Employee Performance Appraisals (part 2) - a Guide to the informal review

by Duncan

Now that you have seen the importance of restructuring your formal Performance Appraisal System (in click here to read Part 1 to be more in line with your organization’s vision, mission and goals and how this process, and its results, can translate into employee engagement and customer satisfaction, it is time to look at the quarterly Informal Review. This Review is entirely different in character from the annual Performance Appraisal and serves two unique purposes. First, it builds an employee-management bond by creating a feedback loop where performance information is exchanged in two directions. Secondly, it becomes a primary source for identifying organizational problems and their solutions.

Building Employee Rapport
One of your primary goals in this Informal Review is to build rapport with your employee. You need to make them feel comfortable in your presence and remove the organizational fear of reprisal that tends to be associated with employee-management discussions. You might even want to hold the Review over coffee in a quiet corner of the company cafeteria, if the employee feels comfortable there – ask them first and clear it with your HR Manager. Don’t be afraid to spend the first few minutes sharing a bit of yourself with your employees and learning more about them in return. Such personal engagement by managers fosters trust and employee engagement with the organization, as a whole.

Avoid sitting across a desk or table from your employee, as this is a position of intimidation. Sit beside them or across the corner of your desk, where you can easily share paperwork or a computer screen together. Watch your body language. Don’t cross your arms over your chest, for example, as this indicates that you are closed to what the employee is saying. Smile or keep your facial expression open and neutral, not frowning or downcast. Look the employee in the eyes frequently when you speak. Avoid talking too much, letting the employee do most of the talking. The Guide, below, will assist you in getting a dialog going with your employee.

Beginning The Employee Dialog
Ensure that the employee has access to their individual and team Performance Metrics several days in advance of the scheduled review. Also provide them with a copy of this questionnaire, below, and ask them to review the questions in preparation for the Informal Review so that they will have some answers in mind to begin a dialog with you. Let them know it is not necessary to provide the specific number of items requested in each question, nor is it necessary to have an answer for each question. Make it clear that you are sincerely interested in their input and that this is a vital opportunity for them to participate in how the organization works.


1. What three things, specifically, do you feel you have done well during this review period? What is the biggest contribution you feel you make to our organization’s customers?

2. What three things, specifically, could you have done better if you had more help from your teammates?

3. What role do you feel you play on your team? Are you as successful and comfortable in this role as you could be? If not, what holds you back? How can you take steps to resolve this? Would you like to change your role? What would that take, on your part?

4. What three things, specifically, could your supervisor have done better to assist you in accomplishing your Performance Elements and exceeding your Performance Standards during this review period?

5. Are you satisfied that you, and your team, are doing the best possible job to satisfy our customers? Is this proven by your Performance Metrics? If not, where do you think the problem lies? What can be done to fix it, in your opinion?

6. What are your goals for the next review period? Do you require any training to accomplish these goals? If so, please identify.

7. Are there any issues, concerns or ideas for improving our organization that you would like to contribute today?

Conducting The Review
During the Review, remember that these are merely guidelines to begin the flow of communication. Ask follow-up questions (when, where, how & why) and draw the employee out. Use your instincts and watch for non-verbal cues to what they may be hesitant to say. This indicates a remnant of organizational fear. Reassure them that it is safe to communicate openly with you, and that you always are interested in hearing about problems and their ideas about solutions to those problems. One note of caution here: don’t let this turn into a gripe session where all the employee does is complain. If they surface a problem, press them for a solution. If they don’t have one immediately in mind, task them to think of one. Many employees have become so inured to being taken for granted and complaining to no effect that they do this as if on auto-pilot. In order to shake them of this bad habit and make them an effective, contributing member of the team again, you must rebuild the employee-management bond by taking them seriously enough to listen to their solutions as well as their problems. And then take action. Take copious notes during each employee’s Review, question by question.

Post-Review Actions
Once you have completed all of your employee Reviews, your real work begins, for this has not been just a pointless exercise in human resource management. First, compare the notes you took on the individual Reviews and see if the same problems are surfaced by multiple employees. These are likely to be your priority problems that are hindering productivity or having the greatest impact on customer satisfaction. Prepare an After Action Summary Report that gleans the problem/solution information contained in Questions 2, 4, 5 and 7, above, and review it with your employees so that they know they were heard.

Allow them this opportunity to expand the definition of the problems and/or provide additional input regarding the proposed solutions. Implement anything that falls within your span of control. This builds employee engagement, as they can see that “the system” actually works and they will start to trust the employee-management bond and will bring problems to you, together with proposed solutions, on a routine basis.

After you have done all you can at your level, forward the After Action Summary Report up your chain of command for further action. Follow up routinely and volunteer for assignments to take action on problems surfaced by your own team. Report on the action items quarterly to your employees. This, too, fosters employee engagement, for they can see you are actively engaged in implementing solutions to problems they have identified.

The Benefits
The Informal Review, coupled with the formal Performance Appraisal, gives the manager a valuable tool set with which to assess the mission readiness of his organization and employees. By making the Informal Review part of your Performance Appraisal System, you strengthen the employee-management bond and surface problems and solutions as close to the source as possible, which is exactly what you want to see happen. Only then can power and money be applied from senior management to effect organization-wide solutions that will improve your customer support exponentially instead of incrementally. Always remember, your competitive edge comes from the ideas of your human resources and this is one more means of translating those ideas into action, while fostering employee engagement.

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