Is there a “perfect” performance evaluation form? Yes, argues Dick Grote, the Dallas consultant
who wrote the book, The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal, and led last year’s national
benchmarking study of best practices in performance appraisal sponsored by Linkage, Inc. and
the American Productivity and Quality Center. Dick Grote is a member of HR Briefing’s editorial board.
“It’s almost impossible to have one appraisal form work for everybody in the organization,”
Grote notes. “One size just doesn’t fit all.” You may be able to get by with two forms to cover
the two FLSA job categories: exempt and non-exempt. But the best approach is to have separate
forms designed for the four key job families: Managerial/Supervisory, Professional/Technical,
Administrative / Operations, and Sales.
What should the form assess? Grote points out that there are only two major areas that can be
assessed: behaviors and results; the how and the what of job performance.
The first part of the appraisal form should be devoted to evaluating the individual’s performance
against the competencies that your organization has determined as critical to success. Haven’t
identified your core competencies yet? You’re behind the times. The very first finding in Grote’s
benchmarking study was, “Best-practice organizations are using their performance management
system to establish and reinforce the importance of core competencies.”
"Competencies" is the umbrella term used to describe those skills, talents, proficiencies, traits,
attributes and aptitudes that correlate with superior job performance and predict success in
organizational life. One of the hallmarks of an up-to-date, best practice performance
management system is that it includes specific competencies that the organization has decided
all of its members should display.
Competency selection is tough. For example: Which is more important for success in your
organization — planning and organizing skills or decision-making? Is it better to be a master
communicator or to have a tremendous drive for results? Identifying core competencies will allow
you to communicate to everyone in your company exactly what the most important skills and
attributes are. And it provides a solid and uniform basis for performance appraisal.
The best way to assess any individual’s performance in the competencies area is to develop a
statement of mastery performance for each one, Grote says. Don’t provide appraisers with just a
dictionary definition for “Problem Solving.” Instead, describe some of the behaviors you would
see in a true master: “Quickly grasps the essence and underlying structure of situations and
problems. Recognizes patterns — sees discrepancies, trends or interrelationships in data. Highly
attuned to subtleties and nuances.”
The best rating scale to use for assessing performance against competencies is a “behavioral
frequency scale,” Grote explains. Instead of asking the appraiser to judge whether Sally was
Marginal or Superior in her problem solving, instead ask how often she performed as a master.
Was it Sometimes or Often or Consistently or Invariably? If the appraisal tool describes mastery level
performance and then asks how often the person performs that way, it makes the
appraiser’s job easier, encourages coaching and facilitates development.
In addition to the small number of competencies (usually 5 - 7) that apply to everybody in the
company, there’s another set of competencies that apply to some jobs and not others.
“Communication skills, Customer Focus, Job Knowledge and Interpersonal Skills apply to
everyone on the payroll,” Grote notes. “But other competencies — like Developing Talent and
Visionary Leadership — really apply only to people in managerial or supervisory positions.”
Likewise, skill in Process Management might be assessed only for people holding professional and
technical jobs, while Relationship Building might show up exclusively on the appraisal form for
sales people. “It’s not that these skills aren’t used by everyone in the organization,” Grote
explains. “But it is important to pinpoint the small number that make a critical difference in
specific jobs.” We expect everyone to show up on time every day, for example, but “Attendance
and Punctuality” might only be included on the form for administrative and operations jobs.
An ideal form puts at least as much emphasis on goals, objectives and results as it does on
behaviors, skills and competencies. “The ideal form assesses both the how and the what,” Grote
explains: how the person goes about doing the job and what the individual accomplishes.
The best performance appraisal form examines two different kinds of results. The first involves
key position responsibilities — those duties and accountabilities that should be detailed in a well-written
job description. For a mathematician, examples might include developing numerical
algorithms, writing software and maintaining good relationships with universities and think tanks.
For an administrative assistant, key job responsibilities might include making travel reservations,
handling mail, typing documents, and greeting visitors to the office. Most jobs have around six or
eight key responsibilities.
Goals are different. “Goals” are significant and ambitious aspirations that go well beyond the
boundaries of a job description. It’s unlikely that anyone can set and achieve more than three
major goals in a year’s time and still get the basic job done. And while competencies lend
themselves to a behavioral frequency assessment scale, goals are best assessed using an
expectations scale: “Far exceeded expectations / Achieved all expectations / Achieved many /
Achieved some / Failed to meet expectations.”
An ideal appraisal form integrates the company’s mission statement and forces the appraiser to
note the positive contributions the individual has made over the review period. A model form
might have a short section that asks the evaluator to list the individual’s three most important
achievements during the appraisal period that directly supported the strategic plan or vision and
values of the organization. That’s an effective way of connecting individual performance with the
company’s mission statement.
Now all that’s left to create is the final rating. If you’re using a five-level scale (most forms do),
make sure that the middle rating has no connotation of mediocrity. Call it “Fully Successful” or
“Good Solid Performer.”
Leave room for employee comments and for the signatures, and you’ve got a model performance
Dick Grote is a management consultant in Dallas, Texas, who specializes in
helping organizations design effective performance management systems and build leadership excellence.
He is the author of the management classic, Discipline Without Punishment,
The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal, and The Performance
Appraisal Question and Answer Book. His most recent book, Forced Ranking:
Making Performance Management Work, was published by the Harvard Business School Press.
Grote Consulting offers clients expertise in
employee performance appraisal,
employee performance improvement and
talent management. Dick is also the developer of the GroteApproachSM
web-based performance management system. He can be contacted at email@example.com.