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Leading Constructive Appraisal Conversations

Nov 4, 2020 | 8m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • What makes an effective appraisal conversation
  • Common mistakes managers tend to make
  • How managers can navigate tricky situations that arise from delivering harsh feedback

Feedback, The Right Way

The biggest misconception about appraisal conversations is that they’re a formal, specific event to be scheduled periodically and simply checked off the task list once completed. It’s not so much the time interval that is the issue; it is the way managers think about and approach these conversations. 

Before approaching an appraisal conversation, it is important to remember the responsibilities that you hold as a people manager. These could include clarifying the organization’s vision, setting and meeting goals, ensuring that the team is on track and hitting milestones, taking care of the team’s mental and emotional welfare, and so on. 

Conducting appraisal conversations is just a small part of these responsibilities. But the underlying factor that ties in all this is the ability to connect and communicate with the team. It is from this aspect that you should approach appraisal conversations – understanding that it is something that should be weaved into daily conversations tactfully and respectfully, and not relegated to being a one-off special occasion.

Appraisal conversations are part of a continuous flow of dialogue and feedback about project statuses, tasks completed and left outstanding, and any related developments or updates. Naturally, the subject of an employee’s performance will surface. If you make an observation about an employee’s behaviour or performance that needs to be addressed, there is no reason to wait till a formal performance review before bringing it up. Instead, address it in a timely manner, as this is when your feedback is most effective.

Navigating Emotional Situations

Performance management is inevitably an emotional process, and you can start by accepting the fact that you may have to deal with emotional reactions. Where it gets tricky is if both parties are unfamiliar with each other, don’t have a close working relationship, and don’t feel comfortable discussing heavier topics. 

As a manager, the onus is on you to manage the process so that both parties emerge from the session in an uplifted and empowered state. This does not mean completely avoiding difficult conversations or trying to force a positive atmosphere all the time. It simply means being deliberate and thoughtful about things. 

Tailoring Your Feedback

To tailor your feedback effectively, you’ll need to know each of your team members personally. What are their goals? What are they striving for? What drives them? What are they aspiring for? Knowing these details will help you be more emotionally sensitive to your team members and figure out how to position your feedback. 

For instance, an employee who has never received a bonus before and receives 130% this cycle will likely feel proud, accomplished, and satisfied with their performance. Another employee received a bonus of 130% previously. This year, he or she only receives 120%. While it is still a bonus and a healthy one at that, this employee may see it as a drop in performance and feel demoralized. It is inevitable that your team will consist of a mix of people. So, managers have to be very tactful and know who exactly they are dealing with when it comes to sensitive feedback. 

Another tricky situation is having a conversation when an employee who has been expecting a promotion did not get promoted. You can use the framing effect to your advantage in tricky situations. Essentially, it is positioning your feedback based on who the receiver is and what the situation is. This includes putting yourself in your employee’s shoes and thinking about how they would feel when you decide how to deliver your feedback. Let’s say that you have to tell each employee that only 10% of the team got promoted. You could phrase this in two different ways. The first is that only 10% got promoted. People hearing this are likely to think that they completely missed out and might feel demoralised as a result. The second way to frame this is that 90% of the team didn’t get promoted. Framing it this way helps people see that since 90% of the team didn’t get promoted, they didn’t really miss out, and that perhaps this round of promotions was just more selective. 

You’ll also have to cater to various personalities. Some people prefer to talk hard numbers and facts upfront. These personalities want a black and white picture of whether they made the promotion or not, how many made it, and where they stood. Other employees need to be treated more delicately and not bluntly presented with harsh truths. To such people, you can consider explaining that not everything about them fell below expectations. Perhaps the metrics for evaluation laid in the employee’s areas of weaknesses, but this employee may have other strengths that were out of the spectrum of evaluation. Customizing feedback will lead to better assimilation, appreciation, and application of feedback. 

If you’re not sensitive to these different situations occurring in the team, especially to those who are feeling down, you’ll likely need to deal with more emotionally charged, confrontational and heated moments during an appraisal conversation which can lead to other consequences like low team morale, a weaker bond, and a further drop in performance. 

If you’ve set the stage by giving regular feedback, it’s highly likely that you’re not going to be faced with unpleasant surprises during a more detailed appraisal conversation. It is also important to continue to remind your team and emphasize on the fact that not everything to do with employee performance will be binary.

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Mohit Rajkumar

Former HR Director | HR Business Partner Leader - E-commerce, APAC

VMware | TikTok



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