Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Monday, September 24, 2007

Designing a simple performance appraisal system - sample policy statement

This post in the series sets out a sample boiler plate policy statement designed for immediate use in a professional services environment.


This paper sets out the approach to performance appraisal.


Service to the client is central to our work. To this end, the firm undertakes to provide a supportive working environment and to assist the individual staff member to enhance his/her skills. In return, the firm expects individual staff members to be prepared to learn and to seek to improve performance


Consistent with the firm’s employment philosophy, the objectives of performance appraisal are to improve individual performance and job satisfaction. To this end, performance appraisal needs to be a structured process during which the individual and firm jointly:

  • assess performance during the previous period against the objectives set for the job, identifying achievements together with any significant shortcomings
  • identify any problems that might be hindering the individual in achieving improved job performance or satisfaction
  • review future objectives
  • agree any actions required to improve performance or job satisfaction.

Under this approach, each performance review provides a base for subsequent performance reviews.


Effective performance appraisal is based on a number of key principles:

  • improvement focused: performance improvement is central to the process
  • non-disciplinary: performance appraisal is not concerned with discipline or disciplinary approaches
  • fairness: the approach must be seen to be fair by all those involved
  • transparency: the approach needs to be open and well understood. There should be no hidden agendas
  • joint: the appraisal is a cooperative review not just of the individual, but also of the firm and its systems as they affect work
  • needs based: the review has to take into account the needs of both individual and firm
  • realism: the review needs to be based on realistic expectations on both sides
  • non-threatening: a structured review process can be a frightening experience for both the staff member and his/her supervisor. It has been known to make staff physically sick in the period immediately prior to the review. To minimise this, it needs to be carried out in a cooperative non-threatening fashion
  • delivery: both firm and individual must be prepared to deliver on any commitments made during the performance review.


While there is a relationship, the performance appraisal process should not be confused with pay reviews.

Performance appraisal seeks to improve performance and involves very different issues from those relating to pay. In the majority of cases pay issues should not be dealt with during the performance review. Inclusion of pay reviews within performance reviews nearly always twists the focus away from performance improvement.


The first appraisal should be carried out three months after appointment. Thereafter appraisals can be carried out at three or six monthly intervals.


Note: this section will need modification depending upon firm structure. Partner reviews involve different issues and are not fully covered here. With senior staff or partners, there are sometimes advantages in using an external facilitator.

The appraisal team depends upon reporting lines.

The partners should carry out appraisal of the CEO/Practice Manager/Office Manager.

A team of two consisting of the direct supervisor plus another nominee (Office Manager, partner, HR person etc) should carry out other staff appraisal.


Appraisals at all levels should follow a common format.

Prior to the appraisal, the team should meet to discuss the issues involved and to review previous appraisal.

The review should start with a review of the position itself. Firm operations change continuously. There is not a position in the firm that is exactly the same as it was six months ago. Experience has also demonstrated that even the most experienced manager does not in fact know all the features and nuances of the positions reporting to him/her.

It is therefore very important to establish the changing parameters of the job. What are the key features of the position, where are the main work pressures, how has the job changed, what changes might be expected in the future?

The person being appraised should then be asked to discuss his/her own performance. What do they like/not like about the job? What have they done well, what might be improved? What problems do they face in improving performance? What might be done to improve job satisfaction? Where do they see themselves going next?

Discussion can then turn to a discussion of any performance issues identified by the team that have not already been covered. In this context, while self-awareness varies, most people have some idea of their own performance strengths and weaknesses. It is much easier to deal with performance issues that people have identified themselves. A free flowing discussion will generally allow issues to be identified and dealt with in a non-threatening way.

The last part of the discussion should focus on things that might be done to improve performance. Outcomes here can be quite wide-ranging and might include new training, job redesign, improved supervision and priority changes.

The results of the appraisal should be written up by the chair, cleared with the person being appraised and then signed by all parties. Where the person being appraised disagrees with any aspect of the appraisal, then this should be formally recorded.

The results of the appraisal then provide a benchmark for subsequent appraisals.

A suggested form for recording appraisal results is attached.


Date of Appraisal:
Appraisal Team:
Date of Previous Appraisal:

Agreed Actions:

Insert full meeting details here

Endorsed as an accurate record of discussions:

Appraiser Name Appraiser Name
Position Position

___________________ _________________

Appraisee Name


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enzedah said...

Hey Jim
I was just reading through your blog regarding performance appraisals and note that your suggested format is very open ie little structure. Have you used this type of format much and how have you found it?

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sharon

I have introduced this approach with success in three cases, tried in a few more but got mixed results because it conflicted with the underlying management style.

The approach is especially designed for smaller organisations.It is deliberately unstructured to make it easy for managers to use.

If implemented properly,it allows a build-up over time of useful information, while increasing performance pressures on staff, maangers and organisations.If it is to work, it has to be kept in place for long enough to allow the process to be internalised.

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for your useful post.

I would like to introduce 8 different samples of performance appraisal at

Source: 8 performance appraisal samples

Best regards