Appraisal is probably one of the least popular of all organisational processes. Yet it remains a key tool in the performance management cycle. Done well, it proves to be an invaluable service in enhancing organisational performance and individual development.

Central to performance management is the annual performance review discussion. The appraisal is a comprehensive annual interview between a manager and his employees where successful collaboration is based on open and transparent communication between the two parties.

The interview provides an opportunity to take a step back from day-to-day business and establish an overall picture of the employee’s performance expectations and potential. This includes a review of the employee’s performance and development over the last working year as well as jointly agreeing on future expectations for his work and learning outcomes.

The success of the processes depends on the quality of personal interviews between the two parties. A particularly good illustration and effective general model for the interview procedure is the “iceberg model”.

This easy-to-remember model illustrates how every interview has two levels of information exchange: the “above water” level which is the factual, spoken content; and the “underwater” non-verbalised level of both parties’ feelings.

For example, the fears and concerns of appraisees regarding a specific situation are frequently left unspoken. Resistance and indifference also often remain ignored initially. In the interview situation between supervisor and employee, the supervisor must assume that the employee will be reluctant to speak up and reveal negative feelings.

The starting point of the appraisal is obviously to discuss the past year’s goal achievements with the employee. In every case, observing and discussing the following points is important for a fair interview on employee goal achievement:

•  What goals and key tasks have been achieved or not achieved?

•  How should these results be assessed?

•  What led to success and failure?

•  What can be learnt for the future?

In the second step, new goals are agreed for the coming year. The more precise the formulation of desired outcomes, the less discussion there will be over how well the goal or key task was achieved.

The success of a goal agreement system depends more than anything on choosing the right goal content. The focus of goals will be goals and key tasks from everyday business — so-called standard and maintenance targets. Many functional units define benchmarks or key performance indicators (KPIs) for this purpose.

In the annual performance appraisal, the appraiser provides summarised feedback on the appraisee’s conduct and demonstrated competencies. This has several aims:

•  The employee receives recognition of his work over the past year;

•  Feedback discussions from during the year are summarised;

•  Positive and possibly improved approaches by the employee are reinforced; and

•  Issues around inefficient working habits are raised and addressed.

The employee receives a personal performance rating from his manager’s perspective to know where he stands and what is expected of him in the long term.

Article by Chris Fenney, co-founder and director of Training Edge International. He has more than 35 years of experience in training and management development, and specialises in human resources. Contact him via or