Why do most appraisal programs call for formal reviews during the year?

Such meetings ensure that you discuss your employee's performance and review progress toward set objectives. These sessions— semiannually, quarterly, or every four months—enable you to identify problems and come up with action plans to get the employee back on course. The final assessment is done at the end of the year.

How should I best approach quarterly meetings?

You can approach these meetings as problem-solving sessions, in which you identify gaps in performance and discuss with the employee how these performance gaps can be addressed. Or you can use the appraisal form that your firm uses and go down the list of each goal or standard to discuss progress to date. Or you can begin on a positive note, pointing to accomplishments over the past few months, then go into more depth, pointing to both strengths and weaknesses in performance during the quarter. If there have been some significant accomplishments by the employee during the past quarter, you should conclude by congratulating him on these. This is particularly so if performance has improved over previous review periods. On the other hand, if the session involved some change in goals or development of an action plan to address some performance weaknesses, you can wind up the quarterly session by assuring the employee that you think he or she is capable of accomplishing the new or renewed goals set.

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Whatever the approach you take, be sure to give your employees time to prepare for these meetings, too. They need to assess their actions in the past quarter and, perhaps, come with new objectives or suggestions of their own. When you set up the meeting—at least a week in advance—tell them to be ready to discuss their performance, as well as any other concerns.

At these meetings, provide time for the employee to offer a self-assessment. Ask the individual what he or she would identify as strengths and what he or she would consider areas needing improvement. Then it's your turn—but remember that the meeting is not a monologue, so give the employee the opportunity to comment as you speak. With the agreed-upon objectives and performance factors in front of you both, cover problem areas or work your way down the list. After discussing each item, identify further steps that need to be taken to achieve the goal. Now is the time to bring up negative incidents related to achieving the objectives. Don't hit on everything; focus on one or two at most. You don't want to dwell on past mistakes; rather, you want to look toward future job improvements.

If you have identified serious problems in the employee's performance, you should schedule another meeting immediately thereafter to address these problems. Otherwise, you will write your conclusions on the performance form, share the document with the employee, and ask the employee to sign the form as evidence that he agrees with your report and conclusions reached.

Throughout this meeting, other quarterly sessions, and the end-of-year review, have your documentation handy. If an employee questions the review, be prepared to show documentation or notes you have maintained about the employee. Generally, well-reported incidents will convince the employee that your assessment is accurate. If the employee still disagrees, don't try to pressure him or her. Make clear that you are willing to change your review if the employee can convince you that you are wrong. Never be afraid to admit a mistake. And let the employee know that you can change your opinion for the better before the year-end evaluation.

End the meeting with a constructive message. If problems were identified, wind up the session by saying, "I'll be here to help you if you need it."

 
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