An article in 1983 stated “the appraisal interview is the Achilles’ heel in the entire [appraisal] process” [Public Personnel Management, Winter, 1983] and not a lot has changed. I do empathise with line managers who may have been promoted from a more technical role into a line management position, often without being coached in management and the delicacies of communication. New managers may fall foul of ‘learning from experience’ and replicate the manner in which their own appraisals were carried out, warts and all.

There is much talk about the appraisal being replaced with regular feedback sessions, regardless of whether this is the case or not, there is a fundamental need for specific and constructive communication.  Effective feedback or appraisals, in the work environment really requires a masterclass in the art of communication. Frequently, line managers are ill-equipped to convey important messages addressing the emotive topics of performance, bonus, salary and promotion, particularly, if it’s deemed contentious in any way. The importance of the appraisal in an employee’s development, career progression and engagement, mandates that it is undertaken sincerely and accurately, in a manner which is both factual, objective and future-focused. This is no mean feat!

The business should recognise the importance of furnishing managers with the skills to undertake an appraisal in a conducive manner to ensure that the appraisal is optimised and the outcomes are authentic and trusted. In brief and just considering communication:

  • Be Prepared – it’s important to be ready for likely topics particularly those which may be perceived as negative and to not only have factual examples as ‘evidence’ but also the language you require to describe these events fairly and concisely.
  • Rehearse – part of the preparation process is the need to rehearse those parts of the conversation which may prove more problematic, be clear on the message you want to convey and choose the key words you want to use. It should not be a script rather an aide memoir.
  • Be Present – this does not refer to being face-to-face as this has been assumed as a basic requirement and it’s not enough to just to listen to your employee, be present. Most people listen to answer, formulating responses while the employee is talking and you should in fact, be listening to hear. Be attentive, observe and silence your inner conversation, justification, argument and really engage with your employee.
  • Be in Rapport – being in rapport is so much more than just mirroring body language and will be so much easier if you are truly present.
  • Be Robust – it is essential that the language you use is aligned with the message you want to convey; you will want to avoid choosing words which muddle, confuse and weaken a difficult message, in an attempt to make it more palatable.
  • Reframe – its important that the employee leaves with a constructive message, therefore you should consider how you will tackle negative or emotional responses and mind-sets; using a positive reframe will change your employee’s focus to one which is more productive.

The appraisal is a critical component of an employee’s annual calendar, it reflects on their performance and influences their career path and progression, it directly impacts their engagement with the organisation, affects their motivation and contributes to their financial well-being. Given the magnitude of the appraisal interview in the people management ‘lifecycle’, managers should not only ensure due diligence but be better equipped to conduct the process with care, empathy and expertise to ensure the employee has a fair, thoughtful and constructive experience. If the appraisal interview is handled well then, all stakeholders including, essentially the business, will benefit.

For more information on effective communication contact:

Lindsey at The NineDot Partnership Ltd: