How do I start the appraisal discussion with an individual who has a great deal of experience and has worked for the company much longer than I have?

The process is essentially the same as it is with anyone else.

The fact that a subordinate is olderor younger, or a different religion, or a different shoe sizeis irrelevant. Age, religion, and shoe sizes don't correlate with performance, and that's the only thing that the appraiser needs to be concerned with.

But appraisers sometimes inappropriately defer to the individual who has been around for many yearsthe old-timer who years ago bounced the CEO on his knee when the company's founder brought him to the office as a three-year-old child. True, longevity and organizational memory are virtues, but performance is what counts in performance appraisal.

The fact is that as the manager, you are the individual's boss. Even though Charlie may have been around since Noah and can tell you how things were run long before you were born, you have the responsibility of assessing and reviewing his performance.

Hot Tip

The best way to deal with the highly experienced individual is to get right to the point at the start of the appraisal discussion: "Frank, you've been through this drill many times before. Let's not waste any time on small talk. How do you think your department compares with where it was last year?" Then shut up and listen, and proceed as you would with anybody else.

It's easy to discuss the performance appraisal when the individual and I are in agreement. But what do I do when we disagree about something important?

Even when the manager and the individual agree about the quality of the individual's performance in one of the areas assessed in the appraisal, there are still some useful procedures to make sure that the agreement reinforces and encourages performance excellence. And when there's disagreement, several suggestions will make it easier to resolve differences and build a solid understanding:

For Areas of Agreement:

- Acknowledge the merits of the employee's reactions.

- Add additional information of your own.

- Point out where similar ratings are based on different facts or reasoning if this exists.

For Areas of Disagreement:

- Begin with your higher ratings.

- Proceed toward your lower ratings.

- Respond to employee's earlier appraisal.

- Give specific examples.

- State your reasons.

- Use active listening.

- Take extra time and care with sensitive issues.

- Remember John Dillinger's advice.

Tell Me More

Areas of Agreement. It's always easier to discuss a performance appraisal when you and the individual agree, particularly when the two of you agree that the individual's work has been well done. But even then it's important to continue the discussion further and not just let it go at, "Well, we both agree that the Tompkins project was a major success . . . let's move on to consider some other items."

Even when they agree with a subordinate's assessment that a particular project or goal was successfully achieved, wise managers probe for the reasons the individual attributes to the cause of the success. "What do you think caused that project to be such a success, Jim?" the manager asks. Then she listens to see whether Jim's understanding of the cause of the successes are the same as hers.

It may be that Jim's reasoning about the cause of his success is different from that of the manager. Jim may say, "I think the primary reason that things worked out so well is that I closely monitored each of the decisions that the client made all the way through the project." The manager, on the other hand, may acknowledge that close monitoring was a minor cause of project success but explain that, as she saw it, a much more important reason was the recommendation that Jim made early in the project that a cross-functional team be set up to make all of the significant decisions during the course of the project. Explaining her point of view to Jim will allow him to learn even more from the success of the engagement, andmore importantwill prevent him from assuming that the cause of his success was a factor or condition that the manager knows to be irrelevant.

Areas of Disagreement. In most performance appraisal discussions, probably more time will be spent exploring areas of disagreement than discussing those parts of the individual's performance where both parties agree that the job was well done.

Managers who are skilled at delivering performance appraisals have learned to review the appraisal from the employee's point of view before they sit down for the discussion. They ask themselves: Where is the individual likely to agree with what I have written, whether the assessment is positive or negative? Which parts are likely to provoke disagreement? Which areas of disagreement will be resolved most quickly; which will be likely to produce a significant amount of resistance?

In constructing the agenda for the appraisal discussion, don't start the discussion with the item that is likely to produce the greatest amount of disagreement. That's why, in the sample script of the opening for an effective performance review discussion, the manager said:

I think the most effective way is to start by discussing those areas where you and I generally agree. Then we'll talk about those in which our views seem to differ. I'll give you my reasons, and I want to get your point of view.

That's a smart approach. As the manager, you're running the show. You have the right to decide what order you want to discuss items on the appraisal, as long as all of the items are fully considered.

Don't jump to the most contentious one first. Even in areas where you and the individual don't see exactly eye-to-eye, there will still be some areas where you are closer in your perceptions than in others. Begin with the easier items and move toward the more difficult.

Hot Tip

Another good reason for asking each of your subordinates to prepare an achievements list to begin the performance assessment process is that this list will alert you to areas where disagreement is likely to arise. If Harry writes down that his negotiation of the Smithfield contract was one of his greatest accomplishments for the year, and you know that the terms he negotiated were a disaster for the company, you are forewarned that this is an area where there is likely to be a significant amount of disagreement. Similarly, if Joanne's list of achievements is very short and contains items such as, "There were several weeks when I wasn't late to work once," you know that you'll be spending quite a bit of time during the appraisal discussion educating her on the performance standards the company has for its employees.

There is a magic phrase that leads to success in discussing performance, particularly in those cases where the individual's performance has failed to meet the manager's expectations. The magic phrase is: "For example . . ."

For each item where the individual is likely to disagree, make sure that you have some examples that support your less-than-ideal rating. The poorer the performance, the more examples you should have available.

The most convincing examples should be used in the written narrative itself. But be sure to have others available, so that during the discussion you're able to say, "In addition to what I wrote in your appraisal, Evelyn, I also saw some other areas where you didn't deliver the kind of customer service that we would like all of our product service managers to provide. First there was the incident. . ."

Active listening is critical in this phase of the performance appraisal discussion. The manager needs to state her rationale for the low rating, provide specific examples that support that decision, and then be quiet and listen to what the employee has to say. Frequently the employee's initial rejection of the manager's assessment may change once the person has had a chance to be fully heard and understood.

Restating the employee's position is a very effective technique. Responding to an employee's argument that a given appraisal rating is inappropriately low, the manager might say, "You feel that I gave excess weight to the poor result that we got on the client survey and not enough weight to the fact that you didn't have all of the resources that we might have allocated to the project?" Note that the manager is not agreeing with the employee that the weighting was inappropriate or that the rating was wrong. All the manager is trying to do is to gain a solid understanding of how the employee views the situation.

Restating the employee's viewpoint to ensure a common understanding will help prevent wasted time spent in arguing over a misunderstanding. Reflecting the individual's feelings can also help bring about resolution. "You feel slighted because you don't feel that I gave your projects as much attention as I did to those of other people in the department . . ." communicates that the manager has been listening closely to what the employee has to say and has the ability to understand and appreciatenot agree withthe employee's point of view.

Finally, remember John Dillinger's advice. Dillinger, the 1930s bank robber and most-wanted man, once advised, "Before you rob your first bank, knock off a couple of gas stations." His point applies to scheduling performance appraisal discussions: Before you hold the discussion with the individual whose appraisal review is going to be the most difficult, start off by conducting the reviews of those who have performed well and those where there will be little chance of challenge or argument. Build up your skills on the easy ones before proceeding to the most difficult.

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