The Importance of Dialog in the Performance Appraisal Process

If there’s one thing that should come through loud and clear about the performance appraisal process, it is how critical dialog is to successful performance reviews. If the method of performance appraisal at your organization is a once-or-twice-a-year event that involves checking a lot of boxes and feels more like a hassle than anything else, then you’re not getting the kind of value you should be getting from it. What is often lacking in many of these scenarios are open, ongoing conversations between a manager and employee about performance.


In 2010, UCLA Anderson School of Management professor Samuel Culbert published a book titled Get Rid of the Performance Review! Like many of the articles in the popular literature that give harsh treatment to the performance appraisal process, Cuthbert’s real point is not so much to do away with the whole idea of performance appraisal, but to stop doing it so poorly. In other words, performance appraisals are fine if they’re done well. Nearly everyone who criticizes performance reviews highlights the lack of ongoing feedback and real dialog about performance.

Remember that the performance appraisal process serves a vital function in an overall performance management system. It’s supposed to be helping you manage your employees’ performance in order to achieve your organization’s vision, mission, goals, and objectives. You have to make decisions about your human resources and how to best develop and deploy them, and the performance appraisal process should be informing those decisions. The plain fact of the matter is that it can’t do that for you unless it involves both ongoing feedback and open conversations about what good performance looks like.

What those conversations look like is the manager acting more like a coach or tutor in developing the employee into the kind of performer that the organization needs. When the process is only one-way, it’s bound to become a largely negative process for everyone involved and little or no value to the organization.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of performance appraisals do not rise to the task at hand; and yet they could with enough care and attention. What the detractors are saying is that if you’re not going to do performance appraisal well, then you may as well not do it all.

Performance appraisal must be an ongoing process, with feedback occurring all along the way, even if you only do a “formal” appraisal once or twice a year. If you’re having coach-like or tutor-like conversations about performance throughout the review period, then you’re not only giving constant feedback that can help an employee better understand what is expected, but you’ll have the opportunity to make development decisions along the way in terms of what kind of additional training or education an employee needs to really shine.

In a previous article, Performance Management System Overhaul: Autodesk Case Study, it was clear that the Autodesk performance review was an event that didn’t add value. The company made a bold move to abolish the written review portion entirely, replacing it with real discussions about performance that became known as “calibration sessions.” These helped employees understand what good performance looked like and created many opportunities for robust coaching and feedback on a regular, ongoing basis. The Performance Matters system they created is getting them the results desired and adding the value that the company simply wasn’t getting from the previous system.

The formal appraisal may only happen occasionally, but the richness lies in the more informal dialog that occurs throughout the appraisal period. Make that the focus of your performance appraisal process and watch what it can do for your organization.

December 3, 2014   Updated :July 31, 2017   performance appraisals, performance review, performance reviews   

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