5 Questions for your Performance Appraisals

Yesterday I joined Lisa Haneberg’s campaign in calling for an end to the Annual Performance Review process once and for all:

It’s time to retire your annual Performance Appraisals.
Simply stop doing them. Discontinue them in your company, and seize your opportunity to simultaneously reinvent any system or process that is tied to them.

However I do understand we need significant more groundswell for this to happen in businesses everywhere, and fact is that many of you will have to live with them for now.

My intention with both Talking Story and Managing with Aloha has always been to give you the manager more tools to work with. So if do them you must, here is a reprint from Managing with Aloha that shares a story of how the performance appraisal process can and should work.

It follows a section of the book in which I talk about writing mission statements, and it ends with 5 questions you can use to make the best of any performance appraisal you conduct.

Annual performance reviews

[Reprinted from pages 48-50 in Managing with Aloha.]

When you have worked with an employee to write a professional mission statement, annual performance reviews become the time to assess if their last year was truly one in which they purposefully worked with their professional goals in mind or not. If not, the discussion will revolve around the question why, and it may happen that from that point forward, the time you best spend together is writing a new mission statement—even if it will point the way toward a new and different job for them elsewhere.

I can particularly remember this happening for an assistant manager in our Sports Club and Spa at Hualalai. This is an operation that has repeatedly been named the premiere resort spa in the industry, winning frequent recognition and repeated awards. That made it even tougher for us to eventually realize this manager was in the wrong job for that time in his life, for he had a position to be envied, and one he’d worked exceptionally hard to secure. How could he now walk away from it? But he did, to become a line employee, for what he wanted most in the world was to start a family and be a dad. He felt that the requirements and stress of his management position kept him from a more important dream, and he was open and honest with me about it. His work priorities were always far too pressing for him to concentrate on maintaining personal balance.

His transition into a new role took longer than it should have because I didn’t listen well enough—to him. His employees loved and supported him, and in so many other ways it seemed like he was where he belonged. This became a lesson in ‘Imi ola for me because in trying to do my part advising him I got stuck on the goals and side-stepped the mission. I was looking in the wrong places for the source of his frustration. He could not write the goals of a fully engaged and effective manager and even hope to achieve them. And worse, he didn’t feel all that great about the ones he accomplished. There was no room for those goals in his heart. We both struggled with them in our day-to-day frustrations because the goals themselves were good for the department, and it took an annual review conversation with his department head to turn my focus to the employee where it should have been all along. The light turned on for me. It was time to think ‘Imi ola, seeking life at its very best possible form, and talk mission.

He had started to reveal interests he had in a completely different department, and I’ll have to admit to you that I began to help him get there with more resignation than intent, telling myself “Well, he doesn’t want to be in the Spa and that’s all there is to it.” I didn’t learn what I fully needed to about this lesson in ‘Imi ola until the good results of this story started to unfold—he was seeking his best possible life. He became a changed person within mere days—or more accurately, he became the person he was intended to be.

He found he could Ho‘ohana, work purposefully with a real passion for the goals he set for himself, not those we set for him. As his achievements came to fruition he already had new goals in mind that would take him to even greater successes.

The rewards he now gets from his work are no longer immortalized in spa magazines, but they are far more priceless. His customers love him, his boss loves him and he loves his work. While on my morning run I recently saw him pull out of our neighborhood post office, and in the backseat sat his son and his daughter. I said to him, “Your children are beautiful!” and his reply was, “Rosa, I’m living my fairy tale.”

Great managers don’t wait for an annual review to creep up on them; they work with their employees all along the way, referring often to the copies they’ve kept of each mission statement. They know when to intercept: the energy of commitment falters, daily performance wanders off course, and results are not leading toward achieving the mission written. Great managers make it their practice to schedule periodic reviews with employees to talk through these five sets of questions:

1. Now that a few months have gone by, how do you feel about the goals that you have set for yourself? Do we need to work on any revisions or shall we continue to work on course? Are your goals still a match for your mission? (Has Ho‘ohana and ‘Imi ola connected?)

2. Where do you feel you have made the most progress? Why do you suppose this has happened? How can we duplicate your success? (Look for the pleasure that Ho‘ohana, working with intent and purpose delivers.)

3. Were there any unexpected results? What kind of challenges have you encountered? How can I help you? (Time for more Aloha?)

4. Are you comfortable with the measurements we’ve set up to monitor your progress and quantify your achievements? (Have numbers count success, not failure.)

5. What is your next step? What kind of timeline are you setting for yourself? (Keep ‘Imi ola at the forefront, seek the best possible form, the best possible life.)

After each question, be quiet and listen. Let your own light turn on.


  1. says

    Great stuff, Rosa. The true and lasting alternative to bankrupt performance appraisal processes is coaching — exactly what you’ve described in your book. Besides, as you show so clearly, it’s a process that helps the person doing it as much as the one who’s supposedly the subject.

  2. says

    Scrap Performance Appraisals – Part 4

    A couple more bloggers got in on the appraisal conversation. Check out what Bren over at Slacker Managers has to say in his post, Performance appraisals bite? Check out the comments, too, there are several good ones. Rosa offers a

  3. says

    Scrap Performance Appraisals – Part 4

    A few more bloggers got in on the appraisal conversation. Check out what Bren over at Slacker Managers has to say in his post, Performance appraisals bite? Check out the comments, too, there are several good ones. Rosa offers a second post with sage ad…

  4. says

    Get Responsible about Performance Reviews once and for all

    Preface: This was an article I initially wrote as a guest author on another site, and I am bringing it to MWAC with a new title because it seems to belong with Kuleana: Managers everywhere have got to accept their