How to conduct staff appraisals and keep everyone motivated

We explore what the key factors are in conducting staff appraisals.

The key to staff appraisal meetings is that there should be no surprises.

For instance, if an employee tells a manager that the six months since the last review have gone really badly, it should not be the first they’ve heard of it.

This is because staff appraisals must not exist in isolation, but should be part of an ongoing process in which both management and staff have a responsibility.

‘Look at the whole issue of performance management,’ advises Rebecca Clake, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development.

‘The appraisal is a formal event happening every six months or each year, but there should be several regular, informal conversations between manager and employee in the interim.

‘It is worth setting aside blocks of time at least once a month for these.’

Prior to the formal appraisal, preparation should be done by both parties. The manager should look at objectives set at any previous appraisals, while the employee should give due consideration to any points they want to bring up.

It’s important for the success of the business that appraisals are conducted with an eye on the bigger picture, ‘Make sure the whole process is joined up,’ stresses Clake. ‘The objectives set for the individual must match up to those of the team, which in turn must tally with those of the whole business.’

To get the most out of staff appraisals follow these simple rules:

Be prepared

Prepare by referring to a list of agreed objectives and notes on performance throughout the year.

Create the right atmosphere

A successful meeting depends on creating an informal environment in which a full, frank but friendly exchange of views can take place.

It is best to start with a fairly general discussion before getting into any detail.

Work to a clear structure

The meeting should be planned to cover all the points identified during preparation with time allowed for individuals to fully express their views.

Use positive feedback

Where possible, reviewers should begin with praise for some specific achievement, but this should be sincere and deserved.

Praise helps people to relax – everyone needs encouragement and appreciation.

You should start staff appraisals with positive feedback

Let the employee do the talking

This enables them to get things off their chest and helps them to feel that they are getting a fair hearing. Use open questions to encourage people to be expansive.

Invite self-appraisal

This is to see how things look from the employee’s point of view and to provide a basis for discussion that many people underestimate themselves.

Performance, not personality

Always refer to actual events, behaviour and results.

Encourage analysis of performance

Do not just hand out praise or blame. Analyse jointly and objectively why things went well or badly and what can be done to maintain a high standard in the future.

Don’t deliver unexpected criticisms

Feedback on performance should be immediate. It should not wait until the end of the year. The purpose of the formal review is to reflect briefly on experiences during the review period and to look ahead.

Agree measurable objectives and a plan of action

The aim should be to end the review meeting on a positive note.

Key to the people-centric attitude is the annual round of appraisals that takes place in August and September for all staff.

From these, individual training plans are developed, resulting in an overall company training plan.

Pamela Burns, director of planning and corporate services at The Learning Hub, says that no organisation should see appraisals as a paper exercise. ‘There should be an outcome from an appraisal; a change to the employee’s role that improves the situation both for them and the organisation.

‘Point out what the individual has achieved. Any performance problems should have been identified a long time before.

‘Employees should go away from the appraisal meeting feeling good about themselves and involved in their own development.’

Jo Sellick, managing director of Sellick Partnership, talks about how his company handles staff appraisals.

Jo Sellick talks about how his company handles staff appraisals

At Sellick Partnership we have a structured appraisal process to ensure our people have the support and feedback needed to be successful in their career with us.

As well as an annual review with each employee in the business, we also ensure everyone has regular catch-ups with their line manager to discuss progress and current workloads. We believe regular contact is vitally important for appraisals to work for both parties and is crucial for morale and productivity across the business.

Our approach to appraisals

Our appraisal structure has three distinct steps and allows us to communicate and collate regular constructive feedback across the business.

Each Sellick Partnership employee has monthly one-on-one review meetings and an annual Personal Development Plan (PDP) with their line manager and an annual review. This process gives our employees and management team the opportunity to discuss performance, raise any concerns and discuss any training needs. Our employees are given the opportunity to discuss this in person or submit it in written form prior to the meeting so their manager is aware.

This approach allows us to determine the motivations of each of our people, assist with workloads and also give regular feedback to ensure productivity and morale remains high across the business.

Monthly review meetings

Our monthly reviews give employees the opportunity to review their performance with their line manager on a monthly basis, giving them time to address and voice any issues or make any suggestions they have for the business. This is also an opportunity for the Senior Management Team (SMT) to communicate their own thoughts on the individual’s progress and share any training opportunities and provide guidance where needed.

Our review forms are tailored to each team within the business – we recognise that all our teams and divisions work differently and have different objectives and targets that are reviewed and reflected upon in these monthly meetings. By doing this regularly we are able to monitor productivity and success, giving us a clear picture and making our appraisal process easier to manage for both parties.

Annual Personal Development Planning (PDP) meetings

Our employees are also given the opportunity to discuss their career during their PDP session (looking specifically at career ambitions and opportunities to grow and develop both personally and professionally), which is in addition to the monthly reviews that take place.

“This is also a great opportunity for our SMT to determine the future leaders of our business”

This allows us to look closely at the motivations of our people and ensure that we are doing enough to support them with their career goals and ambitions. This is also a great opportunity for our SMT to determine the future leaders of our business, highlighting those that are interested in management and ensuring that those employees are given the support needed.

Annual appraisal/one-to-one

Finally, each employee has a more formal annual review or appraisal. Again, this is a review of performance and takes into account key details from review meetings across the year. It is also an opportunity to discuss the year as a whole and give our SMT an opportunity to have a more formal discussion around their current position, targets and goals for the future.


Our review and appraisal process continues to be a success year-on-year. Not only are we able to highlight problem areas and tackle these quickly and efficiently, but we are also able to give credit where credit is due, raising morale across the business.

Staff regularly comment on how useful they find these meetings and the feedback we receive is invaluable, ensuring we retain key talent and remain an employer of choice. Our approach to appraisals and commitment to working with our people has greatly contributed to our staff retention levels, and we believe this is the reason so many of our employees have been with us for the majority of their career.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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