PERSPECTIVE: 10 Reasons Your Performance Appraisal Might Be Useless

by Karen Hinds Are your performance appraisals useless? If you are a manager, end of year can often make you feel like a Christmas Grinch. You feel rushed, stressed, and even dread as you try to summarize an entire year of highs and lows on an employee’s performance appraisal. Invariably, someone will feel like they received a lump of coal after reading what they hoped would be a good review.

For employees, it’s a source of anxiety and even anger as they anticipate the results of their performance appraisals. Why do we tolerate this annual drain on productivity and morale? There are simple fixes, if done throughout the year, to make this process relevant and valuable to an employee’s growth. Here are 10 reasons why your current process might be of little or no value.

  1. Emphasis is on the mistakes and the past.

Unfortunately, there are managers who view the appraisal process as an opportunity to only recap everything an employee has gotten wrong throughout the year. This is incredibly demotivating and hampers morale as well as trust in that relationship. Focusing on the past leaves no room for forward thinking and growth, which is the intent of an appraisal.

  1. Appraisal is full of surprises.

An employee should not be surprised by what is written on their appraisal if the manager has done a great job communicating throughout the year. If surprises exist, it is an indication the manager/employee relationship is damaged and ineffective. Errors are inevitable, but the manager should immediately identify the error and help to design a plan of action that helps the employee correct the mistake and keep growing. When an employee does well, it also should be immediately acknowledged, documented, and celebrated.

  1. No regular check-in.

Many performance appraisals only see the light of day when it’s time to write a new one for the upcoming year. If this is how your team operates, it is a complete waste of time. The appraisal should be a living, breathing document used as a roadmap throughout the year. Monthly and quarterly reviews with adjustments will increase the probability of the employee meeting and even exceeding the expectations set.

  1. One-way conversations.

If an employee is simply sitting and listening to the manager during a performance appraisal or given a report to read, it is a sure sign the process is deeply flawed. This should be a two-way conversation where the employee and manager are both engaged. The manager and employee should be reviewing progress, examining the best way going forward, celebrating milestones, and setting new goals together.  As mentioned earlier, it’s an ongoing conversation, not an end-of-year marathon to talk and fill out paperwork.

  1. No preparation for advancement.

An effective manager should know their primary job is to provide the environment where each employee can reach their peak performance and then move on, whether a vertical or lateral move.  Even when the organization is flat, advancement can still be made by varying projects and learning new roles and skills sets.

  1. Setting goals that are not S.M.A.R.T.

Effective evaluation of an employee’s progress depends on the quality of the goals set. All goals must be measurable and adhere to the S.M.A.R.T standards of being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-specific.

  1. Manager’s unconscious bias.

Managers are not perfect and even the best-intentioned manager has unconscious bias. The bias could be based on an employee’s personal style, preferences, gender, age, accomplishments, race, ethnicity, etc. It’s also not unusual for managers to carry a chip on their shoulder caused by an incident going back months. When these behaviors are present, a successful appraisal is impossible.

  1. Avoiding negative feedback.

Some managers cower at the thought of having to deliver negative feedback, especially to employees who may have a reputation of being difficult. They might tiptoe around the real issues and deliver a weak appraisal with no value by only highlighting what worked well.

  1. Confusing performance and attitude.

Some employees are great talkers, enthusiastic, and friendly around the office but are poor performers. There are also employees who are exceptional performers but lack the social skills or choose not to be overly enthusiastic because that’s their personality style. They may also consciously choose to be less engaged socially due to the work environment. Managers need to be clear on what they are measuring: Is it performance or attitude?

  1. Manager was never trained.

No one was born with excellent managerial skills, and even if you have managed people for many years, it is not an indication you are a competent manager or you know how to execute an effective performance evaluation. Companies should hold educational sessions to teach managers how to review an employee’s performance in a fair manner and set them up for future success.


Karen Hinds is president and CEO of Workplace Success Group, a Connecticut-based strategic talent development company. She has delivered talks about how to properly develop emerging leaders to companies, associations and organizations throughout the Greater Hartford region. She has presented “Bounce-Back Power: Everyday Strategies to Develop Resilience” as part of the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center professional development series.