Annual Appraisals: What should I say?

This was a reader email in response to my last posting about performance reviews. Please read that first for best context if you have not yet done so: Annual Appraisals & Performance Reviews: There’s a much better way.

“Rosa, assuming we’ve done our homework as you described, can you give us more suggestions on the conversation we can have within the appraisal meeting itself? I really stumble with that expectation that it’s a good time for goal setting, and handling it without feeling like I’m forcing the issue.”

Great question, for you bring up an excellent point: What’s the objective of the appraisal meeting, and are you accomplishing it?

The answer may vary in different companies (this goes to the point within that last post about understanding your mandates). While I was employed by the Hualalai Resort, annual reviews were tied to compensation, but with an added layer of complexity: Profit sharing via an incentive program structured via departmental bell curve (promoting ‘healthy’ competition), which was also tied to annual goal-setting. That alone was a big job to tackle!

Learning to deal with that expectation, and accomplish that objective well, was a big factor in my subsequently developing a different model for the MWA OIB (‘Ohana in Business ® model) where performance review coaching (which many managers assume is ‘officially done’ in an annual appraisal) isn’t actually done then, for it’s considered everyday management: Your People are Your Daily, and deserve way more than an “annual review.”

Objectives versus Goals

Let me share a bit of clarity in our vocabulary here, for it’s an important distinction:

  • We use the word ‘objective’ to refer to company-wide objectives,
    i.e. All annual appraisals in this company are done for this specific reason (whatever it may be for you), as a shared objective across company divisions: It aligns with our values, and is conducive to achieving our mission and vision.
  • In comparison, ‘goal’ varies individually, and is set personally,
    i.e. Warren’s goal is increase his skill level with matching typography to the graphic designs he works on — on our behalf, as the job he performs while working here.

All employees differ, and so in addition to understanding your company objective (and fulfilling it) you have to personalize annual appraisals for them: Never lose sight of the fact that an appraisal is documentation connected to their good name!

Company objectives largely seek strategic consistency in an organizational culture, whereas goal-setting should focus on individual talents, strengths, skills, and Ho‘ohana dreaming — and how their most fervent goals can be a shared win, in that they benefit the company employing them as well.

That, to me, is the overall objective of performance coaching: Managers mentor their people in the delivery of performance which grows them (i.e. helps them achieve their personal goals) while they simultaneously make an important, and meaningful contribution to the mission and vision of the company employing them. Besides earning compensation for their efforts, that contribution is what employees have agreed to deliver when they hired on. Hopefully, they chose their job well in the first place, having anticipated that it would be a Ho‘ohana connection for them: They make a valuable contribution and enjoy doing so.

So in my view, and returning to answer your question, that’s the conversation you are having when you help employees with goal-setting. This is what I’ve suggested in Managing with Aloha (page 49 in the hardcover):

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: Give them enough time to respond to you. All of these questions are designed to get them talking, and you listening. The reason this is so important, besides the obvious things about good listening, will become clearer in the next section.

When are new Goals set?

I think this is an important question to answer, for as alluded to in this reader’s question, an annual appraisal meeting may or may not be the best time (remember point no. 4 about Acing Your Timing?) It could be a progress meeting, versus the celebration of having accomplished one goal, and now moving toward working on another one.

So let’s wrap up with this:

What is the manager’s role in goal-setting?

Here is where we run into another assumption, that managers are supposed to help others set goals. Yes, I buy that much, but how exactly, are you helping? My experience has been that managers stumble into two different kinds of sticky points:

1. What a goal should be
You can guide people through different choices, but motivation is an inside job, and an individual needs to set his or her own goals. If you try to set goals for them, and they let you, it’s highly likely you’ve sabotaged the whole deal, for their heart will never be in it completely. You want them to do it for themselves, and not to please you. So guide, but get them to decide. Call them on it if you sense they’re settling for less than they should be: Go for that burning “Yes!” where they sit up a bit straighter and their eyes light up, and not a “Okay, sounds good” as they glance at their watch.

As for your guiding them, my suggestion is that you focus smaller versus bigger: Forget the 1-year, 3-year, 5-year goal stuff, and talk about goals connected to specific talents, skills and knowledge. Be a manager who helps others learn in a focused way, and help them build on their strengths while correcting course on any weaknesses. That’s the way you support them in setting their own ‘bigger dream’ goals. Remember what we talked about earlier, and make the connection to the contribution they deliver — reaffirm how important it is.

2. Why bother?
Our goals can best be thought of as the tools which tweak us: They enable us to stretch and grow while we are making a contribution of some kind in earning our keep (whether we do so for a paycheck or for profit). Goals elevate performance and keep energies ramped up. They introduce creativity and new invention to work so we aren’t resting on our laurels, becoming complacent, and getting bored.

Sometimes managers lose sight of all these benefits, and they go through the motions with employees just because it’s expected of them — please don’t! Everything you give your attention to should be on-purpose and Ho‘ohana intentional.

Do yourself and your employees a favor, and get excited about goal-setting again by focusing on the benefits: Add more excitement and energy to the entire process, and get them to say:

“I feel strong when I talk to you.”


  1. Individual says

    This is madness. Most people’s jobs are the same today as they were a year ago and the year before and next year and they’re using the same abilities. The job isn’t going to change significantly. They’re not going to take a few years off to study for a degree to apply for a significantly different or better and better paid or more interesting job. If they did would they get such a job? What are they going to do for money through all that? Do they have the desire, interest or energy for all that? ‘Goals’ or ‘improvements’ don’t exist unless you want to be entirely fatuous about it. – My goal is to better realise the

    They will come in every day and cope perfectly well with the job as it is and with any new twists that come up. There isn’t a slightly more advanced version of their job waiting for them to upgrade to. It doesn’t exist. They and their job will stay as they are and in fact a capable and reliable person doing that job is perfectly good value to any company and easily as much as the company could hope for.

    The only ‘goal’ or ‘achievement’ is to carry on. Keep paying me please. More would be nice.

    I’d presume there’s a class of entrepreneurs and investment bankers and ambitious managers to whom this all means something and for whom it’s relevant. For everyone else it’s ridiculous. Worse, it carries with it an undertone of, “What are the right answers that will mean I’ll keep my job?” or perhaps, “What are the right answers that will mean I’ll get a salary increase?”

    I think that’s the source of this. It applies importantly, even excitingly, to ambitious managers when applied to themselves but they miss that it means nothing to everyone else. Thus they enthusiastically push it on other managers to push on the put upon people who are managed.

    I’m with the lady blogging ( ) from Birmingham writing about ‘Personal Development Review’:

    “As far as I’m concerned, a secretarial PDR should consist of the following:

    REVIEWER: So, how are things?
    ME: Fine.
    REVIEWER: Good. Same time next year then.. “

  2. Rosa Say says

    Dear ‘Individual,’

    In my view, what you describe is an incredibly sad way of looking at work. I prefer to always look for better and best, and do whatever can bring more everyday pleasure and feelings of accomplishment to the work we pursue in our livelihood. As a manager, I work to help others continuously improve as well, and I do hope you can find your own contentment in the job you choose.


  3. Individual says

    Dear Rosa,

    How sweet of you to reply. I fear you miss the point by miles. Like the vast majority, I’m here because I need to get money. There was a survey in the news some years ago finding that, I think, 80% or 90% of the population would rather be doing something else if they could only keep their income. Are we downhearted? Not as much as you seem to think. Work has to be kept in perspective. It’s not the be all and end all. It’s an unfortunate necessity but we can survive, even thrive with a smile! However, we’d be off like a shot if we could only get money without it.

    I’m afraid you suggest an outlook of subjugated belief in everything our teachers and managers and leaders say at us. I and the lady from Birmingham and a million, million others laugh at the fatuities even as we groan. If I can be so pushy as to speak for her and others as well as myself, we intend, as much as we can, to rise above the nonsense just as we strive to rise above the fact of work. Some may stay late to tidy their pencil boxes for an inspection that will never happen but me and the lady from Birmingham are off somewhere having a picnic. A picnic that will not be an accomplishment, a goal or meeting a challenge. Look behind you. We’re not there.

    Can I pass you a sandwich Rosa?

    Best wishes,

    Surviving Individual