Are your Managers Holding Effective mid-year Appraisals?


The Pitfalls of Conducting Poor Performance Reviews

Many of us will be getting to that time of year again where we dust-off the objectives which we wrote in January and step up with The Boss for our mid-year review. Like most of us, in my time I’ve been on the receiving end of both really good, and really bad, reviews.  I’ve also been privileged to observe countless performance conversations taking place and the more I see, the more it becomes clear how critical such a conversation can be in the relationship between a manager and their direct reports.

Picture two different managers who are fictional characters John has had. While reading, have a think about which manager is more likely to result in improved performance and engagement for John:

Bianca and John

Bianca is John’s manager. Bianca and John openly provide feedback about what each other are doing well and what they would like each other to do differently. John feels comfortable challenging Bianca and Bianca empowers John to help come up with different ideas and objectives for his work, through the use of open, coaching questions. John also feels able to disclose personal issues to Bianca without fear of judgement, knowing that Bianca will help him. They have monthly 1:1’s where they can have conversations about anything concerning John’s work, and sometimes other issues too. When  they get to the mid-year review, there are no surprises in terms of performance for John. It really amounts to another great conversation where John is motivated to pursue his objectives for the second half of the year.

Lawrence and John

Lawrence is John’s manager. When John needs help, Lawrence provides the information John needs to do his job properly, which John dutifully accepts before getting on with his job. When things go wrong, Lawrence can be critical of John, saying he needs to do better, and up his game. Again John accepts this. 1:1’s are sometimes cancelled due to how busy Lawrence is, and when they do take place, they tend to revolve around structuring Lawrence’s work. A week prior to the mid-year review, John fills out his appraisal form and provides it to Lawrence. On the day, John walks in, apprehensive, as if waiting for the results of an exam. Lawrence gives John a telling-off as he has overlooked some of his objectives and again tells John to pull his socks up. John walks out feeling demotivated and a little unsure of what he has done wrong.

It doesn’t take a Business Psychologist to figure out which conversation is going to result in a more engaged or better performing John, but in case you are at a loss, the business psychologist’s assessment says Bianca was better. And the factors contributing to the quality of the relationship are likely to be attributable to manager behaviours:


     Bianca      Lawrence
  • Provides balanced, honest feedback
  • Provides little feedback
  • Has established and developed trust with John
  • Has done little to earn John's trust
  • Treats John as an equal
  • Uses his position as a lever
  • Coaches John
  • Tells John what to do
  • Has authentic conversations with John about him
  • Holds conversations with John about the task
  • Has had an open discussion with John about what each of them needs from the relationship to work together
  • Has told John about what he expects and assumed John will comply


But that begs the question – if it seems so obvious, why do so many managers behave like Lawrence? More often than not managers are willing to make the change. There is no one answer to this but here are some the reasons I have seen and hear from managers like Lawrence:

  • Lack of understanding of the importance of performance conversations
  • Poor role modelling from senior management
  • Lack of support on how to deliver performance conversations
  • Time management/workload issues for managers
  • Perceived pressure from HR to do it in a particular way – e.g.  the need to fill out the appraisal form
  • Lack of confidence on how to deliver feedback
  • It goes against company culture
  • Belief that a few conversations won’t make the difference

So, at this time of year, notice how these performance conversations are going in your organisation and what role the organisation has in supporting that. If you begin to notice a company full of Lawrences, it might be time to think about whether your organisation has been taking the appropriate measures to address these issues which are critical in relation to performance and engagement.

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