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July 15, 2005
Performance Appraisals: The Do's and Don'ts

Performance appraisals may be time-consuming and something few people enjoy, but they are worth the effort from a legal and a human resources perspective, according to Tom Makris, an employment attorney with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, and Rhoma Young of the HR consulting firm Rhoma Young & Associates.

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Makris and Young offered tips for ensuring performance appraisals are used legally and effectively in a recent BLR audio conference.

From a legal perspective, performance appraisals are important because they can help defend an employer against accusations of discrimination or retaliation. Performance appraisals give employees feedback so they understand the motivation behind adverse actions, Makris said. Therefore, employees are more likely to feel the employer is treating them fairly.

From a human resources perspective, performance appraisals are important because they offer a chance to align the employee's work with the organization's needs and give an opportunity for employers to examine the job itself to see if the need for this job has changed.

Makris and Young said performance appraisals should be a cooperative effort between an employee and a manager. Too often the performance appraisal can result in a confrontation, they said. The experts offered a list of things you should do and those you should avoid in your performance appraisals to keep them effective and legal.


  • Do ensure that the format of your performance appraisal fits the reasons you are doing the review. Certain formats are better suited for certain jobs. The one-size-fits-all approach doesn't seem to work, Young said.
  • Do match performance appraisals and performance plans to measurable objectives. Develop performance goals in an objective way so you can compare.
  • Do align the results of the performance appraisal with other anticipated personnel decisions. It sends mixed messages if managers give employees poor performance appraisals and then reward employees with a promotion or raise.
  • Do make the performance review process a partnership between the manager and employee. Both sides should participate. Young suggested that managers give employees a list of questions for discussion before the actual review. The process should be designed to help the employee be successful, rather than simply creating a path to termination, Makris said.
  • Do hold supervisors and managers accountable for effective administration of the review process.
  • Do train managers in how to conduct performance appraisals. Managers should know the employer's expectations of the process. Makris says companies often promote individuals into management positions without giving them the proper training on conducting reviews.


  • Don't let protected leaves or other protected actions influence reviews. HR must be closely involved in the process because they are sensitive to legal issues, the experts said.
  • Don't make common errors in conducting performance reviews. These include focusing on one good or bad aspect and letting that overshadow the entire review. Another common mistake is to remember only the most recent event when completing the review. Young said the most common mistake is for managers to do ineffective reviews because they are afraid to be too critical or offer too much praise. Favoritism is another issue.
  • Don't have performance reviews that are inconsistent within a department.
  • Don't make promises regarding the performance review process unless you plan to follow though. Makris said making promises, such as saying you'd conduct annual reviews, but failing to keep them is one of the red flags in litigation.
  • Don't have the contents of the performance review be a surprise to the employee. The employee should be able to anticipate what will happen in the review.
  • Don't wait until the performance review to mention areas that need improvement. Makris said it is important to address disciplinary or performance issues when they occur. That way, if the employee corrects the problem in the time before the review, the manager can recognize that as a positive element in the review.

Makris and Young also strongly recommended that employers separate the performance appraisal discussion from the conversation on pay. Makris said that if the two issues are discussed at the same time, managers will write the reviews with the possible salary change in mind.

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