about things that could challenge the team member further. Let the team member share the contents of his or her performance journal and formulate a plan to help him or her achieve the career development plan.
  3. Training and development. When I was working at a credit union, we assigned a team member to conduct a short training during our monthly meetings. We made sure we rotate this responsibility. I also created training programs to help them learn and understand financial regulations such as the Bank Secrecy Act. I did Jeopardy, the Weakest Link and Family Feud games, which you can find templates online that you can modify. Make sure your team learns something new all the time. Training can be one-on-one as well. Training can also include discussing their job responsibilities as many of them might not know what their position duties entail. At one of my former jobs, we discussed the policies and procedures (1 policy per week) and had the team members sign an acknowledgment form. Log all the trainings done and include them in each of the employee’s performance notes.
  4. Mentoring. Assign a more senior employee to mentor another. Provide objectives, timeline and the tools. Make sure to log the mentoring progress and accomplishments in the performance notes. My former boss used a SWOT analysis (strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). This can be useful in mentoring.
  5. Create an individual file (preferably electronic) where you can log all the strengths & weaknesses of the team members, and things you observe them do on the floor or the front lines, etc. (performance notes). For example, one time I received a compliment from a manager of another department about an employee under me. I made the note on the employee’s log. You may share this with the employees during your one-on-ones or your meeting. If it is a weakness, place a plan of action to help the employee correct the deficiency in his or her performance.
  6. Record and file everything – counseling, mentoring or coaching sessions, disciplinary procedures, positive or negative feedback from a customer (internal and external). Regardless of how small it is, log it. Here you may see some trends in an employee’s work habits that will enable you to act promptly and accordingly.
  7. Write the performance appraisal report utilizing all the tools you have (performance notes, one-on-ones, employee folder, mentoring/coaching notes, training and development logs, career development/employee’s performance journal). When you write your performance appraisal, make sure your remarks support your rating. If you marked the employee “Exceptional” or “Exceeds Expectations” the comments or remarks should support this. If you marked them less than acceptable, provide specific examples. For instance, instead of a mere “Has good customer service” change it to “Highly sought after by customers. Received 20 positive feedbacks and 5 letters of commendation.” One time I saw an old performance appraisal done by a manager to a supervisor where the former rated the latter 3.0 straight from top to bottom (3.0 being the highest or Exceeds Expectations) without a single comment. And, this appraisal was even several months late!
  8. Put your time, energy and mind/heart into writing the performance appraisal report. Remember that you are judging a person based on a year’s worth of performance. You can do this by starting early and by diligently making performance notes throughout the year. Avoid using generic phrases. Do not copy from last year’s appraisal report. And, do not copy someone else’s appraisal as well. That is just called laziness and is unfair to your employees.
  9. Finish your report early, so that it can go through the review route without delay. This will ensure that the team member gets the appraisal on time. Most appraisals affect raises or bonuses, so it is important that performance appraisals are completed on time if not early.
  10. Celebrate with the team member! Take the team member out for lunch and celebrate together. You may give him or her an overview or summary of the performance appraisal report during lunch and go over the review in more detail when you get back to the office.
  11. Make performance appraisal sessions as learning sessions. Read each section well and ensure the team member understands what it says and why he or she was rated that way. I normally use a sandwich approach. First, I point out all the strengths in the performance, followed by the areas of improvement and some plans I have for the following year to help the employee become better, then I close it with positive and optimistic summary. Give the employee an opportunity to say something or even to write his or her own remarks at the end of the performance appraisal report.
  12. Start the cycle again by letting the team member of the dates for the next quarterly one-on-ones, so both of you can build up on the next year’s performance appraisal.

When you follow this system, I guarantee that your employees will be motivated and highly productive. Many team members (including my bosses) complimented and thanked me for writing very detailed appraisal reports. I just give the compliments back to the employees telling them that they are the ones who write the contents of their performance appraisals. I just go to a computer and type them!

Further reading recommendation: “Appraising the Performance Appraisal.”

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3 thoughts on “How to Write a Performance Appraisal for Star Performers

  1. Pingback: Appraising the Performance Appraisal | Just James

  2. Great blog, James. Creating performance appraisal standards based on competencies identified as critical for success is also an important ingredient. Instead of using Excel, organizations like TalentQuest in Atlanta have perfected the performance appraisal process and solutions like this can be used to calibrate performance across the organization.

    • Thank you, Jay. How I wish many organizations would put emphasis in helping team members improve their competencies instead of treating performance appraisals as merely another routine that needs to get done. They can surely learn a lot from TalentQuest. Thanks for sharing.

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