How do you assess performance accurately?

This is a question that often comes up when people are preparing for appraisals and performance reviews.

It may be that you have to score performance as part of your appraisal system (not every system is like this). If so you need to be fair and consistent in your scoring. It may be that an individual’s bonus or pay depends on your assessment.

Assessing performance is all about measuring what has been achieved against what was required. So to do it effectively you need to be clear about both. This means you need clear objectives and you need to know what has been achieved and how it was accomplished.

To get help with performance reviews and appraisals get “Praise and the Appraisal” 105 tips and techniques to help you to use appraisals effectively.

Scoring systems as part of performance review

Usually these systems have definitions for each rating or score. If you don’t see one, ask.

Recently the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) here in the UK said they were going to scrap the rating “Satisfactory” because it is a euphemism for “not good enough”.

Dictionary synonyms for “satisfactory”

Acceptable, suitable, all right, pleasing, fitting, agreeable, adequate.
So Ofsted has clearly been using the wrong word for years, which is a bit worrying when you think that they inspect English teachers amongst others.

No doubt next week we will have them complaining about so many schools being “below average”.

Scoring systems need to be fair and transparent

When they are not, you get problems. You need to allocate scores in a way that is consistent. You must also be able to explain how you have arrived at your conclusion.

This is best done by talking about it through the year with the individual and explaining how their performance is rated as you go. As you do this you need to give feedback using specific examples. Ideally you need to explain what the individual has to do to achieve their desired rating.

For more on this, including examples and a step-by-step set of instructions on how to give feedback, get my booklet ‘Feedback for the Faint-Hearted”.

Bad scoring systems

Unfortunately many of these systems are relative, rather than absolute. That means that even if you achieve all your objectives you can still get a performance rating of something like ‘partially met’ because there are others who have apparently achieved more than you have.

This is when the whole system not only breaks down but also becomes damaging and de-motivating, with angry appraisees swearing at their managers and storming out of the meeting. (Yes, I know of at least one case where this happened when an individual who had clearly achieved all his objectives received a rating of “partially met”.)

If you want to know more about why systems like this (often referred to as ‘forced distributions’) don’t work see this posting Possibly the last word on forced distributions.

Even worse than all this is a point made to me recently that it is in the interests of some senior managers to put the performance of appraisees in lower categories than they should be as this can increase the size of the bonus pot for senior managers, partners or directors.

Rating systems need to be objective and very well defined to stop this kind of behaviour.

Coping with bad systems

Many systems have ratings like these:

  • Valued contribution
  • Exceeded expectations
  • Poor
  • Good
  • Below Expectations
  • Needs Development
  • Meets Expectations
  • Exceeds Expectations
  • Superior Quality
  • Outstanding
  • Fair
  • Extraordinary
  • Commendable
  • Far below requirements
  • Proficient
  • Competent

Do any of these look familiar?

The problem with all of these is that, unless they are clearly defined, they can be very woolly and lead to misunderstandings at best and arguments at worst. So make sure you have the definitions and you understand them.

Honesty works best

Coping with systems with poor definitions and misleading labels can be difficult. Generally honesty is the best policy. Remember what the purpose of the system you are working with is and be open with appraisees about any shortcomings of the system (virtually every system has them).

However, if you gather your evidence and examples of behaviour (what the individual has said and done), know what the standards are, and do your preparation you should be able to assess performance accurately.

It’s often worth asking the appraisee for their own examples (many systems do this).

Remember, the names of specific scores are often virtually meaningless so it’s the definitions you need to focus on. Match the examples against these to assess performance.


Costa Concordia – what was the captain’s appraisal like?

I expect you, like me, are horrified to see what has happened to the Costa Concordia. As yet, we don’t know exactly what the captain, Francesco Schettino, did or did not do.

It may be that he has performed very badly; it’s hard not to jump to conclusions. If he has, I would be very surprised if this was the first example of poor performance from him.

Questions that need to be answered

In a case like this there are some questions that need to be asked:

  • What was the result of his last performance review?
  • How was his manager managing his performance?
  • How was he recruited and what were the procedures?

Very often when I have looked at the records of the appraisals of people who are performing badly, the records indicate that they are model employees. As a result, no action is taken and often, people with serious performance issues get passed on to other unsuspecting managers.

I’ve also come across cases where individuals clearly should never have got through the recruitment process, the process is very poor, or has not been carried out effectively.

There are reasons for these processes and for the regular reviewing of performance.

Your biggest problems with appraisals

Last week I got quite a few answers to my question: What is your biggest problem with appraisals?

There were several like these:

  • Getting Managers to commit to carrying them out in the first place!
  • Managers rushing through it so staff do not feel it is of any real value
  • Line Managers tend to shy away from those difficult conversations where the employee is not performing. How can we effectively get this message across that tackling the problem early will save a lot of time and energy in the long run?
  • How to get managers to see that appraisals are really important

There are two key answers. Firstly you need to make sure you are preventing disasters like the one we have seen with the Costa Concordia and secondly you need to make sure that performance at least meets the required standards.

The responsibility of managers

Unfortunately there are many managers who do not seem to realise that this is what they are there for and a big part of their responsibilities.

We need not only to be holding Captain Francesco Schettino to account, but his manager too. It seems that this is rarely done.

If companies held senior managers to account more and on the performance issues of their staff, I think it would be clearer why appraisals and performance reviews were so important.

Here is another common question

Should I set objectives before the appraisal or agree them during the appraisal?

Objectives late from the top

The trouble for most people here is that your organisation probably hasn’t got round to setting the top-level objectives in time for you to do this properly. However, as a manager, you probably have a good idea what’s coming up (and most objectives aren’t going to be changing radically).

I have found the most effective way to carry out an appraisal is to do the objectives for next year first.

Here’s why.

If you do that, it sends a message of confidence to the appraisee. It says: “We still want you. We have confidence in you.”

Tackle issues easily

Then, you can address any issues in the light of what you need in the future. For example:
“We need you to sell £1.5m this year. Last year you sold £0.9m. What do we need to do differently in order for that to happen?”

This makes it much easier for you to tackle issues in a positive way and to agree on development objectives. You’ll find more on this in my booklet “Praise and the Appraisal”.

Ask questions

If you think managers really don’t know what appraisals are for ask them what they think appraisals are for, rather than telling them. I suspect you’ll find that they don’t know. You may also find that your organisation is not very clear about it either.

Over the years, many appraisal systems have been modified and tweaked to include all kinds of things that probably should not be there. Remember the example I gave about the 19-page form? I don’t think it started out like that. I suspect pages and bits got added over a number of years.

What is your objective?

The best way to tackle this is to go back to fundamentals and make sure the system is designed to meet your current requirements.

However, you may not be in a position to do this yourself, so you have to make the best of what you have.

If you are really clear about what the objective of the appraisal is you can usually make just about any system effective (though it is always easier with a well-designed one). It’s a bit like cover versions of different songs. Sometimes you get one that is better than the original sung by the person who wrote it.

Other times you hear what is a fantastic song completely ruined. A really good artist can make an average song sound great. Just as a skilled manager can make even an over-complicated, badly designed appraisal system work for them.

Sadly that’s what you may need to do. But if you start off clear about what you need to achieve, and well prepared, that will be a lot easier.

How do I set the right objectives and make them SMART?

You need to make sure that the objectives are aligned to the organisational goals and that they are Specific Measurable, Aligned, Relevant and Time-Bounded (there are various other options for the “A” and “R”).
For more help with this, have a look at my booklet “How to Write Objectives That Work”.

For these last questions:

How do I write them using the right words? What should I say and how?

Have a look at these two postings:

Employee Review and Appraisals Comments

19 words and phrases not to use in appraisal comments

Next week I’ll tackle the questions on how to give accurate assessments of performance.


My Objective Challenge – 52 Recipes in a Year – Vegetable Soup

Vegetable Soup

I’m really making great progress with my objective of trying out 52 new recipes this year. I’m on number 8 already. My new digital scales (Christmas present) are being used virtually every day and I’m enjoying the whole process immensely.
Not every recipe is working perfectly first time (more of that next week) but that’s part of the fun. It once took me 3 months till I was completely satisfied with a recipe. My family had to much their way through scores of false starts in the mean time, but we got there.
This week, though, here’s a really simple, easy and yet delicious recipe. We were recently lucky enough to be invited to a party by Yvonne, a friend in the village. She’s a great cook so I was hoping for some good food and wasn’t disappointed.
Naturally I had to ask her for a few of her recipes, one of which was her delicious vegetable soup. She very kindly agreed that I could share it with you.
It’s really easy and, I suspect, foolproof as it came out perfect and utterly delicious. It has a wonderful velvety texture and is a great winter warmer.
She recommends simmering for 40 minutes, I’m afraid I did it in the pressure-cooker for 10 instead. It worked perfectly. (I also only made about 1/3 of this, which would be plenty for 4 people)

Vegetarian Soup

1 x red & 1 x white onion – chopped roughly
4 – 6 carrots (I used Sainsburys’ ‘So Organic’)
3 smallish parsnips
3 sweet potatoes
Olive oil and knob of ‘Pure’ (soya based dairy free butter substitute)
or butter
Stock – approx 3 pints (made from Marigold Vegan Swiss Vegetable
reduced salt Bouillon powder). This makes it quite thick, add more stock if you want it thinner.

Heat olive oil & small knob of ‘Pure’ (soya based dairy free butter substitute) or butter in a large stock pan. Fry off onions until going translucent but before caramelisation.
Toss in all peeled & roughly chopped veg. Soften off for about 5 mins, agitating the pan just to prevent them sticking.
Add the stock which, as it’s made with boiling water, will be pretty hot.
Bring to the boil turn down to a gentle simmer.
I tend to let this simmer away for quite some time, probably a good 40 minutes.
I know that’s not great from a vitamin point of view but it does make sure all the flavours develop.
When cool liquidise. I season with salt & black pepper as I’m liquidising. As I seldom use salt in cooking generally I’m pretty minimal on this – I reason whoever is eating it can always add to their personal taste but you can’t reduce
it if there’s too much in there! Also the bouillon has some salt in the mix anyway.
This soup can be successfully frozen but tends to separate. If it does once it’s
defrosted I blitz it in the liquidiser again or use an electric whisk to bring it back together again.


Is your appraisal coming up? 3 tips to help you

If you have your appraisal coming up, you might want some tips on how to be prepared for it. Here are my three top tips for you.

1 Check your objectives

Make sure you know what your objectives were and have the evidence that you have achieved them. Really you should gather this over the year, but if you haven’t done that already, start now (don’t even wait till you’ve finished reading this).

2 Have suggestions ready

If you have not achieved some of your objectives, be ready with suggestions of what you can do to resolve any problems or issues. This could be training, learning new skills or tackling things in a different way.
Make it clear that you are already on the case, rather than waiting for your manager to come up with things.

3 Feedback for your manager

If you have a manager who is not giving you what you need or is making your life more difficult (we have all had them), be prepared with some feedback.
Here’s how you do it:

I would like to achieve ____________________. It would really help me if you could ____________. How could that be arranged?

For example:
I would like to be more prepared for meetings with new clients. It would really help me if I could have a few days warning before the meeting so I could research them and find out more about their needs. How could that be arranged?

In this case you might even have some ideas like checking their diary or asking one of the admin people.

Preparing this ahead of time makes it much easier and makes you look professional. (Of course it would probably have been better to have done this earlier, but it’s never too late to start.)

Good luck!

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My biggest problem with appraisals and performance reviews is

What are appraisals and performance reviews really for?

I remember running a course on appraisal skills many years ago when one of the delegates said that he didn’t like the current appraisal form and reeled off his lengthy reasons. (The form was pretty bad). Before I could respond, one of the other delegates piped up: “Don’t worry, if you don’t like this one they’ll change it soon anyway.”

There was a volley of laughter from the rest of the group. The forms and system changed at least four times over eight years.

It’s hard to imagine a perfect system, but you will probably have come across many imperfect ones.

What are appraisals and performance reviews really for?

They are really there to make sure that the following year’s goals and objectives are achieved. If they are only backwards looking, there really is no point and they are (as many people think) a waste of time.

Too much rear view mirror

The problem is that many organisations don’t get their objectives sorted out till well after the appraisals have been completed, which means that managers then tend to be much more backward-looking than forward looking.

Bad systems

One of our clients told me that their employees didn’t like their appraisal form. I said he shouldn’t worry too much as I had come across a really bad form (on an internet site purporting to give examples of good forms) that was 12 pages long. He looked uncomfortable. “Ours is 19 pages.” Came the resounding response.

It was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Huge amounts of duplication, questions that were clearly of no benefit at all and it the whole system seemed to be designed to ensure that no one ever got a high rating.

What if you are stuck with a bad system?

You simply have to take the advice from that delegate of years ago, wait for it to change. In the mean time, make the best of it.

Look forward

Use the appraisal to work out how your people are going to achieve their objectives and goals over the next year. Use the experience of the last year as a base line to help you to identify what it is they (or you) need to do differently to achieve that.

Keep focused on the coming year if you possibly can

In this way, you will get value out of the exercise and so will your team.

For more help with appraisals, sign up for these free tips.  Be sure to identify which set would help you the most.


Your 2012 objectives

For many people January is the time to write your objectives and goals for the coming year. It’s not everyone’s favourite task. Done badly it can lead to frittered funds, frustration and failure. Done well it can give you a shortcut to success.

SMART objectives for the New Year

In case you need to write your objectives now, here are a couple of reminders on SMART objectives. But instead of just a reminder on SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bounded) I thought you’d like to know the two aspects of objectives and targets that REALLY matter. If you get these right you’ll be ahead of most other people and companies.

Start at the top

Ideally you should start with the objectives of your company or organisation. These should be cascaded down the organisation so that, if everyone achieves their objectives then the goals of your company will be achieved.

This is the purpose of objectives.

In reality

Sadly, there are few organisations where it works like this every year. So very often you have to do your best to work out what it is you need to achieve.

However, make sure that your objectives are aligned with the top goals and your manager’s objectives if at all possible.

Get help with objectives now.

Measures for objectives

Apart from making sure your objectives are aligned, the other key characteristic of a well-written objective is that you can measure it.

The easiest way to test this is to ask yourself if someone else would be able to tell if you had achieved your objective. If not, you need to make it clearer.

Years ago when I started helping people to write their objectives, if I couldn’t understand an objective, I assumed that it must be me being stupid. However, I have learned that objectives need to be simple and straightforward so that they can be understood by anyone.

If they sound complicated and confusing, they are no good. Some people say that the discussion you have around getting the objective clear is the most important part of it. In some ways, this is true – it is extremely useful to have that conversation.

But it’s a waste of time if you don’t end up with a clear objective at the end of it.

Be suspicious

When people want to wreath their objectives in technical, woolly terms or flowery language, you should hear alarm bells ringing. There is no need for this. I have yet to come across a situation where it is necessary.

If, when you ask how an objective is going to be measured, an individual responds; “I’ll know”, this is not good enough. Keep asking questions till you have a measure.

Usually people give these answers because they are not really clear on what they need to achieve. Sometimes I even think they don’t want to be accountable. The silly thing is that it’s usually easier to achieve something when you are clear about what it is you are trying to do, so there is no need for murkiness.

I even came across one organisation where the senior managers didn’t want their objectives to be clear and preferred unintelligible language! At least they admitted it.

Dangerous behaviour

When you are really senior, this is very dangerous. The reason is that if no one else really understands what it is that needs to be achieved, how can they contribute? This is an easy path to the dark side.

The more senior they are the greater the cost of poor objectives to the organisation.

Cascade your objectives effectively and make them measurable. Do this and you’ll be off to a great start in 2012.

Make your objectives SMART


New Year’s Resolutions Broken Already?

Oh dear. Even if it’s just cutting the calorie intake or spending less, what do you do if you have already broken your New Year’s resolutions? Or if you fail in the first week or two?

Don’t panic or give up

Year’s ago I came across some research on success. I can’t remember where it came from, but it has served me very well since. The findings were that one of the major differences between successful people and unsuccessful people was what you do in the face of failure.

The unsuccessful generally give up. If you are successful you don’t. It’s all about staying motivated.

Review your objective

The first thing to do is always to review your objective. Make sure it’s the right one.

Many New Year’s resolutions are about ‘doing’ rather than achieving. If you have an objective about doing something every day (or not doing something if, for instance, if you are giving up smoking) you may have made your New Year’s resolution extremely hard to keep just because of the way you have written it.

Get some help in framing your objective here.

Review your strategy

Once you have your objective right, check your strategy for achieving it. If you want to change the results you get, you need to change the system.

I was extremely impressed to see a friend of ours on New Year’s Eve had lost quite a bit of weight. He had had a rather unpleasant virus earlier that week so I assumed it must be that. However, when I asked him, it turned out that he had been making an attempt to lose weight for a few weeks.

The reason that he is making such good progress this time is that he has a system that works for him (unlike his previous attempts).

In case you would like to know what it is, it’s an iPhone application (it also works on many other platforms) called MyNetDiary.

It helps you to work out how many calories you can have each day and still achieve your desired weight loss.

It even tells you how many calories you have left as you go through the day (which seemed to be the feature my formally portly friend liked the best as he regaled me with the details of what he could eat at the party).

This is weight loss for geeks, I think. So it might not work for you, but you need to find something that does. If the first system fails, try another one.

Update your plan

Update your plan. Change the milestones and dates for reviewing your progress if necessary.

It may be your plan is to find a system that works by the end of March, for example.

Reward progress

Yes, you can punish yourself for failure if that helps, but do not go mad. And don’t give up. Do reward yourself for your progress and make sure you keep a record of your progress. It’s easy to dismiss how much progress you have made.

My resolution

My New Year’s resolution this year is to try out 52 new recipes. It started off as trying one every week. But then I realised that this might be a bit tricky when I away. So then I decided to change it to an average of one per week. But that can get a bit complicated to work out – much easier to be clear about the total.

My plan is to do one per week except when I’m away and then I will either get ahead before I go, or catch up when I am back.

If you would like to find out how I progress on this resolution (and which recipes I go for) you’ll be able to find out on Facebook each Friday.

I would also love to get your suggestions of recipes to try out.

Wishing you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year

For tips on how to make your resolutions successful, see last week’s blog 5 Tips for New Year’s Resolutions