I believe it is important to evaluate performance not only based on absolute results, but rather on results put in the context of that person: what was his level of understanding at the moment for which we are evaluating him, his know-how, visibility, what kind of help did he receive, how was the team he worked with. Given the context, would he have been able to do better? Is he willing to learn from past mistakes? Did he have the proper means to act differently? Many environmental factors are not under the direct control of the employee nor does he feel he has control over them. Did I, his manager, do enough to provide him with the tools to take the right decisions?
Some people shine in a certain environment only to fail later when the factors they relied on change. Do we take this into consideration? Do we allow them to fail to grow or do we leave them to be failures? In order to perform, one needs to focus on strengths rather than weaknesses and learn from mistakes. What kind of example do we set when we evaluate performance? Do we apologize for our mistakes? Are we really encouraging trial and constructive failure? What do we measure? We should never forget that the performance appraisal is one of those moments when managers show their true self: what they value and what kind of behaviour they expect from their teams.
Appraisals should be done from the heart, with true empathy. It is a very much needed and powerful moment that can affect employees for years to come (in their career path, self esteem, salary revisions, role in the company, perks). It can give them wings or it can break their wings. How much heart and care do we put in that moment? How much responsibility do we take for that moment? Do we try to level people or do we set them performance targets so that they can surpass themselves? Do we customize the appraisal to the individual and his strengths or do we try to fit everyone in the same measures? Do we work toward a Gaussian distribution for performance or do we give recognition and celebrate uniqueness? Do we really care for our men to give them feedback way in advance for them to have a chance to improve before the official paper is signed? Do we explicitly set individual performance targets that can, eventually, be exceeded?
Performance evaluations can be painful if not properly performed. They can impact morale and careers for years to come - even a lifetime. They impact salary, mobility, advancements, perks, assignments, everything. This is why we should care more about giving our guys an honest, customized feedback and set up correct performance objectives for the next appraisals rather than to look good in the eyes of our supervisors. We should try to deliver bad news in advance, verbally. We should try to give people time, space, guidance to improve or surpass our expectations. As Jack Welch put it, a good appraisal is one in which no one finds anything new.