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The performance appraisal is just the jumping-off point to your SMART Goals & Objectives

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

After you get feedback in your employee appraisal, improve your performance on a daily basis with these 12 steps.

Congratulations, you’ve survived your year-end review! You might even have received some helpful feedback. The performance appraisal is just the starting point, though. It should guide your plan for the current review period – a plan that you make with your supervisor.

But let’s face it – sometimes supervisors have completely checked out of the appraisal process. Sadly, many bosses just do the bare minimum. If you’re like most employees, you’ve probably had a boss who thought she could spend all of fifteen minutes giving you feedback about the past year. You likely heard a few motivational phrases – “Strong work!” “Keep it up!” – and then it was back to the grindstone.

That doesn’t mean you’re getting a break. It means it’s time to take the reins! The review isn’t just something that benefits the company; it’s for your benefit too. Implement a self-improvement strategy that gives you the tools and guidance you need even if your boss is lax about check-ins and follow-ups.

Or maybe you have a great boss who helps you create a concrete plan and then follows up like a champ. In that case, you’re sure to impress him by taking initiative in these ways!

And hey, as you move up in the company ranks, use this plan with the people you supervise. Your employee retention will soar because they’ll know you’re committed to your people’s self-improvement!

1. Set Performance Goals

Hopefully you’ve done this with your supervisor in your performance appraisal. A good boss knows this is one of the most important parts of her job and relishes these conversations. However, too many supervisors are so honed in on the daily tasks that they completely forget the big picture.

If this is the case, you obviously still need goals. Here are a few tips for setting great ones:
  • Make sure they’re SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • Make sure they align with company goals – this is the “relevant” part of “SMART.”
  • Create “stretch goals” that challenge you to step out of your comfort zone.
  • Consider your career plan when setting your goals. If you want to increase your responsibilities to prime yourself for a higher-level role, share that with your boss.
  • Break your goals down into steps and review these objectives with your boss.

This chart from yGraph and InsideGood outlines what makes a goal a SMART goal.

2. Create Development Goals

Development goals are more focused on self-improvement than on the results you’ll get for the company. These are ideally created during the appraisal as well. A good manager will ask you if you’ve made any changes in your career trajectory, while a manager who fails to inquire about your hopes and dreams is demonstrating poor leadership. Today’s up-and-coming leaders expect to be taken seriously as individuals, and contemporary managers are responding.

Either way, check in with yourself on the types of self-improvement you want to make.
The same basic principles apply – they need to be SMART goals as well, and you’ll need to break them down into specific steps.
For example:
  • “I’ll take leadership in a project, showing I can supervise others effectively.”
  • “I’ll become known as an ‘ideas person.’”
  • “I’ll be more assertive at meetings, defending my ideas instead of backing down.”
Use the tools at your disposal, such as web-based performance appraisal platform where both you and your manager can track your professional growth.

3. Impose Order Over Chaos

To move toward your goals efficiently, get organized. A clean work-space and inbox will boost your mental clarity and reinforce the idea that you’re starting a new cycle. We’ve all experienced how a cluttered office leads to a cluttered brain!

4. Pursue Training

Many of us like to think we’re great at teaching ourselves new skills. However, formal training will help you learn more quickly and build confidence. If you don’t already belong to professional associations in your field, join one or two and find out what training they might be offering in your area. Attend seminars or workshops, which will also help you expand your professional network. (Keep in touch with new acquaintances – you never know when a new connection might help your career!).

If you can benefit from taking a course that will help you contribute more, ask your boss if the company will pay for it. A good manager knows that investing in people will boost employee retention--and depending on where you live, there might even be financial support for it. (In Ontario, the government gives employers grants for that purpose, for instance.) Plus, ongoing staff training helps each employee contribute more to the company’s bottom line. Training helps a company stay ahead of the competition on the latest industry changes, promote from within, and hone its team’s effectiveness. It’s a win-win!

5. Ask for Feedback

Ask for feedback often, especially if your boss ascribes to the outdated belief that you should figure everything out on your own. Proactively initiate open conversations about how you can improve. Good bosses welcome this dialogue (and they even want your feedback in turn!). They know today’s employees want consistent evaluation, in stark contrast to the boss of generations past, who might have expected you to forge ahead with zero guidance.
Keep these tips in mind:
  • Don’t just ask your supervisor; ask other people in your department as well as clients you’ve worked with.
  • Tell people about the improvements you’re trying to make, so they can help you gauge your progress.
  • Ask specific questions, not just “How am I doing?”, instead use “What can I improve about my working style?” or “What skills do you think I need to strengthen before stepping into a project manager role?” works much better. 
Taking criticism can be hard, but it’s the only way to find out how you need to improve! 

This chart from Globoforce shows that feedback from peers helps employees better understand where they most need to improve.

6. Cultivate Advocates and Mentors

Once we’ve found mentors and influential people who can advocate for us, we can start making big strides. An advocate can help you make connections with people whom others respect in your organization. A mentor can help you create a long-term plan, figure out if you’ve met your goals, or make more sense of that confusing comment from your boss.

A couple of tips:
  • Think outside the box. You might have a couple of coworkers who can each mentor you in certain areas. You might also find a mentor outside of your company who can help you with long-term strategy. Be open to the opportunities that arise.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for connections. If you’re seeking a career change, maybe your current mentor can pair you with the right person.
  • Meet face-to-face with your mentors and advocates regularly so that everyone stays invested in the relationships. (Pro tip: Remember important details about their lives, like birthdays and kids’ names, so the relationship doesn’t feel one-sided.)
Making more and stronger connections with others increases your influence at work. How can you do this?

7. Expand Your Network at Work

  • Collaborate more with others, as Fast Company suggests. High performers spend up to four more hours a week collaborating with others than the average employee.
  • Join or create a cross-functional team to boost your exposure even more. 
  • Give at least two people a genuine compliment every day especially people you don’t know very well. For instance, after a meeting, go up to someone who had an insightful comment and share why it stood out to you.
  • Ask someone you don’t know very well to grab a cup of coffee or have lunch together once in a while. Tell each other about what you do at work on a daily basis. Then you’ll both know whom to reach out to when you need a particular skill set. 
This will all help you build a coalition of folks who can serve as allies in the future – say, when you’re vying for your next promotion.

8. Grow Your Soft Skills

Ask yourself what soft skills will support you in achieving your goals. For example, honing your communication skills, ability to motivate others, and conflict resolution skills will help make you a stellar team leader. It could mean the difference between totally losing your cool and wigging out on someone, and guiding a conversation that leads the group to new insights. We’ve all had those moments, haven’t we?

9. Read More

We all need to look beyond our workplace to keep learning. Even if we have great colleagues, they give us a limited perspective. Find out what leaders in your field are reading – books, articles, reports – and read them too. Professional associations will probably have suggestions. Stay up-to-date on news in the field, looking at the latest trends on Twitter, in the newsletters of professional organizations, and in respected publications like Harvard Business Review. This will give you ideas for which books and studies to read.

10. Use Social Media Wisely

Social media makes getting ideas from thought leaders easy. Using social media platforms like Twitter also lets you promote yourself as an expert, sharing tidbits of information you’ve gleaned.

Plus, participating in an open conversation beyond the walls of your workplace will show you’re serious about success. Just make sure to read your company’s guidelines and policies for using social media as a company representative. (Then tip off your boss to your social media prowess!)

11. Schedule Check-Ins

Aim to have a monthly check-in session with your manager to make sure you stay on track. Prepare your thoughts and questions about your accomplishments and next steps before each session.

If your boss takes a passive approach to managing, ask for more direction. A good boss knows this is vital to employee retention and performance. In some cases, we might take our own development a little more seriously than our boss does, though – and we need to speak up about our needs! Having an open conversation on a regular basis is far better than a single annual review.

12. Create a Reminder System

Once you’ve created your strategy, give yourself reminders of your goals and priorities. Organize the info on your goals and the steps toward them so you have a handy reference. Post it on your wall where you can glance at it for clarity whenever you need to.

Then plug your priorities into an electronic reminder system so that you never forget a training session or lunch date with your mentor.

Follow this 12-point plan, and you’ll feel truly proud of your accomplishments over the current review period. By the time of your next appraisal, you’ll have increased your expertise, honed your leadership skills, and gotten the attention of key decision-makers with this guide to self-improvement.

County of San Mateo Human Resources Department, “How to Set SMART Goals”
Fast Company, “The Five Best Times and Ways to Ask for Feedback”
Harvard Business Review, “What to Do after a Bad Performance Review”
Inc, “5 Ways Resilient People Bounce Back after a Bad Performance Review”
Payscale, “4 Things You Must Do after Your Annual Performance Review”

How to Get Your Staff to Stop Worrying and Love Performance Appraisals

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Follow these tips for pain-free and inspirational appraisals.

There is a culture of fear around appraisals: staff look forward to the annual appraisals with about as much enthusiasm as they do to a visit to the dentist.

Research by the SHRM found that “90% of performance appraisals are painful and don’t work, and they produce an extremely low percentage of top performers.” A. Kluger and A. Denis found, in studies of over 600 performance reviews, that nearly a third of the reviews ended up in decreased performance. With these depressing statistics, is it any wonder that employees generally dread appraisals?

So, what are the employees’ main grievances about appraisals? A research paper from Regent University shows that appraisees have the following complaints about appraisals:

  • Lack of objectivity, rater bias, and favoritism
  • Hypocrisy of the manager
  • Poor informal feedback, e.g., vague, unspecific, and unsubstantiated
  • Report card syndrome, where appraisees are surprised by a list of poor performance examples

With traditional appraisal systems no longer being fit-for-purpose, it’s time for a change. The good news is that by adopting some of the following tactics, organizations can quickly revitalize a wearying appraisal process.

Continuous Feedback

If you haven’t implemented this already, the first step is to abandon annual appraisals in favor of more regular feedback.

Office workers want feedback in the moment
Q17. From the following pairs which would you prefer MOST? (OFFICE WORKERS N=1,...

This continuous review culture provides employees with a welcome immediacy to their performance feedback.

Frequent feedback gives employees the golden opportunity to correct issues while they are still small and manageable.
This is in contrast to the 12-month review scenario where issues are left unchecked, fester, and balloon into performance crises.

Given these dynamics, it’s no surprise that research shows that firms who move to continuous appraisals see a 73% increase in employee engagement.

There’s an app for this

Using a supportive app can ease your move to a continuous feedback culture by effortlessly automating any associated, additional labour overhead. For this reason, continuous feedback programs require supportive apps that streamline the underlying admin processes. Start with an off-the-shelf customizable 360 degree feedback app.  If this strategy proves unsuitable you could design your own in-house app.

Reduce the emphasis on ratings or eliminate scores altogether

Traditional appraisal systems rely on giving employees a numerical performance rating, which may be doing more harm than good.

Stanford University Professor Bob Sutton argues in his book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense that “performance rankings can lead to destructive internal competition, which can make it tough to build a culture of knowledge sharing. In addition, there seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy at work, in which a person who receives a poor evaluation does even worse in the subsequent rating period.”
It’s no wonder that performance ratings evoke so much fear.

Passing such a final judgment on appraisee performance in this way, particularly in the case of negative feedback, can be very damaging. As a result, firms such as Adobe have taken the radical but successful step of removing scores altogether in favor of a more qualitative approach.

The ideal performance review process
would be qualitative, not numeric
Q27. If you could create your ideal performance rev...

If you can’t prize yourself away from performance scores, do what Google has done.
At Google, appraisals and pay reviews occur at different times, which is liberating and enables the appraisal process to feel more developmental and less threatening.

By adopting some of these tactics, you can reduce the fear around performance ratings and see a marked improvement in discussion quality and the general ambiance of the meeting.

Put negative feedback into perspective

Research shows that negative feedback has a disproportionately large effect on our mood compared to positive feedback.

This study from the Occupational and Organizational Psychology Journal found that the “relationship between negative events and mood was approximately five times stronger than that between positive events and mood.”

In addition to this, research reported in the Harvard Business Review showed that almost 50% of appraisees who receive what they consider to be overly harsh criticism decide to intentionally decrease their productivity.

Debunking the standard of complimenting before giving negative feedback.

When giving negative feedback, utmost care must be taken. One good approach is to normalize negative feedback by emphasizing to the appraisee that it is an essential part of their personal developmental process and is not punitive.

Let it be known that negative feedback is universally given, whatever the grade or ability.

For authenticity, the appraiser can consider giving an example of one of their own development goals or that of an influential figure in the business.
Having an open culture around negative feedback and development areas will help normalize it in the mind of appraisees. They won’t feel singled out, and it will seem less threatening.

Additionally, consider publicly recognizing developmental achievements to drive home the message that feedback-driven development is valued in your organization.

Try to empower the appraisee by inviting them to give their own perspective. Ask them if they think the feedback is fair, accurate, and proportionate and have them explain their position. This is a great opportunity to find the line of best fit between the appraiser’s and appraisee’s perspective.
 Finding agreement about negative feedback is empowering and encouraging for the appraisee.

These approaches will enable the appraisee to accept negative feedback more willingly and respond less defensively.

Positive sandwich approach is still used today

I don’t necessarily agree with this long standing approach, as it’s beginning to feel dated. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that it is still used by practitioners today and it deserves a mention. The positive sandwich is where you envelope negative feedback between two or more positive comments. When doing this, be as specific and detailed about positive achievements as you are about negative feedback. This helps put the negative performance within some sort of realistic perspective, alleviating fear and anxiety.

The way forwards.

It’s clear that there is a large degree of fear around performance appraisals. For many, it is a daunting and ultimately unpleasant process. The good news is that by taking some simple steps, this fear can be reduced significantly.

When you implement more frequent reviews as well as normalize negative feedback and frame it as a universal development process that enables all of us to reach our personal and professional goals, you can quickly turn the appraisal process into a force for good in your organization.

Image Source: 
Adobe Study: Performance Reviews Get a Failing Grade

Source Material
2.A Kruger and A Denis:
3.Regent University: 
5.Google OKRs: 
6.Hard Facts, Dangerous Truths and Total Nonsense: 
7.Stanford University: Bob Sutton:
8.Occupational and Organizational Psychology Journal:;jsessionid=8E7173940CB6F8343B973377B09F5C0B.d01t01?systemMessage=Wiley+Online+Library+will+be+disrupted+on+23+February+from+10%3A00-12%3A00+BST+%2805%3A00-07%3A00+EDT%29+for+essential+maintenance&userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage= 
9.Harvard Business Review: 
10.Adobe continous feedback image:  

A Culture of Honest Feedback Builds Winning Organizations

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ditch your sandwich appraisals and use honest, clear feedback to maximize staff potential

As the industry has moved away from the antiquated annual process to the more dynamic, continuous feedback process, appraisal methods have come under scrutiny.

During the performance evaluation modernization process, many of us have forgotten that face-to-face feedback needs overhauling too.
As a result, many managers and supervisors are relying on inadequate one-to-one feedback techniques that actually undermine their employee's evaluations.

One ineffective but prevalent technique that needs to be ditched is often referred to as the sandwich appraisal.

Image from the Journal of behavioural studies. Fig 1. Page 2

This feedback technique, where you position negative feedback in between two pieces of positive feedback in order to soften the blow, became fashionable a few years back. It has stubbornly persisted for years due to force of habit; but sadly, it is undermining the evaluation process.
For this reason, the sandwich appraisal deserves some serious debunking.

Staff Want to Be Told Straight – They Don’t Want To Be Patronized 

Research from Schwarz shows that managers hold the following misguided beliefs about giving negative feedback.

  1. “It iseasier for people to hear and accept negative feedback when it is sprinkled with positive feedback.”
  2. “The sandwich approach provides balanced feedback.”
  3. “Giving positive feedback with negative feedback reduces worker discomfort and anxiety.”

But the reality is that staff don’t want sugar-coated bad news.
When the staff of those same managers were asked how they wanted to receive feedback, many were adamant that hearing niceties first worsened the blow. They wanted to cut to the chase and hear the bad news straight up. Delaying the inevitable bad news with positive precursors was in itself anxiety-provoking.
Tell it straight. Don't ruin a positive with a negative.

Top Performers Thrive on Negative Feedback

Remarkably, research shows that staff actually thrive on negative feedback and turn it into a learning opportunity.
A study by Leadership IQ found that nearly half of employees fail in the first year or so, and a key reason for that is that they can’t accept negative feedback. The founder of Leadership, IQ Mark Murphy argues that “high performers are often high performers specifically because they’re good at accepting feedback and using it as fuel for personal growth.”
Murphy uses Peyton Manning as an example of a sportsman whose brilliance is based on his critical self-awareness. Peyton spends hours studying films of his performances and is always open to the feedback.
Negative feedback will maximize your staff’s potential.

Toughen Up

The message to managers out there is that it is time to toughen up when doing appraisals.
Winners and A-Players (the kind of folks you want to attract and retain) want to hear negative feedback to enable growth. They are prepared to take negative feedback on the chin.
In fact, some of the toughening up may have to be on the side of managers.

Research shows that managers use the positive sandwich as a way of alleviating their own stress. It’s this sandwich approach that leads to the unbearable suspense – and it’s the reason it has to go.

Of course, it’s all well and good telling you to ‘hang tough’ in appraisals, but it does need to be done right.
You always knew where you stood with Darth Vader, but few would advocate his approach to giving negative feedback. If you are about to shift to a more direct approach to negative feedback, make sure not to over-compensate for years of sugar-coating by going overboard.

Being direct is not the same as being aggressive; barking out criticism could alienate even A-Players. Negative feedback delivered assertively is the order of the day.


Jorgan Appelo, management consultant and industry advocate of direct negative feedback, has outlined a simple 5-step technique to giving it to your staff on the chin that will work in the office.

Step 1: Describe Your Context
“The CEO is breathing down my neck for these reports.”

Step 2: List Your Observations
"You have missed three deadlines."

Step 3: Express Your Feelings
“This puts me in an awkward position with the boss.”

Step 4: Explain The Value
“Without these reports, we won’t get next year’s budget.”

Step 5: Offer Some Suggestions
“You are better than this. How can you ensure this work is completed on time? What can I do to help?”

This is constructive but direct criticism free of threats, anger, or negative labels such as ‘incompetent’ or ‘stupid,’ and it will motivate the recipient – not alienate them.

360-Degree Appraisals Can Add More Weight to Criticism

Negative feedback (and positive feedback for that matter) can be enhanced by 360-degree appraisals –  collective feedback garnered from the employee’s colleagues.
It’s hard for employees to question criticism that has been voiced by several colleagues as it has more weight. 360-degree appraisals also depersonalize the criticism, potentially reducing defensiveness, meaning the employee may more readily accept the negative feedback.

Ideally, your evaluation process should take place in an environment of continuous feedback, so that the employee does not receive a nasty surprise at the year end.

To ensure damage limitation and to promote a quick fix, give feedback immediately. Such feedback could occur on a monthly basis or after each project.

Positive Feedback Is Allowed – Just Bin the Sandwich

You could be forgiven for thinking that we are declaring war on positive feedback. We are not.

Positive feedback is beneficial. Just don’t artificially sandwich it around negative feedback in order to bury bad news – it’s counter-productive.
If an employee’s overall performance is inadequate, we shouldn’t withhold the positives, but the overall tone of feedback during the appraisal – while still constructive – should rightly be negative.

Without this honest feedback, your employee won’t get the message to improve and will continue to fail.

Of course, if you are sitting an employee down to give isolated negative feedback about one situation only, then there’s probably very little room for compliments.
Any charity you have on offer should be channelled into maintaining a professional, non-confrontational demeanour and keeping a supportive, constructive, and optimistic tone once the bad news has been laid out.
Remember , your role as a manager is to guide and teach. Any negative feedback must be supported and followed up by suggestions on how to improve and the tools to do it.
With the right balance of challenge and support your employees will reach their maximum potential.

The positive sandwich appraisal is well past its sell-by date and is no longer fit for human consumption.
Modern workers don’t want or need sugar-coating; the ensuing suspense actually increases stress and undermines the appraisal process.
Assertively delivered negative feedback will do much more good to your organization, motivating and focusing employees and enabling them to reach their maximum potential.

Image Credits: 
Fig 1. P2 - Journal of behavioural studies
1. The Sandwich Feedback Method: Not very tasty. Journal of Behavioural Studies in Business Volume 7 - September 2014:
2. Leadership IQ Study:
3. 5 Step Negative Feedback Technique: