Conducting Appraisals - The Essential Skills

Jonathan Farrington

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All managers expected to carry out performance appraisal should have some training. Ideally this should not just be on the skills of performance appraisal – the ‘how’ to do it, but also on the reasons for performance appraisal the ‘why’ we do it. Managers should understand how it fits into the wider strategic process of performance management and how the information and data generated contributes to understanding of the capacity of the human capital of the organisation to contribution to business strategy and value.

A basic requirement is that appraisers have the skills to carry out an effective appraisal as described above. This means they ask the right questions, listen actively and provide feedback.

Asking the right questions:

The two main issues are to ensure that appraisers ask open and probing questions.

Open questions are general rather than specific; they enable people to decide how they should be answered and encourage them to talk freely. Examples include:

  • How do you feel things have been going?

  • How do you see the job developing?

  • How do you feel about that?

  • Tell me, why do you think that happened?

    Probing questions dig deeper for more specific information on what happened or shy. They can should support for the individual’s answer and encourage them to provide more information about their feelings and attitudes and they can also be used to reflect back to the individual and check information. Examples would be:

  • That’s very interesting. Tell me more about …. ?

  • To what extent do you think that …?

  • Have I got the right impression? Do you mean that …. ?


    Good listeners:

  • Concentrate on the speakers and are aware of behaviour, body language and nuances that supplement what is being said.

  • Respond quickly when necessary but don’t interrupt.

  • Ask relevant questions to clarify meaning.

  • Comment on points to demonstrate understanding but keep them short and do not inhibit the flow of the speaker.

    Giving feedback

    Feedback should be based on facts not subjective opinion and should always be backed up with evidence and examples. The aim of feedback should be to promote the understanding of the individual so that they are aware of the impact of their actions and behaviour. It may require corrective action where the feedback indicates that something has gone wrong. However, wherever possible feedback should be used positively to reinforce the good and identify opportunities for further positive action. Giving feedback is a skill and those with no training should be discouraged from giving feedback.

    Feedback will work best when the following conditions are met:

  • Feedback is built in with individuals being given access to readily available information on their performance and progress.

  • Feedback is related to actual events, observed behaviours or actions.

  • Feedback describes events without judging them.

  • Feedback is accompanies by questions soliciting the individual’s opinion why certain things happened.

  • People are encouraged to come to their own conclusions about what happened and why.

  • There is understanding about what things went wrong and an emphasis on putting them right rather than censuring past behaviour.

    Copyright © 2007 Jonathan Farrington. All rights reserved

    Jonathan Farrington is the Managing Partner of The jfa Group . To find out more about the author, subscribe to his newsletter for dedicated business professionals or to read his weekly blog, visit:

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