No matter if you are a full-time or part-time employee, if you are in the working world, at some point you will likely have to go through a review, also known as a performance appraisal. But what exactly is a performance appraisal, how do you conduct one and what are the best practices for your participation in the process to ensure the best outcome? Guidelines for effective performance appraisals are fairly consistent regardless of the type you conduct.

What is a Performance Appraisal?

Most jobs that require a performance appraisal conduct evaluation meetings once a year. Some employers may require more frequent reviews, such as every six months or once a quarter. Regardless of the frequency, performance appraisals offer an excellent opportunity for the employee and their supervisor to formally check in with each other and discuss overall job performance, goals and career management best practices.

Performance appraisals can take place via a series of online questions, at an in-person meeting, or both. Performance appraisals are documented and become part of your employment file, so knowing how to best participate in the process is an important part of your continued employment.

Types of Performance Appraisals

Some companies have used the same tried-and-true methods of performance appraisals for years. Others look for new trends and different, innovative or creative ways to evaluate employee performance. Whatever method is used, understanding the goals helps you achieve a better end result going into the review process. Following are a few of the more popular types of performance appraisals.

Type One: Self-Appraisal

In a self-appraisal, you are asked to write an evaluation of yourself and describe how you think you’re doing. You’d think this would result in an employee skewing answers by giving himself all the highest possible marks in every category, but sometimes people are not only honest and forthright about their strengths and weaknesses in self-evaluations, but can tend to be a little harder on themselves than is necessary. You want to provide as honest a measure of your success as is possible, neither too positive nor too negative.

The benefits of self-evaluation are numerous: truly, no one other person at a company knows more comprehensively how an employee is working every single day than the employee themselves. Also, not having to spend hours writing detailed evaluations of employees yourself as a manager or supervisor frees up valuable work time. If you have dozens of people reporting to you, self-evaluations can be a real time-saver. With a self-evaluation, you can exchange information directly from the employee to the supervisor that they might not otherwise have thought of, known or considered.

Type Two: 360-Degree Appraisal

This is an increasingly popular review method, providing a broad picture of the employee’s performance. The 360-degree appraisal is designed to draw a complete circle around the employee by gathering reviews and feedback from a number of different sources. This gives a true and accurate picture of how the employee is working – with people they supervise, with their peers and customers and with people they work for or report up to in the organization.

These reviews may or may not be confidential and go directly to the supervisor. Or, they may be shared with both the supervisor and the employee so the worker has a chance to read and understand what’s working and what isn’t as an employee, and address those comments in the meeting with their manager. Armed with this valuable feedback, the employee and supervisor will meet to discuss the results and make a plan of action going forward to address weaknesses, or to receive praise and rewards for areas of strength and competency.

Type Three: Technical/Objective Appraisal

This type of review has both positive and negative attributes. A checklist of duties, responsibilities and work-related goals is set forth for the employee to achieve each year. In the annual review, the list is reviewed and items are checked off that were achieved, and any gaps in the checklist can be explained or addressed. A plan of action going forward for the coming year is then developed, with new or repeated goals from the list.

The benefit of this is it makes personal feelings almost completely irrelevant, so if you and your boss don’t necessarily get along, emotion is removed from the equation. It also results in easily quantifiable data that can be translated to reports to accurately gauge overall employee progress and success. An example of a question on this type of review would be to ascertain if you took certain classes or achieved certain numerical goals, with a clear yes or no answer. Those results are then discussed in your performance appraisal, with a plan developed for the coming year with new goals to achieve.

Type Four: Behavioral Appraisal

This is one of the most difficult types of reviews because it is hard not to take things personally when your behavior and actions are addressed as problematic when you meet with your manager. But a behavior appraisal is still more of a numbers game than a judgment call. In this type of appraisal, facts are put forward about how you get your work done and your behavior and results on the job as opposed to a checklist of certain tasks or achievements. For example, if you are frequently late or absent from work, that can be brought up with statistics, and you can describe how you intend to tackle that problem going forward.

Performance Review Process

Different appraisals require different steps depending on the method used. Flexibility has to be incorporated as well. High-performing, low-problem employees may only need a review once a year. More problematic employees or workers who are not following directions or achieving adequate results may benefit from an appraisal every six months, or even once a quarter to review goals and progress. The first step should be to decide on what is fair and set a schedule with goals so the employee knows what they need to achieve and when.

Writing a Performance Appraisal

If you are asked to write a performance appraisal for someone, it is usually for a 360 review, or it may be because you supervise someone and need to write performance reviews for your direct reports. Whomever you are reviewing – even if it’s yourself – you should detail both your performance and your contributions since the last performance appraisal meeting.

It is important to be honest in performance appraisals, but not to the point of being mean or cruel. A review shouldn’t be the time to bring up a problem the employee has never heard about or had a chance to address previously. Keep things professional.

Consider whether or not your feelings are coming into play about what you’re writing, as opposed to whether or not a job duty is getting done satisfactorily. Certainly, behavior, attitude and other hard-to-quantify qualities are part of work life, and should be considered when you write a review, but always try to come from a place of showing opportunity as to how an employee could be doing something different that would result in a better outcome. Rather than just presenting problems, offer suggestions for solutions or alternative approaches.

Annual Review Format

In your annual review, you meet with your supervisor and they go over the data they’ve gathered to perform your evaluation. Be as prepared as possible for this meeting. Come to the meeting with an open mind and understand you may receive criticism. Take criticism as an opportunity to improve, and keep your emotions in check.

If there is a list of tasks or a checklist, bring your version to compare with your supervisor’s and ensure they are tracking all your work and achievements correctly. Your manager will go over the list with you to highlight what’s been completed and what is still outstanding, and will work with you or ask you to come up with a plan to take care of anything that’s missing. You may be talked to about your behavior on the job, both good and bad. A good review should be a balance of constructive criticism and praise, with encouragement and suggested steps about how to move forward with the knowledge you’ve gained during the review meeting.

You may also want to prepare a list of talking points or questions to go over during your meeting. If you want help tackling a specific problem or are asking for additional training, bring details of what, specifically, you are asking for and how that will help develop you as an employee.

Writing a Self-Evaluation

When you write a self-evaluation, you should be honest, and critical where necessary, but also be sure you point out your strengths, particularly successes or positives that your supervisor may not otherwise know about. This is a great opportunity to quote positive feedback you’ve gotten from co-workers, customers, or others who have been pleased with your work and results. Talk about your wins, successes and results.

Discuss what changes you’ve made to address problems brought up in your last review, and arrive prepared with new goals for yourself, along with a description of how you plan to achieve those goals. Think broadly about all the duties your job requires and be honest about which of those you’re fulfilling well and which you might need to focus harder on improving in the coming year, then describe how you plan to address any shortcomings.

Evaluating yourself is tough. You may think you’re the greatest employee they’ve ever had, but when you pause and reflect, you can probably think of a few times you’ve fallen short of someone else’s expectations, disappointed someone or caused them to be upset with you or your work. Think about how to address these points in your review, and come up with a plan of action for change that you can present as a solution to any challenges you face. Be reasonable and realistic.

Value of Assessment Tools

Performance reviews are a valuable assessment tool for supervisors and managers to track employee contributions and progress. Sometimes, your compensation is even tied to your job performance, so doing well in your review can positively affect your life. It’s important to understand that the review is just a snapshot.

A fantastic review doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels and stop excelling, and a negative review doesn’t mean you’re a terrible worker and should quit your job. Following the appraisal process steps presents an opportunity for growth and development as an employee, and is part of your overall career path at that company. You’ll think back over points that are raised in your review for weeks and months after the performance appraisal, and that may help realign your goals, focus your approach and spur you on to do better every year.