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March 16, 2017

Making job appraisals work: Communication is key

“Communication is the absolute key to performance appraisal,” Maureen Lazar told participants in the latest lunchtime seminar from Staff Association Council, “How to Navigate the Annual Review Process,” on March 2.

“And it’s not communicating one time a year; you need to be communicating all through the year,” said Lazar, an organization consultant and manager of learning and development in Human Resources’ organization development section. “The reality is … the performance appraisal process needs to capture the entire year.”

Some employees fill out their performance appraisals with the aim of getting a raise. “It helps with raises — sometimes,” Lazar said.

She cautioned that, given each department’s finite raise pool, determined by the administration, “there is not an absolute correlation between performance appraisals and raises.

“The performance appraisal system is really put in place to help you develop your skills and be more effective as an employee,” she said. It also should help employees seeking promotions.


“It’s sometimes not the easiest process to navigate,” Lazar said of the performance appraisal system.

Annual reviews evaluate employees in two areas: performance standards, or how well an employee is doing compared to his or her supervisor’s expectations, and performance goals, or what specifically an employee has accomplished in the past year. Performance standards are different for each employee’s job, depending on each supervisor’s desires.

The performance rating scale has five levels, with exceptional at the top, followed by above expectations, successful, development needed and unsatisfactory.

An employee who is rated “development needed” should not despair, Lazar said: “Everyone in this room has room for development, everyone in the University … It does not mean that you are any less of an employee.”

No employee should learn of an unsatisfactory job performance for the first time through the annual review, she cautioned: “That’s my No. 1 beef with performance appraisals. There should be no surprises at the end of the year.

“If you are only hearing ‘unsatisfactory’ at your performance appraisal, shame on your supervisor.”

She suggested that even a positive review ought to be an occasion to ask your supervisor for specifics about what is being praised. “If your supervisor said you did a great job, ask what was so great about it,” Lazar said.

And it’s always important to ask whether a supervisor’s expectations will shift in the coming year.

To make certain a self-appraisal is complete, accurate and most useful, she suggested keeping a log of your accomplishments throughout the year, then adapting it for the appraisal form. It’s important also to include challenges, roadblocks and future goals on the self-appraisal. Personal goals, such as the attainment of an additional degree, may be listed, but only if they coincide with development in your job.

“It’s sometimes hard for us to toot our own horn,” Lazar noted. But it’s important to not just say, “‘I did a good job.’ You have to be specific.”

How to respond to a bad review, especially if you disagree with the basis upon which it was made?

She advised: “Voice your opinion with your supervisor respectfully: ‘I’d like to see some examples as to why I received this rating.’

“But don’t be defensive,” she added. “The conversation ends … both parties need to be open to have that kind of open dialogue.”

You may want to write a letter detailing your objections and staple it to the appraisal form, she said.

Overall, the performance appraisal process is a shared responsibility between supervisor and employee, Lazar said: “Well, what if my supervisor doesn’t communicate with me? What can you do? You ask. At the very minimum set up a mid-year check-in.

“If no one tells us we’re doing something wrong, we’re going to keep doing it.”


—Marty Levine 

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