How to appraise your staff

6 Min Read

Appraisal meetings are an excellent way to evaluate the performance of your staff and ensure they’re on track to achieving set goals.

In this article, we look at the importance of staff appraisals, the appraisal process and the types of questions you should include in the appraisal form.

Why you should (still) appraise your staff

When people think of appraisals, they usually think of large corporations, formal interviews and rigid processes. 

And they’re not wrong. Formal performance appraisals have come under fire recently, with over 90% of managers and HR professionals being dissatisfied with them.

What’s more, almost 60% of employees feel that formal reviews are not worth their time.

But it’s the checkboxes, numbered ratings and unrealistic expectations that people don’t like. Not the getting feedback part.

So our advice is out with the old formal model, in with the new informal discussion process.

Because if done correctly, appraisals are a good way to offer constructive feedback, improve performance management and help your team progress in their career.

Almost 70% of employees that receive consistent feedback say they’re more fulfilled in their jobs and are 14.9% less likely to leave.

And they’re good for the business too.

Studies show that managers whose appraisals recognise an employee’s efforts actually encourage more creative problem-solving skills, which can trigger business innovation.

Even better, employees that receive feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity and 8.9% more profitability.

70% of employees that receive consistent feedback say they’re more fulfilled in their jobs and are 14.9% less likely to leave.”

The performance review process

To ensure both you and your employee get the most out of reviews, it’s important to use an appraisal process:

  • Step one: identify goals and establish performance criteria

    Never have an appraisal without a clear goal in mind. What do you want to achieve?

    Is it to increase employee output? Improve employee development? Discuss pay adjustments? Or perhaps all three?

    Then, establish performance criteria – these will help shape your performance review questions.

    David McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Development at Edinburgh University, suggests the following criteria:

    • Traits: refers to job-related employee traits such as attitude, appearance and initiative. 

    • Behaviour: relates to an employee’s task-related behaviour including teamwork, cooperation and customer service orientation.

    • Competencies: includes a broad range of knowledge, skills and abilities to determine how an employee is performing at their job.

    • Goal achievement: refers to how well an employee is working on reaching previously set goals and targets.

    • Improvement potential: assesses an employee’s potential to optimise job planning and development.

  • Step two: set staff appraisal questions

    The next step is to use your criteria to set questions for the appraisal forms.

    Both manager and employee need to fill out a form, but as the employee’s self-appraisal is so crucial, we’ll focus on that in the next section.

    For the manager appraisal form, we’ve gone ahead and listed the most commonly asked questions for each criteria.


    • Focused work: Does the employee create the environment to deliver focused work?
    • Communication: Does the employee communicate effectively with colleagues and clients?
    • Teamwork: Does the employee collaborate well with other team members?


    • Attendance: How has the employee’s attendance been to date?
    • Timekeeping: How has the employee’s timekeeping been to date?
    • Aptitude: How has the employee applied themselves to tasks?


    • Quality of work: Does the quality of the employee’s work meet the required standards?
    • Output: What is the employee’s level of work output for the working hours available?
    • Flexibility: Does the employee adapt to changing business needs, conditions and work responsibilities?

Goal achievement: 

    • Targets: Has the employee reached previously agreed-upon targets and goals?
    • Behavioural accomplishments: Is the employee working towards previously agreed upon behavioural goals (e.g. positive attitude, morale-boosting)?
    • Team accomplishments: Is the employee engaging in previously agreed-upon team behaviour (e.g. increased team effort or support)?

Improvement potential: 

    • Professional development: Is the employee applying continuous learning and improving their skill set?
    • Personal development: Is the employee demonstrating great initiative and energy in pursuing their personal development?

  • Step three: organise an appraisal meeting

    The third and final step is straightforward: organising the appraisal meeting.

    Put in enough time to go through both appraisal forms. One hour should be enough, but depending on the number of questions, you may want to increase the meeting length.

    Finally, ensure you send the self-appraisal form one week in advance to give them enough time.

    For more on conducting performance evaluations, watch our video on the best ways to run a staff appraisal meeting.

Don’t forget self-appraisals

Self-appraisal forms are an important part of the process because they increase perceived appraisal fairness and help the employee prepare.

They’re also a great way for employees to reflect upon their own performance. 

According to research, employees are more likely to use information gained in self-appraisals to improve their professional development.

If employees have the opportunity, they’ll criticise their own performance objectively and take action to improve it.

What’s more, employees who review their performance are more likely to become highly motivated to improve in areas where there are performance issues.

Interestingly enough, they’re also usually tougher on themselves than you will ever be.

The important bit here is to help them see performance issues as learning opportunities, rather than mistakes – this has been found to encourage creativity among employees.

For the employee’s self-appraisal form, focus on questions related to the competency, achievement and improvement criteria:


    • List any difficulties you have in carrying out your work. Were there any obstacles outside your own control which prevented you from performing effectively?
    • What parts of your job do you do best? Do less well? Have difficulty with? Fail to enjoy?

Goal achievement: 

    • What have you accomplished, over and above the minimum requirements of your job description, in the period under review? 
    • Have you made any innovations?

Improvement potential: 

    • Can you suggest training which would help to improve your performance or development?
    • Have you any skills, aptitudes, or knowledge not fully utilised in your job? If so, what are they and how could they be used?

Feedback is a two-way street

One of the biggest differences between formal and informal appraisals is that the latter should be a two-way conversation.

Because as a manager, appraisals are a good way for you to receive feedback as well. Ask questions like ‘what can I do to make you more effective?’ and ‘what is one thing that I don’t do frequently enough?

It’ll give you insight into how to improve your management techniques (which could be harming your business more than you think).

Asking for management feedback makes employees feel they’re a valued, respected and listened to team member.

It also gives the employee a chance to voice their opinion without feeling judged. 

And this is particularly important because it meets a psychological condition that improves employee engagement: safety. 

According to Professor of Organisational Behaviour William Kahn, safety is the extent to which a workplace builds an environment for an employee to feel comfortable to share their opinion without fearing they’ll be shot down.

If you’re keen to learn how this helps improve employee engagement, read our recent article ‘how to keep staff motivated and engaged.’

Three appraisal tips for micro-business managers

    • Layout the basics: Explain to the employee what your appraisal goals are, how the meeting’s going to run and what’s expected of them. Appraisals can make employees feel nervous so walking them through the process will help.
    • Start out monthly: How often you should conduct an employee’s performance review depends on how long the employee’s been with you. During the probation period (or first three months) run them monthly. Afterwards, move to quarterly.
    • Don’t wait until it’s too late: Make it clear that employees can come to you with any issues in between appraisals too. There should be few surprises in the performance review. If there are, you need to work on developing a culture of trust.



Appraisals improve your company culture

Performance appraisals are a great way to help your employee develop their skill set and to foster a positive working relationship.

They also give you the tools and resources to improve your own managerial styles, make an employee feel more comfortable and ultimately improve company culture.

Read our blog for more on micro-business management and subscribe to our newsletter below.