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Effective executive performance appraisal: a prerequisite for success

A lot has changed in the field of appraisals. Nowadays, the organization of performance interviews is embedded in almost all collective labor agreements. Most companies I have been working for, had a well-functioning system for their middle management and junior staff, but not for their executive management.

Members of the executive management team often have an aversion towards being assessed themselves. They don’t recognize its utility, sometimes it is difficult for them to be assessed and sometimes they don’t have the courage to tell (or write down) the truth. But the management should also be assessed in order to achieve success as a company.

During performance interviews, the dialogue between the employee and his/her executive is emphasized and current affairs are being discussed. Together, they determine the bottlenecks as well as the items to improve and how the employee could perform better. They make arrangements towards the future, always in order to allow the employee to perform better. A training scheme is one of these arrangements. Usually, such interviews take place at the beginning of the year.

During performance appraisals, the executive evaluates at the end of the working year how the employee has been performing. The appraisal should be positively critical: the discussion must be based on the results achieved, the positive items must be emphasized, but the ‘items to improve’ must be thoroughly discussed. Possible salary raises and future career steps can also be discussed. It is essential to write down the items discussed. Written logic is said to differ from spoken logic: written bottlenecks or items to improve come across differently and have another impact than their spoken equivalents. Furthermore, it is important that the assessed person and his/her superior make arrangements to which they can refer later on, in good times and bad times.

Unfortunately, people still don’t attach great importance to the assessment of the members of the management team. My previous employer once put it this way: "If everything is fine, we don’t need assessments". Personally, I have always given high priority to the assessment of my direct reports. Regularly, executive team members told me it was the first time in their career they had received direct and clear feedback.

Many roads lead to Rome. This also applies to performance systems. Actually, it doesn’t matter which system you choose, as long as the manager concerned receives open and clear feedback; that is feedback which has been discussed and written down.
  1. It is important to obtain a good mix between the assessment’s quantitative and qualitative aspects. The quantitative aspects allow to make distinctions within the management team. In a balanced way, the qualitative aspects of the system indicate the strengths as well as the items to improve.
  2. In a good assessment interview, the qualitative items should be pointed out, discussed and written down in a way all parties feel comfortable with. These aspects concern the individual’s performance, but especially the performance within the management team.
  3. The items discussed during an assessment interview should never come as a surprise. All items should already have been discussed in a previous stage, whether informally or not. This can be done during the performance interview, but it is even better to provide the executive concerned with feedback while (s)he is working.
  4. The art consists of using the right terminology. For instance, one should rather speak of ‘items to improve’ than of “weaknesses”.
  5. It is very important to make arrangements for the coming year. This especially goes for the qualitative aspects. Quantitative arrangements should be discussed during the interview about the bonus.
Eventually, good executed assessment systems lead to high performing executives and their teams, as well as to better trading results. After all, this is what we are trying to reach.

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