The Problem with Performance Appraisals

Oh yeah, another article about it...

Nearly everybody hates performance appraisals. It’s a topic that has been written about and discussed ad nauseum by just about everyone in the industry.  It seems like everybody is trying to come up with a fancy and shiny new system.

I’ve written about how to do them and how to make them better several times.

And this week I’m going to add one more article into the mix based on a podcast I listened to the other day.

The podcast is Manager Tools (Mark and Mike) and this week’s episode is titled “Don’t Get Rid of Your Performance Review”.  I was fascinated by their take and ended up really studying what they had to say by listening to it several times and studying the show notes (available only to licensees).

Now they are big believers of performance appraisals, but only if done effectively, of course. They think organizations getting rid of them is ridiculous.  And I agree.  

They, like most, think that the system is broken and place a large part of the blame on HR, the owners/managers of the system, because we “regularly talk them (the appraisals) down” in our organizations. I certainly agree with this statement as I hear it at every SHRM meeting I attend.

HR also likes to change the form every couple of years so that they can show a big project initiative accomplished for their annual appraisal. But, unfortunately, changing the system seriously damages the ability for the organization to collect the all important trend data we need to to make important personnel and succession decisions.  

They give a nice bit of history about performance appraisals. Some version of performance appraisals have been around for thousands of years, according to my research, but Corporate America started borrowing heavily from the Army’s system shortly after WWII, according to Mark. The rapid growth of these organizations necessitated a system to help them grow so they looked to the US Army as the model.

In the Army, appraisals were never intended to be seen by the person being evaluated. They were only seen by the evaluator and his superiors. The purpose of the appraisal was for succession planning should the ranking officer be killed in battle. The Army, of course, would need to know who would be the next up to take command, a pretty important thing, right?

There was, frankly, no need for the appraisals to be shared because the Army had the system in place where soldiers received ongoing and constant feedback about their performance and conduct. There was never a question and soldiers always knew where they stood.  

Organizations who adopted the system soon realized, however, that their managers did a very poor job of giving their direct reports regular ongoing feedback so the “obvious” answer was to start sharing the performance appraisal with them. It was felt that they should at least get some sort of feedback at least once a year.

Rather than organizations training and following up with their managers to provide ongoing regular feedback and building relationships with their direct reports, they took the easy path of just requiring the annual performance appraisal.

Now while Mark and Mike put most of the blame of why the system is broken onto HR and only a little on managers, I would say it’s evenly split between the two. I’ve been in both shoes and, honestly, HR can only do so much especially when managers don’t fully support the system. (Maybe because HR has screwed it up so bad? I don’t know)

I would love to have the managers I support give ongoing regular feedback to our direct reports and the performance appraisal simply be an end-of-year summary that won’t be a surprise.

It is my experience that most managers don’t want to do the difficult and time consuming work of building effective professional relationships with their direct reports in order to establish trust and credibility. I wrote about a similar topic with HR having to build a foundation to establish trust and credibility.  Managers need to do this with their direct reports.

Remember the purpose of the performance appraisal is Talent Management and Succession Planning.

While it’s now very trendy these days for HR departments and companies to dump the performance appraisal, ironically, they are replacing them with regular ongoing feedback. They are, hopefully, training their managers to effectively deliver this feedback and building relationships  in addition to monitoring it. This goes back full circle to the Army officers who were trained to give regular ongoing feedback to their soldiers.

The only way to fix performance appraisals is to train your managers to build effective relationships and give effective regular and ongoing feedback to their direct reports. Senior leadership and HR must also monitor and measure that it is happening ( remember – what gets measured gets done). Then conduct the annual performance appraisal as an additional measurement of your talent management and succession planning strategy.   

This was part one of the Manager Tools podcast series on Performance Reviews and after reading the show notes there is a lot of other good stuff I will review and comment on in the coming weeks.

An Interesting Alternative to the Traditional Annual Performance Appraisal

Adobe's Check-in Performance Approach

It’s a new year and now that the holidays are over, it’s time to start thinking about everybody’s favorite topic – THE PERFORMANCE APPRAISAL!


I’ve written extensively about the traditional annual performance appraisal and believe there is a place for it in certain organizations but I also think it’s time to explore something new and innovative that will be more effective in today’s modern workplace.

There’s a lot of talk about scrapping the performance appraisal altogether. I’m starting to believe that the traditional annual PA is becoming obsolete in today’s modern workplace. There still needs to be some sort of tool, however, to set employee objectives and expectations and then to measure how the employee did against those expectations.

Today, I’m going to explore an alternative to the annual performance appraisal that, in my opinion, is one of the better systems. I did some research and landed on one that seems to be the best, Adobe’s Check-in Performance Approach.

There are three components that make up the Check-in Framework. It’s important to note that the Framework emphasizes that it is the employee’s responsibility to take ownership of their career. I love this approach because it aligns very closely to a similar feedback system I’ve been using and refining in the field for years called Responsibility Based Performance, something I will write about in the future.

1. Expectations, which is driven by the manager. This is where the manager works closely with the employee to establish the employee’s expectations and goals. The manager also helps the employee clarify their role, responsibilities, and success criteria throughout the year.

The first step in any sort of performance appraisal discussion is the need to establish clear expectations and objectives. The Check-in Framework is no different. Employees want to know exactly what’s expected of them and how their performance aligns with the organization’s objectives.

Employees and managers need to meet annually to establish and outline the employee’s objectives in writing. The objectives should be clear to both the manager and employee on what needs to be accomplished and how it should be accomplished. Once the objectives have been agreed upon, they will need to be reviewed and refined throughout the year. The frequency of this periodic review will depend on the department or business unit.

In order to hold everybody accountable to this Framework, employees will need to be surveyed several times throughout the year to make sure they have set expectations with their managers and are having regular follow-up meetings to review and refine their objectives. It is also critical that senior leaders show their support for the program and are following up to make sure this is happening.

2. Feedback, which is driven by both the manager and the employee. Feedback is the key to the entire Framework and will require the most amount of training. This is where both the manager and the employee give and receive ongoing feedback. The manager also provides ongoing and timely feedback that recognizes good performance and works to improve and address performance issues.

Again, feedback is the key to the entire Framework and is the most difficult component to get right. It will require quite a bit of training of the organization’s managers and follow-up by HR in order to get it right. The goal with the feedback component is to have employees at all levels of the organization give and receive feedback.

Feedback needs to be timely and relevant to the needs of the business and the employee. It needs to be given with the honest intention of helping the employee understand that they are doing a good job or that they need to improve. Remember also that feedback should be both positive and constructive.

If employees are not meeting their objectives or performing up to their expectations, they will need to enter into the organization’s corrective action process.

Adobe uses the Specifics, Ask, Impact, Do (SAID) model of giving feedback.

Specifics – State what the person has or has not done by using concrete examples.
Ask – Ask open ended questions to understand their perspective. (How do you see the situation? Did I contribute to the problem in some way?)
Impact – Express the impact on the business, team, or you. When framed as a means to reach a specific business goal, it becomes an opportunity to solve a problem or understand how their actions impacted the business directly.
Do – State what needs to continue or change.

I also strongly recommend taking a look at the Manager Tools Feedback Model for advice on how to give effective feedback. It’s similar to SAID but leaves out the Ask element.

Its also worth taking a look at my friend Morag Barret’s recent article on delivering tough feedback.

Again, to hold everybody accountable, employees will need to be surveyed throughout the year to make sure they are receiving regular feedback from their manager. Senior leadership will also need to support and follow up to make sure this is happening.

3. Growth & Development, which is driven by the employee, supported by the manager, and enabled by the organization. Here, the organization and manager must provide opportunities to the employee to develop and increase their skills, knowledge, and experience in their current role. These opportunities, of course, must be aligned with the business needs of the organization and the employee’s individual ambitions.

The organization must provide a work environment that encourages and helps employees grow and develop their skills and knowledge as it relates to the organization’s business. Giving them different job experiences, providing training and opportunities are ways to help employees expand their skills in their current roles and to develop them for future roles within the organization.

The skills and knowledge that are being developed must, of course, align with the needs and objectives of the organization in order for the employee’s growth and development to be relevant and actionable.

The organization should create a form that will help employees communicate their interests, career goals, and professional aspirations. The employee and manager should discuss these so that the appropriate opportunities can be provided by the organization and supported by the manager.

Once again, to hold everybody accountable, employee surveys will need to be taken to measure the effectiveness of the Growth & Development component as it relates to employee engagement.

I really like this Framework and would love to help an organization implement a version of it. It’s an innovative system that would be very effective measuring employee performance and developing employees in today’s modern workplace.

As a reminder, last week I started a new feature called the HHHR Weekly Survey (using SurveyGizmo) where I survey my readers and listeners on the current blog post and podcast. Remember to take the survey I’ve included for this post which is located on the top of the sidebar or can be found by clicking here.

Week Seven of the PA Cycle: Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives


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Here we are at the final week of the PA cycle. Whew! It’s been a lot of hard work but also very rewarding because you’re almost done with this very important project for the company.

Although this is the final week, there is still a lot of work to be done. Dangit!

This final week is when your managers are finishing up delivering the PAs to their direct reports and finalizing their Objectives. Frankly, they should be done but in reality, there will be some managers that haven’t even started delivering their PAs.

Again, I make Wednesday the deadline day. You’ll get approx 85% of the final PAs and Objectives back in by Wednesday and you’ll need to send out a gentle reminder reminding everybody that the deadline was Wednesday. This will spur several managers to get theirs in but your chronic procrastinators, more than likely the same procrastinators from the earlier deadline week will need to be reminded several times.

Here’s a copy of the email I send out on Thursday, the day after the deadline:

Subject Line: Missing PAs and Objectives

Hi Managers,

Thank you to all who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in by the deadline of February 24! I appreciate your efforts getting them in on time.

I still have a number of missing PAs and Objectives and would appreciate getting those completed by the end of the week.


This is the first post-deadline reminder email and it thanks those who got their final PAs and Objectives turned in on time and subtly reminds the procrastinators that the deadline has passed and you need their completed forms turned in.

This week is also when it’s particularly critical for you to be organized and keeping the PA and Objective Checklist updated as soon as the final forms are turned in to you. If you don’t stay organized as they are turned in, you’ll lose track and misplace documents and emails making you look bad to everybody in the company. You’ve put in a lot of work throughout the cycle so don’t let it fall apart in the end.

Forms will be turned in to you during the week as you are doing other work and you’ll have the tendency to put them aside until later when you have time. Instead of doing that, schedule several times a day where you stop doing what your doing  and get your filing done so that you don’t fall behind or you’ll end up with a huge stack to go through later in the month. You will need to know who’s turned their forms in and who hasn’t so  you can remind those who haven’t, and remind them, and remind them until they get them turned in. The only way to know is to have the Checklist updated and current and the forms properly filed.

This, of course, is the second Deadline Week in the cycle and it’s much more work intensive than the previous Deadline Week (week three) because you have a lot more moving parts.  You are having hard copies of the PA and Objectives turned in to you which need to be scanned and saved to the appropriate electronic files we set up during week three.  Remember that in week three, we established electronic files for each manager. Under each manager’s file, file the final PAs in folder named Final and the final objectives in the folder named Objectives.

Once you are done with the scanning and electronic filing, the paper copies need to be filed into the employees personnel file, if you use paper files.  If your personnel files are electronic, you’ll file them electronically.

It’s also very important to formally thank everybody for all the work they did during the cycle. Your managers dislike this process and if your organization is typical, people are never thanked enough and a sincere thank you will go a long way.

I usually send out the thank you email sometime the week after the deadline week and thank the entire management team for their work and efforts on the cycle. The email I sent out and described earlier in this post thanked them for making the deadline and reminded those that didn’t to get their forms turned in by the end of the week. This one is thanking them for their work and efforts and provides another opportunity to remind the procrastinators they are late.

Here is a copy of the email I send out:

Subject Line: Thank you and closing out the 2015 PA and Objective Setting Cycle


I want to thank everybody for their excellent efforts in successfully delivering the 20XX PA and Objective Setting Cycle! I know it’s a lot of hard work and something very few people look forward to doing. But it’s an important part of our jobs as we take the time to formally discuss and evaluate the asset that makes everything else work in our organization, our human capital.

Thank you to all those who completed and turned in your PAs and Objectives by the due date of 2/24 (or shortly thereafter!).

I will be sending out emails this morning to those managers who’s PAs and/or objectives I’m still missing. I would appreciate getting those completed and turned in to me ASAP so I can close out this year’s cycle.

Thanks again,

This email gives you a chance to remind everybody that you understand that nobody likes doing PAs and Objectives but that it’s a very important part of their jobs. It also reminds senior management of the importance of their Human Capital and that without the people in the organization, there is no organization. And, finally, the last sentence  reminds the super procrastinators to get their completed forms turned in and that I’ll be sending them a personal email with what they have missing.

I recommend that you email the procrastinators so you have documentation that you’ve communicated their tardiness. Although I prefer face to face or phone conversations, I’ve found the emails are more effective and provide cover if you are ever questioned why there are missing forms in the future – you will occasionally have those who never get this done no matter how hard you try.

Well crew, we are finished with the PA Cycle series. There are seven weeks to the cycle and I hope I did a decent job of explaining the mechanics of each week.

In future posts, I will go into detail of how to write an effective PA and how to establish employee objectives. I touched on some of this in the Training Week post and when I explained  the PA and Objective Setting forms but I need to go into more detail to properly tie out the PA cycle.

Week Six of the PA Cycle: Delivery Week

ID-10040852We’re getting near the end, Crew! This week is when the managers actually deliver the Performance Appraisals to their direct reports and finalize the upcoming year’s Objectives. This is the reason we did all the work the past five weeks! This is where it all comes together.

Let’s start off by explaining what employees expect from their PA. Every employee who works for a manager and organization wants the answer to three basic questions and during the Delivery Week, all three of these questions are answered as described below.

  1. The first is what do you expect of me? This is answered by establishing and finalizing the upcoming year’s objectives.
  2. The second is how am I doing at meeting your expectations? This is answered by delivering the PA based on the previous year’s performance.
  3. Finally, what do I need to do to meet expectations? This is answered when giving feedback during the objective setting and delivery of the PA on what the manager expects from the employee to meet the expectations of the manager and the organization.

In the HHHR PA Cycle, these three questions are answered at the beginning of each year, when managers sit down with their direct reports and discuss their objectives, expected behaviors, and key job responsibilities. This is done through establishing the employee’s Objectives during the PA cycle. During Week Two, Writing Week of the cycle, managers meet with their direct reports and start the discussion of setting objectives for the upcoming year. I will discuss the specifics of how to establish objectives in a later post.

An effective performance appraisal system is an important tool that gives the senior leaders of an organization the information they need to allow them to make some very important human capital decisions such as:

  • Which employees deserve a raise based on their performance over the previous year? Which employees shouldn’t?
  • Which employees should the organization promote? Can the organization promote them? Is there a position in the organization now or will there be one in the near future? If not, how can the organization retain these employees until there is a position?
  • What’s the depth of the organization’s internal talent? Are there people with the skills, experience, and/or potential the organization needs for the future? If not, what are the organization’s plans to hire or develop these people?
  • Who are the organization’s best performers and what are the plans to retain them? If no plans, it needs to be seriously discussed.
  • Who are the organization’s weakest performers and why are they still employed? Are any of them salvageable? Has their poor performance and conduct been documented? If not, why not?
  • And most importantly, in my opinion, an effective performance appraisal system requires managers to inform their employees of exactly what is expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations.

It’s a moral obligation.

Employees who don’t know what’s expected of them and how they are doing at meeting those expectations are not engaged and not nearly as effective as they could be. Unfortunately, this may be the one time in an entire year when an employee gets feedback on their performance from their manager.

In small organizations, there typically is not much of a training budget for “silly” things such as management training so this leaves a lot of your managers without the tools to provide effective feedback throughout the year. HHHR will provide some of those tools in the future but for now, the best tool we have is the annual Performance Appraisal where providing feedback at least once a year is better than nothing.

Since we are talking about the week where your managers are delivering the PA to their direct reports, here are some important steps to remind your managers to take in order to make the process worthwhile and effective for them, their direct report, and the organization.

  • Schedule and clearly communicate the time and place of the meeting with the employee. Do not call them into your office without warning and deliver the PA. Give them time to think about and prepare themselves. This should be an interactive two-way discussion. It’s not fair to ambush them with their PA. You’re doing all this work so that the employees perceive the process is fair, so don’t ruin it by not giving them a heads up.
  • Schedule at least a half hour for each PA. This should give you plenty of time to review the PA with your direct report without being rushed. You owe them that time so give it to them. Some of your PAs might take an hour and you probably will know which so schedule appropriately.
  • Sit on the same side of the desk or table as the employee, if possible. Don’t play the power game during this meeting where you are behind your desk in an elevated chair looking down at them while you deliver the PA. Get out from behind your desk and sit next to them. It shows respect which they will remember.
  • Do it in an office with the door closed, if possible. I understand that this may be difficult in some office environments but do everything you can to deliver the PA in a private room with the door closed. Nobody wants to have other employees overhear their PA being delivered to them.
  • Hibernate your computer, mute your phones, and dedicate 100% of your attention to the employee. Eliminate all distractions for this period of time and focus on your employee. The PA is very personal, show them the respect.
  • At the meeting, have two copies of the PA, one for you and one for employee. They need to be able to read the PA while you are going through it with them.
  • Establish some ground rules and before starting the meeting and review them with your direct report. Below are a few examples:
    • Promise to start and end the meeting on time but your willing to extend the meeting if needed.
    • There will be no comparisons to other employees.
    • Both of you promise to remain professional throughout the meeting.
    • Either of you can end the meeting or take a break at any time
    • Both of you promise to listen actively to each other when speaking.
    • Encourage your employee to ask questions if they don’t understand anything.
  • Review the message you want the employee to take from the meeting and make sure they clearly understand it by the end of the meeting. (More on this in a future post)
  • Show your employee the respect they deserve during the meeting.

Well, we have now completed Delivery Week and we have one more week to go in the PA cycle – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Week Five of the PA Cycle: Talent Review Meeting Week


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Here we are. Finally, its time to dive into the most important aspect of the PA cycle, the Talent Review Meeting!

So, with that, let’s go for it.

The TRM accomplishes the following things:

  • Ensures the fairness of the process by calibrating the scores of every employee in the organization.
  • Removes the pressure managers feel to inflate or deflate the ratings of direct reports.
  • Ensures the end results reflect a shared expectation of performance since managers often have different expectations for their people and interpret standards differently.
  • Reduces evaluation biases by forcing managers to justify and defend their decisions to their peers.
  • Increases employee perception that the process is fair.
  • Allows the organization to develop a succession plan with more complete performance information and data on each employee.
  • Assists managers by providing suggestions and guidance to the reviewing manager on how to present the PA to the employee or how to deal with any other issues or concerns.

Talent Review Meetings (TRMs) are where a Talent Review Board (TRB)consisting of a group of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order ensure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Particularly the 1s and 5s.

Now that the purpose of the TRM is understood, it’s time discuss the actual mechanics of it all.

Everything for the meeting was prepared last week – the ranking sheet has been filled out, the schedule has been communicated to the managers, and the notebooks have been built. So the focus this week is 100% on the TRMs.

Obviously, a private conference room will be needed because it’s important that the managers are comfortable having a free flowing and frank discussion about their and their peer’s employee’s performance and conduct. It’s also kinda important that employees can’t hear what is being said behind those doors!

At the start of each TRM, the following materials need to be handed out to each manager and discussed:

  1. The Purpose of the TRM listing the seven reasons why the TRM is an important part of the cycle (see the points above) along with a list of evaluation biases to look out for. Click here for the Purpose of the TRM document: Talent Review Meeting Purpose
  2. The PA Ranking Sheet for their specific TRM session which helps the TRB with their review and calibration. I provided the Ranking Sheet last week bit will do so again here: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)
  3. The Talent Review Notebook containing all the PAs for the TRB’s particular session.

HR is in charge of the meeting and is there to keep the proceedings professional, focused on the task, and on schedule.

Once the managers are seated and have been given the documents and notebook, they need to take a few minutes to study the PA Ranking Sheet and highlight the scores that, in their opinion and experience, seem out of place.

The process starts by HR and the members of the TRB opening up the TRM notebook and going to the PA of the first employee on the schedule. It’s best to schedule the strongest and/or most ‘HR supportive manager’ first. Meet with that manager beforehand to review what’s expected so they can be a model to the other managers.

HR should then say “Manager #1, Let’s start off by hearing about Employee #1 and why you scored them the way you did”. The manager will then go through, point by point, the Core Competencies and Objectives defending and giving the reasons behind each of the scores.

During their defense, HR and the managers making up the TRB should be asking questions and challenging the scores and comments that seem unusual, out of place, or those they don’t agree with.

At first, there probably won’t be much interaction as the managers will be afraid of stepping on each other’s toes. So it will be up to HR to model how the members of the TRB should behave. HR should question and probe for reasons why a manager scored their direct report taking special note of the 1s and 5s. Ask for specific reasons and examples from throughout the evaluation year of why they scored them the way they did.

Eventually, a couple managers will start getting it and will take over for you and start the heavy questioning and probing. And soon they will all start participating.

Also, refer to the Ranking Sheet and question the managers who score their direct reports lower than the average and those who score higher. The tough manager might have some of the organization’s best employees but will give them low scores compared to the others and visa versa, the generous manager might have some of the organization’s worst employees but give the very good scores compared to the others. This is where the manager and TRB make the appropriate adjustments to the scores in the PA as they work through it. This situation is very common at first but will correct itself as you continue with the TRMs in the future.

There will be times the manager won’t have a good reason why they scored the way they did. As they discuss, answer questions, and hear comments from other managers about their direct report’s performance and conduct, they will usually agree that the score should be changed. It can go both ways, up and down.

There will also be times when the manager feels strongly about the score despite what HR and the TRB thinks. This doesn’t happen often but when it does, it can get awkward and difficult. This is where HR needs to use their crucial conversational skills and help the TRB and manager make a final decision together. HR may have to accept the score or they may insist on changing it, it will depend on the situation and HR’s knowledge of the people involved. Remember, HR is in charge of this whole thing so don’t be afraid to flex your muscles if needed.

Once the TRB gets going, there will be comparisons between employees and how they’re scored.  Similar performing employees with similar results should have similar scores. This is good and should be discussed and explored. And the scores should be adjusted if appropriate.

It’s important to understand that this isn’t an exact science. This is about people evaluating other people so there will be a lot of intangibles and biases. But the TRB will do their best to even out the scores by exploring the intangibles and reducing the biases.

As a great solo HR leader, you should have a great professional relationship with most of the employees in your organization. You should have a good idea of how everybody is doing since you are constantly talking to and building relationships with them. And, since you have a good idea about the employees in your organization, does the manager’s score jive with your perception of the employee? Have there been forgotten discipline issues or performance/conduct awards the the manager has forgotten and isn’t taking into consideration? Dig, probe,and question. It’s up to you to drive the success, fairness, and accuracy of the TRM.

After each section of the PA – Core Competencies and each Objective – HR should ask if there are any further questions or comments and if everybody is OK with the scores and or revised scores, if any. If there is, continue the discussion, keeping the schedule in mind, and if there isn’t, move on to the next PA.

Keep good notes during the TRM. Record the revised scores and make notes of when you ask managers to expand on or clarify their comments in the PA. Once the TRMs are finished, HR will go back and make the changes to the scores and send the updated PA to the managers for them to deliver, reminding them to update the comments, if needed.

At the end of each meeting sincerely thank the participating managers by telling them the following:

Thank you very much for your participating in today’s TRM. It’s a lot of hard work but important work spending the time discussing the performance and conduct of our organizations most important asset, our people.

We were able to sit down as a team and learn more about our own people and the people of our peers today, and from what I saw, gained a lot of appreciation and value from it. I have a couple more days with other TRBs this week and once I’m done, I’ll get the final PAs sent to you next week so you can deliver them to your people.

Thanks again!

Whew, this was a long post but like I said, the TRMs are the most important aspect of the entire cycle. I could go into more detail but I think this is appropriate for a blog post and I’ll save the greater detail for a book in the future.

This post, hopefully will give you a good sense of the mechanics of how to run a TRM. Please don’t hesitate to comment below if you have any questions. I’d appreciate knowing what I need to clarify and expand on.

Next week, I’ll discuss week six, Delivery Week.

Week Four of the PA Cycle: Prep week for Talent Review Meetings


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This week is the preparation week for the most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings (TRMs). I’m not going to discuss the details of the the TRMs this week, that will be for next week. Instead, I’m just going to go over the preparation for the TRMs.

The preparation of the TRMs consists of the following four steps – making a ranking sheet, making the TRM schedule, printing PAs and building the TRM notebooks, and communicating the TRM’s to the managers.

But before we go any further, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the TRM in order to understand why it takes an entire week preparing for them. Talent Review Meetings are where a Talent Review Board (TRB) of managers meet to review each direct report’s Performance Appraisal in order to insure fairness. Each manager must review and defend, to their peers, the scores they gave their direct reports. Again, I will go into more detail in next week’s post.

I’ve put together a set of example documents for this stage of the cycle. In it I created an organization with 43 non-exempt employees, nine Managers, seven exempt non-managers, three Directors, and five Sr. Managers. All of the example documents will be based on this organizational structure.

So now that you have a basic understanding of the TRM and understand the example organization I established, let’s go over the four steps of preparation.

Create a ranking sheet of all the Performance Appraisal scores:

The first thing that should be done this week is take all the scores from the preliminary PAs and enter them into the Preliminary Score column on the ranking sheet. The ranking sheet is a very important tool for the TRMs as the rankings clearly show how each manager scored their direct reports. It gives the TRB a quick snapshot of the score distribution in the organization and shows which managers are tough scorers and which are generous scorers. It makes it much easier to calibrate the scores.

The ranking sheet consists of four columns:
1. Manager Name
2. Employee Name
3. Preliminary Score
4. Final Score

At the bottom of the sheet is a box that calculates the mean, median, and mode for both the Preliminary Score and the Final Score.

I’m including the Excel template of the ranking sheet I use. There are tabs on the bottom of the worksheet consisting of a ranking sheet for each TRB in my example organization. In the example ranking sheet, I have just filled in the Prelim Scores. The Final Scores will need to be filled in during or after Week Seven, Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives.

Click here for the example HHHR PA Ranking Sheet: 20XX HHHR PA Ranking Sheet (Example Organization)

Scheduling the TRM:

Depending on the size of the organization, the TRB can be very simple for organizations ~35 or less employees or complicated for organizations ~36 or more employees.

The TRBs for smaller organizations are easy to schedule because they are typically just senior management and HR. Only one version of the TRM notebook needs to be built for each member of the senior management team containing the PA of every employee in the organization separated by manager. It should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so the schedule is only a day or two depending on how many employees are being reviewed. Multiply the number of employees by 20 minutes then divide that result by 60 which results in the total number of hours that are needed to schedule the TRM.

The TRBs for larger organizations are more complicated to schedule. The senior management team will typically not want to or have the time to do four to five days of TRMs. The schedule needs to be broke down by hierarchy because larger organizations have more layers of management. For example, non-exempt level employees will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Managers, the Managers will then be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Directors and Senior Managers, and the Directors will be reviewed by a TRB consisting of the Senior Managers. Of course, senior management should be invited to sit in on the non-exempt TRBs. Again, it should take approx 20 minutes to discuss each PA so use the same calculations as above for making the schedule.

In my example organization, the non-exempt population schedule takes two full days while the exempt level population is scheduled for two half(ish) days. Also in the example you will note that I don’t have specific times scheduled for the non-exempt employees as this allows for more flexibility since some will be quicker than 20 minutes and some will be longer. With the exempt employees, however, I schedule times because this allows the busy Directors and Senior Mangers two things: to know when they are defending their scores to their peers and to make sure they are present when they want input on a particular employee. The management team in any organization is busy and it can’t be expected that every manager will be present throughout the discussion of every PA. It’s OK to allow them to come and go throughout the meetings just as long as you have some continuity in the TRMs. By scheduling the times at the exempt level, you are helping them with their time management, which is always a good thing!

Click here for the example HHHR PA TRM Schedule: 20XX HHHR PA Talent Review Meeting Schedule (Example Organization)

Printing PAs and building the TRM Notebook:

Once the schedule is complete, the notebooks can be built by referring to the names listed for each TRB. A notebook is made for each person who will be serving on a TRB. The notebook will contain tabs for each Manager/Director/Senior Manager who has direct reports and behind each tab will be the PAs for that manager.

So for the example organization I created, using the TRM schedule, for the Non-exempt Day 1 and 2, nine notebooks need to be built (one for each Manager) with nine tabs containing each Manager’s direct reports which is nine copies of 42 employees! That’s a lotta time standing at the copy machine.

When each employee’s PA is printed for for each notebook, enter that date on the checklist so it reflects the completed date.

Keep the notebooks in a secured and locked location until they are given to the managers in the TRB. Its best to hand out the notebooks just before each TRM but sometimes the Senior Management group likes getting them early in order to review them beforehand. Remember that the notebooks contain a tremendous amount of confidential performance information so remind all the managers to keep them secure once they have them.

This is one of the busiest weeks for HR in the cycle and it’s important to remember to stay organized in the ways I’ve suggested in the last two posts. Things can rapidly fall apart if you don’t stay organized!

Communicate the TRM schedule to the managers:

You’ve done all that work so don’t forget to let all the managers know when the meetings are!  Here is a sample email to send out to the managers in the TRBs.


Attached is the Talent Review Meeting schedule with Talent Review Board assignments.

I broke the meetings down into the following four sessions:

  1. Nonexempt Day 1: Wednesday, February 3, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  2. Nonexempt Day 2: Thursday, February 4, 8:00AM – 5:00PM
  3. Exempt Level Day 1: Monday, February 8, 12:00PM-3:30PM
  4. Exempt Level Day 2: Tuesday, February 9, 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.


Occasionally changes will have to be made to the schedule as things come up particularly with the Senior Management team.  Stay flexible to the needs of the company and make the revisions as needed.  It’s not going to be the end of the world if you don’t get the TRMs done on schedule!

Well that’s it for Prep Week for the Talent Review Meetings. Next week I’ll finally get to discuss the actual details of the best and most important aspect of the entire cycle, the Talent Review Meetings!

Week Three of the PA Cycle: Deadline Week for Preliminary PAs


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Last week, I introduced the Objective Setting and PA forms and explained how they work together and how to fill them out. This week, the managers are finishing up with writing their preliminary PAs and turning them in. When turning them in, I have each manager email me the Excel copy of their PAs. Believe it or not, before I specified that I want the Excel copy emailed to me, I had managers scan or convert them to pdf and even scan their handwritten PAs to me. The lesson here – be specific about how you want them back. Tell your managers exactly how they are to return their preliminary PAs back to you.

The reason I ask for the preliminary PAs is because the next week I will start building the Talent Review Meeting notebooks in preparation for the Talent Review Meetings – the most effective part of the cycle. The reason I want them back in Excel is because I review each one before printing them out for the notebooks to ensure they are done correctly and to fix any issues that I see.

And believe me there are issues. Each manager has a different level of proficiency with Excel which will become very obvious while your reviewing their PAs. This is just the way it is and I can’t change their proficiency so I just correct what needs to be corrected. I want to point out that I don’t change any scores or comments, I just correct any misspellings and fix things that were done incorrectly.

Now before I review each PA, I need to set up a system that keeps everything organized. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be organized during this part of the process.

The first thing I do is create a checklist, of which I’ve attached a template to this blog post. Keep this checklist updated every single day because if you don’t, you’ll find yourself making embarrassing mistakes — trust me, I know!

The checklist is fairly simple and contains six columns:
1. Manager: Manager’s name
2. Employee: Employee’s name
3. Prelim PA: The date I receive the Preliminary PA via email from the manager
4. Sent to Print: The date I print the Preliminary PA to make the TRM notebooks
5. Final PA: The date I receive the final signed PA from the manager
6. Objectives: The date I receive the final signed Objectives from the manager

I pull the Manager’s Direct Report list from our HRIS and add columns 3 through 6. I also color code each manager and employee to their physical location in the company which I’ll explain next week when I discuss prepping for the Talent Review Meetings. So for the purpose of today’s post, I’m only concerned with the Prelim PA column and will discuss the other columns in future posts when they are relevant.

After creating the checklist, I create a folder in my Outlook titled 20XX Objective and PA Cycle containing sub-folders of each manager (click here to see how to create sub-folders in Outlook). So as their emails come in, I have a place to file them when I process my email during the day. I use this method as a placeholder for their PAs until I can get to my scheduled block of time to start the real processing and organizing. If I don’t do this the email may get lost or deleted and I have to ask the manager to resend which is kinda embarrassing.

Next, I block out time each day this week to process and organize the PAs that have come in. I do this by opening each email and copying the PA to a file on my hard drive.

Similar to what I did in Outlook, I create a file on my hard drive for each manager with three sub-folders:
1. Preliminary folder: Where the PAs sent to me this week are filed
2. Final folder: Where the final delivered and signed pdf PAs are filed
3. Objectives: Where the final signed pdf Objectives are filed

Again, for the purposes of today’s post, I am only concerned with the Preliminary folder and will discuss the other two folders when they become relevant in future blog posts.

Next let’s talk about the deadline date. I always make Wednesday the deadline. Why? Because if I make it Friday, I will get a flood of PAs sent to me late on Friday afternoon as I’m trying to wrap up my week and prepare for the next week. By making the deadline Wednesday, you’ll get approx 70% of your PAs turned in by that day. The remaining will trickle in and you’ll have approx 95% of them in by Friday. The remaining 5% will be the chronic procrastinators and no matter what you do, they will always be late and last minute.

I like getting the bulk of the PAs in by mid-week. That way, I have the time I need to process and organize them.

So now that we have our checklist, have set up sub-folders in Outlook, and folders in our hard drive, we can start the processing or organizing.

As the PAs come in and when I move them to their appropriate Outlook sub-folder, I check them off on my checklist by entering the date they were sent to me. I like to have the data of which managers are able to meet the deadline and which are not.

On Thursday morning, I schedule a block of time to review and correct each PA. I also send out an email to each manager who hasn’t sent in their PAs gently reminding them that the deadline was yesterday. I repeat the email on Friday and then again on Monday and Tuesday the following week. This generally brings in most of them, except for the chronic procrastinators, of course, who will typically get them to you the morning of the TRM!

Well that covers off on the Deadline Week for Preliminary PAs. Next week I will discuss how to prepare for the all important Talent Review Meetings!

Below is the link to the HHHR Objective and PA Checklist template.  You are free to use and modify is as you see fit for your needs.

HHHR Checklist Template for Objectives and PAs:  20XX HHHR Checklist Template for Objectives and PAs (Example Organization)

Week Two of the PA Cycle: Writing Week for PAs and Objectives


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Now that the training has been completed, as I discussed last week, it is time for the supervisors to start discussing objectives and writing the PA for each of their direct reports. I am including a copy of the forms in today’s post.

I spent the past several days dinking around with the forms and made some pretty significant updates from what I regularly use and really like what I’ve come up with. I can keep tweaking this and that but I’m to the point where just I need to get this post written and podcast recorded in order to get both published by Sunday.  So the form may need some further revision in the future.

So here goes.

I have both the Objective Setting Form (OSF) and Performance Appraisal Form (PAF) on a single Excel workbook.  The OSF is the first tab since it is the first document that is to be filled out at the beginning of each year and the PAF tab is the second document since it will be completed after the year is complete and the employee will be evaluated on the objectives established in the OSF earlier.  Also, the forms are tied together and have formulas that transfer information from the OSF to the PAF so you don’t have to re-enter information.

How to fill out the Objective Setting Form:

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, change the logo at the top to your logo and the date in the header by replacing the two XX in the title to the current date.

Second, enter in the employee’s name and title, the manager’s name and title, and the current date.  This information will automatically transfer to the PAF.

Third, read the instructions!  I know, nobody ever reads instructions but I have them anyway and they are important.  This blog post is pretty much is an expanded version of the instructions on the form.  You will need to make sure your managers read these so they understand how to properly fill out the form.

Fourth, is an explanation of the Performance Ratings.  HHHR uses the flowing five point rating scale.

1 – Unsatisfactory. Performance did not meet expectations.  Immediate Improvement is required.
2 – Needs Improvement.Performance met some requirements and expectations.
3 – Met Expectations. Performance met requirements and expectations.
4 – Exceeded Expectations. Performance exceeded requirements and expectations.
5 – Outstanding. Performance consistently exceeded very demanding expectations.

Finally, is the signature box.  This is not to be signed until the objectives have been discussed and agreed upon by both the employee and their manager.  This box is locked and must be filled out by hand.

Pages 2&3 – The Objectives

Here is where we get into the beauty of the process and determine each objective and their weighting.  The first box on page two is where you weight the Core Competencies which are found on page two of the PAF.   This is where the manager and employee determine how important the employee’s core competencies are.  They can be as high as 80% for a new inexperienced employee who has a lot to learn on the basics of the job or as low as 20% for a very experienced high performer where the core competencies are second nature.  When you decide the weighting of the Core Competencies, fill in the white box with that percent.

The next three boxes are for objectives.   Three objectives are the maximum that should be established for a year but there can be as few as one.  It all depends on the employees job description and their experience and competence.

Generally, nonexempt employees will have a higher weighting for the Core Competencies and one or two objectives with small weightings and exempt employees will have lower weightings for their Core Competencies and two to three objectives with higher weightings.  Note that I said “generally”, it all depends on the employee and their job.

For each objective, there is a box to fill out a brief description of the objective.  If you need more space, you just need to unlock the worksheet (the password to unlock is below with the links to the docs) and make the cell larger.

Next, are the Measurement Standards for each objective and a space to describe how the objective will look if  1- Unsatisfactory, 2 – Needs Improvement and up to 5 – Outstanding.  The text you put in each of these boxes automatically transfers to the Objectives section of the PAF.  Go ahead and look, pretty cool, huh? When these boxes are filled in, fill in the weighting which also automatically transfers to the PAF.  Of course, the weightings of the Core Competencies and the Objectives must equal 100% which is calculated at the bottom of page three.

Once the form is filled out and the objectives and weightings are agreed upon by both the manager and the employee, print it out and both sign.  Both should keep a copy and the original given to HR for the employee’s file.

How to fill out the Performance Appraisal Form

Page 1 – Cover Page

First, like the OSF, change the logo and date in the header.  You will notice that the Employee and Manager (Evaluator now) name and title have transferred over.  The only info that needs to be filled out is the Eval Period.

Second, you have to again, read the instructions.  I know, I know, but that’s the only way you’ll be able to complete the form correctly. Again, this blog post is an expanded version of the instructions.

Page 2 – Core Competencies

In this section, carefully read each Core Competency and it’s description and select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) for each by clicking on the cell and using the drop down.  I tell my managers to start at 3 – Meets Expectations as they consider each of their direct report’s Core Competencies and think about whether their performance is better or worse and score accordingly.

The sum of the scores you select will calculate at the bottom of the page.

Pages 3&4 –  Performance Objectives

Next are sections for the Core Competencies and the three (or two or one) Objectives which transferred over from the OSF. The Core Competencies score, rating, and weighting are all already calculated and transferred over so you don’t have to do anything here. For the Objectives, all you have to do here is select the appropriate performance rating (1-5) by clicking on the cell and using the drop down. The weighting also transferred over. Enter your comments about the objective – explain to the employee why you gave them the particular score for each objective.

Page 5 – Evaluator and Employee Comments

Finally, there is space to make Evaluator Comments. It’s very important that your final comments are consistent with your ratings and should clearly express the Message that you decided on when you were writing the PA. This is where you summarize the employee’s overall performance for the year and explain what they did well and what they need to do to improve for the upcoming year. The Employee Comments box is for the employee to fill out by hand, if they have comments, after you deliver the PA.

Well, that’s it for the Writing Week of the PA and Objective Setting cycle.  Next week I’ll cover off on Deadline Week!

Below are the links to the OSF and PAF for Managers, Exempt Non-Managers, and Nonexempt employees.  Like the training document I posted last week, you are free to use and modify as you see fit for your needs.

Managers: 20XX Manager Objective and PA Form

Exempt Non-Managers: 20XX Exempt Non-Manager Objective and PA Form

Non-Exempt: 20XX Non-Exempt Objective and PA Form


Pre and Week One of the PA Cycle: Prep and Training Week


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Today’s post is a continuation of the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle and where I start getting into the real meat of the program.  There is some prep work that needs to be done in December before you can start in January so I am covering off on that in addition to covering week one in this post.

Prior to the first week, in December, I launch the upcoming PA and Objective Setting cycle by sending out an email to all the supervisors in the company reminding them that everything will start in January.  I also include a timeline of all the important deadlines in that email.

They, of course, love getting this email just before the Holidays! Who wouldn’t?

I’m kidding and they hate it but it is important to communicate exactly what’s coming up as soon as the holidays are over.  The process is difficult and everybody needs to be ready to roll as soon as the calendar changes to January.  The end of December is a very quiet time for most small companies, except for retail, and let’s face it – most of us are on vacation or checked out and/or stressing out about entertaining family and buying gifts for everybody.

Here is an example of the email I send out:

Company Supervisors,

It is that time of year when everybody is thinking warm and joyous thoughts about the holidays and along with the peace, love and laughter of the season, it’s also time to start thinking about performance appraisals!  Yay.

Here is the schedule for the 2015 Performance Appraisal cycle:

  • Jan 6: 2015 PA Documents made available on the internal company HR webpage
  • Jan 7: PA training via webcast (details coming soon)
  • Jan 20: Preliminary PAs due to HR
  • Feb 2-8: Talent Review Meetings
  • Feb 8-12:  Supervisors to deliver PAs to their direct reports
  • Feb 17: Completed 2015 PAs due to HR

Everything you need and need to know is or will be available on the internal company HR web page, here.

Let me know if you have any questions.


The next thing I do in December is update all the documents from the previous year to the new year. As you will see and as I will explain in more detail in future posts, the forms are on MS Word and Excel – old school but effective and affordable for most of us small HR departments.  I make sure the dates are changed on the forms and I review my notes from the year before and make any appropriate adjustments to the way we do things and to the forms based on suggestions the supervisors made last year.

I always encourage supervisor feedback about how we can improve the process and the forms because they are the ones in the trenches filling out the forms and delivering the PAs and have a good handle on what is and isn’t working.  I try to do everything I can to make it work well for them. Bonus: you will get more buy in on the process if they know you are listening and taking their suggestions and incorporating them in the following years’ process.

Immediately after the Holidays is when the cycle starts full swing and the supervisors are happy and ready to go (that’s what I tell myself, anyway).  They got the heads up from my email in December so there is no surprise when I start sending them information full speed at the beginning of January.

Beginning in week one of the cycle, I post all the updated current year’s documents, training materials, calendars, etc. on our internal company HR website  This way, everything is available to them whenever they need it.  If you don’t have something like this, you’ll just have to send everything via email to your supervisors.

Finally, and most importantly for this week and for the entire cycle, I conduct a training session for all the supervisors on why and how we do PA and Objective setting.  The training materials are fairly extensive and I’m including it with this week’s blog post.  The session should last only approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

I’m thinking I can write several additional posts about the training session but for the purposes of this series, I will just include the training PowerPoint so I can move on to the remaining weeks in the cycle. Much of the content in the attached training session will be included in future posts in this series and I think the PowerPoint is self explanatory since each slide has a script that goes along with it. You’re free to use the training and modify it as you see fit.

Well, this completes the the prep work and week one of the cycle.  Next week will be Week Two – Writing Week for PAs and Objectives where I will include the HHHR Objective Setting and Performance Appraisal forms and detail how they work together.

Here is the PowerPoint version of the training session.  The notes are included and can be seen in the window below each slide as you are reviewing them.
Managers 2015 HHHR Performance Appraisal Cycle Training

Here is a PDF version of the training session and a PDF of each slide with notes.
Managers 2015 HHHR Performance Appraisal Cycle Training

The HHHR Performance Appraisals and Objective Setting Cycle


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The first of the year, of course, is the time many of us are working through the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle in our companies.  I know that a lot of small HR departments don’t even do PAs, much less objective setting but I believe it is a critical and a very important part of what we do in HR.  Despite what many in HR think.

Today, even though it’s February and many of us are finishing up our cycle,  I’m going to share how I do the Performance Appraisal and Objective Setting cycle. This post is a quick overview of what I do.  I have a seven week process and in the coming weeks, I will devote a post to each of the the weeks in the process.

Pre and Week One – Prep and Training Week

The first thing I do is send out an email in December to all the supervisors in my company reminding them that the PA cycle will start in January.  I also include a timeline of deadlines in that email. They, of course, love getting this email just before the Holidays!

I then take the time to update all the documents from the previous year to the new year and make any edits to the process of forms that supervisors suggested the year before.

After the Holidays, the cycle starts full swing.  The supervisors already got the heads up from my email in December so there is no surprise when I start sending out all the information about the PAs and Objectives at the first of January.

Then I make all the updated current year documents available on our SharePoint site designated for HR.

Finally, the most important part of this week is training.  I conduct a webcast training session for all the supervisors in our three locations on why and how we do PAs and Objectives setting.

Week Two – Writing Week for PAs and Objectives

Supervisors write the PAs for each of their direct reports.  These are preliminary as I will explain later in this post.  They also have a discussion with their direct reports during this week about objectives they will collaboratively set for the year.

Week Three – Deadline Week for Preliminary PAs

The preliminary Performance Appraisals are due to me on Wednesday of this week.  I make the deadline Wednesday because very few supervisors get these in on time and it gives me two extra days until the end of the week for them to get turned in.  It’s a way to trick my chronic procrastinators into getting their PAs turned in on time.  It generally works except for the real professional procrastinators who probably know what I’m up to anyway.  There are always several who take longer but if you can get the majority in by the end of week three, your doing OK.

Week Four – Prep week for Talent Review Meetings

This is the week I construct Talent Review Notebooks for the Talent Review Meetings that will be held next week.  What the heck are Talent Review Meetings, you ask?  Well, I will explain the Talent Review Meetings more in depth in the coming weeks since it is one of the most important parts of the cycle but you may get the gist of things here.

Week Five – Talent Review Meeting Week

The Talent Review Meetings are where we review every single preliminary PA and the performance scores for each employee are calibrated for fairness.  The PAs are finalized during these meetings before they are to be delivered to the employee.  Again, you’ll learn more about the Talent Review Meetings in the coming weeks.

Week Six – Delivery Week

Supervisors deliver the PAs to their direct reports and have a final discussion on what their objectives for the year will be.

Week Seven – Deadline Week for Final PAs and Objectives

Completed PAs and Objectives are due to me by Wednesday of this week.  You, of course, know why I have Wednesday as a due date…


This the schedule that has evolved in the seven years I have developed this cycle.  It works very well for my company and HR Department of One.

As I write more in depth about each of these weeks, I will include copies of the versions of the documents I’ve developed.  They will be different, but similar, to the documents and forms I use at my company.