How to Write Performance Appraisals

You probably dread them—just like this writer—but you can't avoid them. Some tips.

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I hate performance appraisals with a burning passion. I hate giving them—I hate receiving them. I just hate them. When they involve me, that is. For everyone else, I think they are fabulous and should be done more often.

I think I'm not alone in my feelings. Many people face performance appraisal season with dread and fear. This is largely because managers haven't been preparing for this all year. They just go along hoping that they'll find new jobs before performance appraisal time. But, alas, year end is creeping up, and you haven't gotten yourself fired, so you have to write and give the darn things. If you've been a slacker throughout the year in tracking your direct reports' actions, here are some tips for writing your appraisals:

1. Require them to write a self-appraisal. Please note that "require" is in bold. This is the most important tip for making a manager's appraisal-writing job easier. Unless you are one of those annoying, ineffective micro-managers, you most likely don't know everything your people have done during the year. Good employees do what needs to be done without running everything by their managers. So, make sure they write those so you have a better idea what they did.

2. Keep in mind that there will be exaggeration in the self-appraisal. Perhaps I should have said that there "may be" exaggeration, but the principle still stands: Don't take everything they write with blind faith.

3. Ask your employees' clients about their performance. What did you say? They don't have clients because you are in finance? Hogwash. Finance works with all different departments. Who do you meet with? Who do your employees meet with? Speak with them.

4. Look through your sent E-mails. You've forgotten a lot. Trust me. Look through them and see what happened.

5. Don't fall into the look-at-only-the-last-30-days trap. Now, I would tell you to work extra hard the 30 days before appraisals are due so your boss will think you are brilliant, but don't fall into that trap with your people. Try to look at the whole year.

6. If you set goals for the year, refer back to them and base your appraisal on that.

7. When it's all written, send a copy to your employees before you meet with them. Why? Because anything negative you have to say (and most likely even your star performers have a couple of areas for improvement) will go across much better if they've had time to think about it. If you just present it in a meeting, they are immediately on the defensive and feel like they've been blindsided. So, let them read it, ponder it, and then meet with them.

Next week, I'll give you a few tips to make next year's appraisal writing a piece of cake. I promise. It will be so easy, you'll wish you had thought of it sooner.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of Human Resources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.

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