Once appraisals have been completed, it is important to communicate them so that employees have a clear understanding of how they stand in the eyes of their immediate superiors and the organization. It is fairly common for organizations to require that managers discuss appraisals with employees. The appraisal feedback interview can be used to clear up misunderstandings on both sides. In this interview, the manager should emphasize counseling and development, not just tell the employee, “Here is how you rate and why.” Focusing on development gives both parties an opportunity to consider the employee’s performance—what has been done well and what has potential for improvement. Because feedback is an important part of appraisal, a brief look at feedback and how it works is a useful aid to understanding of the appraisal interview.
Feedback as a System
There are three commonly recognized components of a feedback system. They are data, evaluation of that data, and some action based on the evaluation.
Data are factual information regarding observed actions or consequences.
Feedback systems may be judged in terms of the accuracy, completeness, and appropriateness of the data they capture. For instance, when Mary spoke harshly to the engineer, it may have been an instance of poor human relations reflecting a lack of sensitivity. However, it also may have been a proper and necessary action. Someone will have to judge the meaning or value of the data, which is evaluation. Evaluation is the way the feedback system reacts to the facts, and it requires performance standards. Evaluators, of course, might come to very different conclusions on the same performance given different standards. Management might
evaluate the same factual information differently than would customers (for example,
regarding merchandise exchange or credit decisions) or coworkers. Evaluation can be done by the person supplying the data, by a supervisor, or by a group.
For feedback to cause change some decision must be made regarding subsequent action. A system in which data and evaluation did not influence action would not be a feedback system. In traditional appraisal systems, the manager makes specific suggestions regarding future actions the employee might take. In 360° feedback, those people from whom information was solicited might also suggest actions that the individual may consider in some decisions (for example, job assignments) but not in others (salary increases) depending on circumstances.
It may be necessary to involve information providers if the subsequent actions are highly interdependent and require coordination with the people providing the information. All three components (data, evaluation, and action) are necessary parts of a successful feedback system.
The Appraisal Interview
The appraisal interview presents both an opportunity and a danger. It is an emotional experience for the manager and the employee, because the manager must communicate both praise and constructive criticism. A major concern for managers
is how to emphasize the positive aspects of the employee’s performance while still discussing ways to make needed improvements. If the interview is handled poorly, the employee may feel resentment, and conflict may result, which could be reflected in future work.
Employees usually approach an appraisal interview with some concern. They often feel that discussions about performance are very personal and important to their continued job success. At the same time, they want to know how the manager feels they have been doing.
Reactions of Managers
Managers and supervisors who must complete appraisals of their employees often resist the appraisal process. Managers may feel they are put in the position of “playing God.” A major part of the manager’s role is to assist, encourage, coach, and counsel employees to improve their performance. However, being a judge on the one hand and a coach and counselor on the other may cause internal conflict and confusion for the manager.
The fact that appraisals may affect an employee’s future career may cause raters to alter or bias their ratings. This bias is even more likely when managers know that they will have to communicate and defend their ratings to the employees, their bosses, or HR specialists. From the manager’s viewpoint, providing negative feedback to an employee in an appraisal interview can be easily avoided by making the employee’s ratings positive. Reactions such as these are attempts to avoid unpleasantness in an interpersonal situation. But avoidance helps no one. A manager owes an employee a well-considered appraisal.
Reactions of Appraised Employees
Many employees view appraising as a zero-sum game—that is, one in which there must be a winner and a loser. Employees may well see the appraisal process as a threat and feel that the only way to get a higher rating is for someone else to receive a low rating. This win/lose perception is encouraged by comparative methods of rating. However, appraisals can also be non-zero-sum in nature— that is, both parties can win and no one must lose. Emphasis on the selfimprovement and developmental aspects of appraisal appears to be the most effective means to reduce zero-sum reactions from those participating in the appraisal process.
Another common employee reaction is similar to students’ reactions to tests. A professor may prepare a test he or she feels is fair, but it does not necessarily follow that students will feel the test is fair. They simply may see it differently. Likewise, employees being appraised may not necessarily agree with the manager doing the appraising. In most cases, however, employees will view appraisals done well as what they are meant to be—constructive feedback.