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Let's talk. Staff appraisals - preparation, implementation and pitfalls

The old year is over and the new year is slowly gaining momentum. In many organisations, this also means that employee appraisals are on the agenda. Although employee appraisals are a key management tool, they are often neglected in many organisations. Main reason number 1: Well-managed appraisal interviews take time. In this article, we will look at what is involved in good appraisal preparation, how appraisal interviews should be structured, the pitfalls and how you can avoid them.

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Management Summary

Staff appraisals are a key management tool

Staff appraisals are an important management tool. They offer - if well managed - a trusting framework for regular communication, on an equal footing.

No matter how the company is organised and what style it is run in, communication with each other is essential - this communication is important for entrepreneurial success. Why? Regular honest communication

  • creates transparency and thus trust
  • is appreciative
  • brings together different perspectives and thereby provides fresh impetus
  • gives room for feedback and thus enables further development

Therefore, dear leaders, use this valuable tool. Do not see appraisal interviews as a time waster or a necessary evil, but as an opportunity for a genuine culture of dialogue and the basis for productive and trusting cooperation.

Read this article to find out how to prepare and conduct the interviews.

Why are appraisal interviews indispensable?

The benefits of appraisal interviews

Managers who regularly take time for appraisal interviews and thus for their employees show respect for the individual and thus lay the foundation for a trusting cooperation.

Supervisors who live a real culture of dialogue hold a weekly 30-minute jour fixe with each team member. In these meetings, goals are defined, structured feedback is given, goal achievements are recorded and current issues are discussed.

The potential benefits of such a culture of dialogue are manifold. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Basis for trusting cooperation
  • Increased work effectiveness through recurring target focus
  • Improved work efficiency through regular feedback
  • Strong reduction of the approach of saying things briefly in passing
  • Information transparency for boss and employees
  • Good feeling for the atmosphere in the team
  • Continuous development of employees

How should I prepare staff appraisals?

Preparation of staff appraisals

Good interview preparation consists of three pillars:

Content preparation

  • Define the objective of the conversation
  • Collect arguments, facts, examples
  • Search for documents, such as a job profile for the position.
  • Take a change of perspective
  • Determine time requirement

Organisational preparation

  • Coordinate appointment
  • Block time
  • Reserve room
  • Send documents for preparation
  • Exclude interference

Mental preparation (attitude)

  • I want to understand the other's perspective
  • The interlocutor is part of the solution (especially important in difficult conversations)

What should be included in the preparation of the content of staff appraisals?

Content preparation

Before you prepare the appointment organisationally, you should ask yourself central questions about the content:

Objective of the conversation / desired result (What?)

What do I want to have achieved at the end of the conversation?

Benefit / Sense (Why?)

Why is this outcome of the conversation important? What is the risk for me if we do not achieve it?

Aim of the employee

What is the employee's goal?

View of the employee

What questions / arguments / objections could the employee bring that are crucial for the desired result?

Success factors (How?)

What will be crucial to reach a common / my desired outcome?


How much time do we need to achieve this common / desired outcome?

Time (When?)

How long does the employee need to be well prepared for the interview?

When is therefore the earliest possible time for this conversation?

Atmosphere (How?)

Where should we have the conversation to achieve the common / desired outcome?

What else is crucial to create a supportive atmosphere for conversation?

What does the organisational preparation of staff appraisals involve?

Organisational preparation

Some framework conditions for organisational preparation result from the answers to the questions on content. In the run-up to a corresponding appointment invitation, the question: "What should my employee know so that we can start our conversation on time and prepared?" is crucial.

How can I prepare myself mentally for appraisal interviews?

Mental preparation

In addition to preparing for the interview in terms of organisation and content, it is important that you adjust mentally to the interlocutor. This is especially crucial for a conversation if the chemistry between you and the person you are talking to is not one hundred percent or if the occasion for the conversation is a critical one.

Even if it may sound paradoxical to you, the attitude that "the other person is part of the solution" is decisive in order to have a conversation on an equal footing, especially during criticism or dismissal. 

Especially if your interlocutor has made a mistake, he will only change his behaviour and avoid the mistake in the future if he is part of the solution. But if you see the employee as part of the problem, you will radiate this and get exactly what you don't want, an employee who continues to be part of the problem.

In his books "Creator of Reality" and "A New Me", the American scientist and author Dr. Joe Dispenza goes into the basics of quantum physics in an understandable way and outlines the effects on us and what we get from life. Energy always responds to focused attention. So, if they see the employee as a problem, they reinforce the problematic side of the employee. If you see him as part of the solution and act accordingly, you have a good chance of laying the foundation for a change in the employee's behaviour.

How do I conduct a good appraisal interview?

Conducting staff appraisals

We have summarised below how an appraisal interview can be structured and which questions managers can use to guide you through such an interview.

In principle, the following structure applies to every conversation:

  • "Door opener" and opening remarks
  • Name the objective of the conversation
  • Enquire about employee views
  • Mental check: To what extent does the employee's view coincide with your own?
  • Highlight commonalities, explain differences in a comprehensible way
  • Work out a solution together
  • Define further procedure
  • Make a binding agreement
  • Ending the conversation in an appreciative way

What should be considered in staff appraisals?

Pitfalls in staff appraisals

In the process of planning and conducting staff appraisals, there are some pitfalls you can avoid:

Pitfall #1: Time planning before content planning

Most managers plan a standard 60 minutes for appraisal interviews without thinking about what they want to discuss in the interview and how much time they realistically need for the interview. You can avoid this by applying first the "what", then the "how".

Pitfall #2: Surprise for the employee

If the employee and you have very large discrepancies as to which goals or task priorities are defined or how performance is evaluated, in most cases there is a deficient feedback structure and insufficient communication.

Basically, there should be no big surprises in the staff appraisals, as an open exchange of information and a constructive and regular feedback culture ensure a similar level of information.

Pitfall #3: Disturbances

It is not only embarrassing when the mobile phone rings, it is also disrespectful. Therefore, it is an absolute must for both conversation partners that disturbances caused by mobile phone or telephone ringing, quick e-mail checking or WhatsApp writing are excluded. Furthermore, in addition to a confidential atmosphere, it must also be ensured that other colleagues do not enter the office or meeting room without being asked.

Pitfall #4: Soft and unspecific messages

Do you know the situation? You like your colleague, but still have to give him or her critical feedback or refuse a request? And so that your colleagues don't hold it against you, you use as many softeners as you can.

In our article "Actually, you should try" we have written about this in detail and give concrete tips for clear, authoritative language.

  • Replace the word "would" with "will".
  • Use "please" and "thank you" instead of "actually" and "maybe" for polite communication.
  • Designate clear responsibilities such as "you", "we" or the name and address those responsible directly.
  • Communicate concrete deadlines by which things will be done.

It also helps if you use concrete examples to support what you have said. Especially when it comes to evaluating performance in appraisal interviews, it helps if you take notes during the year that you can use in the annual appraisal.

Pitfall #5: Speaking in the heat of the moment and under the influence of stress hormones

You can put your foot in it especially when talking about criticism. Therefore, the rule of thumb is: Never talk in the heat of the moment, but sleep on it. This helps you to analyse the situation with distance, to write down facts and to see the other person as part of the solution.

In addition, your stress hormones have depleted overnight. Your brain is no longer in a hormonal fog. As a result, you can also access abilities that lie outside our three primal instincts fight, flight or play dead. This ensures your professionalism as a leader and contributes significantly to a constructive discussion atmosphere.

Tip: Try to find a quality that you really like about this employee. This facilitates your attitude of "the employee is part of the solution".

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