Poor staff retention rates cost employers valuable time and money, which in the current climate just isn’t an option. When your own HR department is relatively small – or non-existent – and outsourcing HR services isn’t viable, how you tackle retention is crucial. How can you keep costs down and still maintain staff development?

  • The need for appraisals
  • Benefits to your staff
  • Preparation
  • Mapping their career
  • In the appraisal
  • Handling confrontation
  • Post-appraisal action
  • The need for appraisals

A recent survey identified that half (49.8%) of employers have experienced problems with staff retention in the past 12 months. The most popular route to overcoming these issues has been through staff training and development (65.7%) – and one of the most important parts of actively addressing your employee’s training and development needs is in the performance appraisal.

A well-executed appraisal can make the difference between disaffection and total motivation. The appraisal should be more than simply a chat and a coffee – really make the time to get under the skin of your employees and find out how to get the best out of them. But it’s not just about what’s good for your employee. You can benefit too – with the correct preparation and a positive mindset, you can use the appraisal as an opportunity to:

  • Revive flagging motivation
  • Kick-start projects that may have fallen by the wayside
  • Reward productive employees with more responsibility
  • Deal with problems head-on
  • Set objectives for the future
  • Assess training needs
  • Learn more about the group dynamics of your team

Benefits to your staff

Contrary to popular opinion, many employees actually look forward to their performance appraisal (this is one reason it’s important you take the occasion seriously). The performance appraisal is a chance for them to:

  • Gain recognition and reward (although appraisals are most definitely not pay reviews – these should ideally be handled separately)
  • Look ahead and set objectives that will help their career
  • Identify support they need  
  • Resolve grievances
  • Seek reassurance and appreciation


In order to make the appraisal session worthwhile, it’s essential to prepare – by reviewing past information and jotting down some notes. To give you an insight into how your employee might slant the conversation in the meeting itself, it’s useful to ask for his or her initial thoughts via a pre-appraisal form.

Things you can do to make the appraisal more beneficial include:

  • Ask your member of staff to complete the appraisal form in full
  • Explain you will need the form back at least two days prior to the meeting (this gives you time to study it)
  • Spend some time analyzing the appraisee’s comments
  • Review previous appraisal notes; what were the objectives set?
  • Talk to other line managers and colleagues – what do they think?
  • Talk to clients or suppliers – is there any useful feedback you could use?
  • Review work done – how have projects been executed? Could they have been done better? What was done well?
  • Think about future departmental objectives – how can the appraisee contribute? How can you develop the appraisee?

In the appraisal

First and foremost, stick to the appointment. Whether your appraisee has been looking forward to the session with enthusiasm or trepidation, a postponement will cause disappointment and send the wrong message. Show that you take your employee’s career seriously and that the appraisal is important to you too. If other people want to see you, put them off. Make the appraisal start first thing in the morning, 8.30 if necessary, to avoid being waylaid by other demands on your time. As a guideline, allow an hour for the appraisal and hold all calls.

When the appraisal begins, set the agenda. Explain the importance of the appraisal and that the purpose is to focus on the appraisee. A gentle reminder that salary is not on the agenda is not out of place, but be sensitive to individual circumstances. Try to follow a logical order, ideally along the lines of your pre-appraisal form. The discussion should centre around:

  • A review of objectives set at the previous appraisal
  • What objectives were met? Is the appraisee deserving of special praise?
  • What wasn’t met? Why? Was extra help needed?
  • How does he view himself as part of the team?
  • Does he enjoy his job? What doesn’t he enjoy?
  • How does he assess his skill areas?
  • Does he have a clear idea of his role and the department’s role?
  • Where does he see himself developing over the coming six months/year? How is he going to achieve these aims?
  • Are there specific targets? Can the targets be realistically met?
  • How will performance be measured?
  • What training needs are required to fulfil these objectives?
  • What other issues would he like to raise?

Handling confrontation

Confrontations can arise when delivering uncomfortable news. You may be required to spell out in no uncertain terms that the appraisee is failing in a particular aspect of his job. This could be as simple a matter as timekeeping or personal appearance, or more sensitive, such as competence at specific tasks or ability to get on with colleagues.

Be prepared. How can your comments be best phrased? Can you at the same time highlight positive points? Are you being constructive in your criticism? Have you suggestions as to how these points can be resolved?

Performance appraisals can sail along happily until the offer is made to ‘raise other issues’ This may open cans of worms for which you were unprepared, such as personal gripes about other members of staff, complaints about office ergonomics, accusations of unfair treatment and grievances about workload or resources. Many of these may seem of little significance in the grand scheme of things, but to the appraisee, they can acquire importance of great magnitude.

Some of these problem areas can be shrewdly predicted. Can colleagues tip you off beforehand? If you in fact suspect gripes, ensure they are discussed at the appraisal, even if a little coaxing is required to bring them out. Some people would rather let moans and groans fester, saving them for gossip in the pub, and lowering morale all round. Tackle them head on. The chances are your proactive approach will work in your favour. An employee who is known to be continually complaining about some issue may be taken by surprise and take a less confrontational view.

However, if it is you who is on the back foot, taken unawares by some unforeseen problem, think on your feet. Ask the appraisee to give you specific examples rather than generalisation. Asking for evidence is not unreasonable. Listen carefully. What is the problem really about? Is the problem being raised a cover for something less sinister which can be easily handled? Is the appraisee embarrassed about something? Throw down a challenge. How does the appraisee suggest the problem be resolved? Have they given the matter some thought? Are their suggestions rational? It may be, if the issue is one of resourcing or ideas, that the appraisee could be given a special project to look into possible options for resolving the issue. You can use the ‘gripe’ for a spot of impromptu volunteer recruiting.

Obviously, if the complaint is of a more grave nature, such as harassment or discrimination allegations, further investigation will be required. Make it clear you take the matter seriously and take the appropriate steps. Return to the main appraisal and concentrate on positive points.

Post-appraisal action

The appraisal isn’t over when the meeting ends, and that’s why a specific document such as Career Map can help. It can be kept as a permanent record of your employee’s expectations – and compared to future completions. From this, you’ll be able to track action taken, negative points raised and what is being done to correct these, as well as aspects of performance that have been highlighted as having been done well.

Your work is still not over! It’s essential to make the action points actually happen – and be seen to be making them happen. If you’ve committed to exploring further training or arranging meetings with other departments, then find out or get these sessions set up as soon as you can. The quickest way to lose valuable staff is to allow decisions made at appraisals to fall by the wayside.

With the right mental attitude, effective preparation and a commitment to constructive follow-up, you can turn your staff appraisals into positive, performance-enhancing meetings. There is nothing to fear!

Please do not hesitate to contact us at any time should you have any questions regarding the contained information, or require any recruitment assistance.