What is an appraisal?

9 min read  |   2 November, 2023   By Aimée Brougham-Chandler

A man and a woman sit outside in a business meeting. The woman has her laptop and the man is dressed in a suit and shirt.

Appraisals (also known as appraisal systems) measure employee performance against previously agreed goals, set future objectives and give staff guidance on their developmental and training needs. 

They help managers identify both achievements and shortfalls in performance, and give a framework to guide future improvements.

This blog will outline the purpose of an appraisal, what it involves, and different types of appraisal systems to help you get the most out of your next appraisal meeting. Read on to learn more.


Jump to:

What is the purpose of an appraisal?

What does an appraisal involve?

How to prepare for an appraisal

6 types of appraisal systems

  1. 360-degree appraisal system

  2. Trait-focused checklist

  3. Management by objective

  4. Narrative statements

  5. Ranking systems

  6. Self-evaluation appraisal system

How often should appraisals take place?

FAQs about appraisals

Which appraisal system is best?


What is the purpose of an appraisal?

The purpose of an appraisal is to discuss an employee's performance over a given period of time. It should also provide an opportunity for the employee to raise any questions or concerns about their day-to-day role and responsibilities.

Ideally, informal performance appraisal meetings would have occurred throughout the performance review period. This way, both employer and employee can keep tabs on employee performance, workload and areas of improvement. A formal appraisal is a round up of these discussions.

Some objectives that can be considered between both the appraiser and appraisee as part of an appraisal include:

  • Understanding the level of performance attained during the appraisal period.

  • Discuss strengths and weaknesses in performance, including how to support the strengths while encouraging the growth of the weaknesses.

  • Agree on training and development opportunities.

  • Plan performance objectives or KPIs for the next review period.

  • Implement a plan of action or roadmap for keeping the employee on track for possible promotion throughout the appraisal period.

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What does an appraisal involve?

Appraisals usually involve the employee's direct line manager, as they are the closest to

 the individuals day to day performance. There may be situations where other individuals are in the appraisal meeting, usually if an employee has more than one line manager.

No matter how many people are in the meeting, however, these involve being held in a private space away from other employees to give everyone a chance to freely speak their minds. Employees should also be given plenty of notice before the meeting takes place so they can take time to think about their performance and come to the meeting with points to discuss.

The exact format of an appraisal meeting can vary depending on the company, but the overall structure of remains the same:


Written reflection

This occurs before the meeting by the employee, colleagues who work closely together, and the employee's line manager. Doing so provides a full picture of the employee's performance, achievements and objectives.


Discussion during the meeting

This is the formal meeting where all of the feedback is pooled together and discussed by both parties. Formal discussions of improvement or promotion opportunities will usually be discussed.

If you’re prepping for an appraisal, but aren’t sure what to say, don’t worry! We’ve put together a helpful guide on what to say in an appraisal at work to help you prepare for your next appraisal meeting.


How to prepare for an appraisal

The most important way to prepare for an appraisal meeting is to take dedicated time to write down any thoughts, concerns or achievements you want to raise beforehand. That way they don’t get missed during the meeting.

Some other tips to remember to make the most of your appraisal meeting:

  • Take accountability for your achievements and mistakes.

  • Have an idea about where you would like to move forward in the future.

  • Be open to constructive feedback and actively take it on board.


6 types of appraisal systems

There are different types of appraisal systems to consider when organising an appraisal meeting. Each company will conduct performance appraisals differently depending on what works best for their employees, but the below are the most common types of appraisal systems used.

  • 360-degree review

  • Trait-focused checklist

  • Management by objective

  • Narrative statements

  • Ranking systems

  • Self-evaluation appraisal system

1. 360-degree appraisal system

A 360-degree review collects feedback and input from lots of sources: from co-workers, managers, subordinates and customers. It is considered to be quite objective as it gives a rounded look at the person from many points of view.

Learn more about what is 360 feedback in our comprehensive guide.


2. Trait-focused checklist

A trait-focused checklist looks at the personal qualities and characteristics of staff. For example, it may measure punctuality, reliability, initiative, and so on. This type of appraisal  falls short in that it can be very subjective, and it isn’t focused on the actual achievement of objectives.


3. Management by objective

A management by objective approach measures behaviour and tasks against performance criteria. It is factually based as it assesses exactly what has been achieved against previously agreed objectives. The overall aim is to judge how well an employee has contributed to their department or to the business as a whole.


4. Narrative statements

Narrative statements can be used in unstructured appraisal systems. These statements provide information about the staff member, about their personal qualities and how they are undertaking their job. However, they rely on subjective opinions and are not measurable or quantifiable.


5. Ranking systems

A ranking system compares employees to each other, placing them from first to last, according to certain criteria. This type of system is unlikely to be used in isolation, but to add an input to other methods. It’s a less formal method too. An example would be in sales situations or where certain targets need to be met, such as call centres. You will often see boards around offices, listing which employees have achieved which sales or volume of calls.


6. Self-evaluation appraisal system

The self-evaluation appraisal system asks the employees to honestly assess themselves according to some agreed factors. This appraisal system engages and involves the employee more than most systems, putting ownership on the employee to highlight their own accomplishments and shortcomings. However, employees may not accurately perceive their performance, so some external input from a manager may also be required.


7. You can even combine elements from different appraisal systems

Of course, some appraisal systems are a combination of many of these different types. They take the best from each; perhaps some self-evaluation to act as the basis of the review, then a checklist to assess improvements in measurable characteristics such as time-keeping, with some narrative for added context, plus some objective-based considerations.


How often should appraisals take place?

Regardless of the appraisal system used, how often you should have an employee differs from company to company.

  • The annual review approach is a once-a-year assessment which is very popular.

  • In some companies, they often take place more frequently than this though, sometimes twice a year or quarterly.

There are less formal ways too. These tend to supply more frequent feedback about performance, with the manager able to guide the employee in a more ongoing manner. Known as one-to-ones or check-ins, these regular encounters check on performance and re-evaluate goals. They are particularly seen in agile workforces and bring about a coaching style of management which is less imposing and more collaborative in approach.


FAQs about appraisals

Who carries out an appraisal?

An employee’s line manager/direct report is most likely to be the one to carry out the appraisal meeting, however from time to time there may be another individual in the meeting if the employee has more than one manager, for example.

Can I discuss concerns in my appraisal?

Yes, appraisals are the perfect place to discuss concerns. Ensure you write them down beforehand, especially in the pre-appraisal documentation as this will help to structure the conversation in the meeting.

What type of questions could be asked in an appraisal?

A number of questions could be asked during the appraisal, however, some of the most common questions include:

‘What has been your biggest achievement this year?’, ‘what has challenged you most this year and what did you learn from it?’ and ‘how can the company help to support you in your training and development?’.

Are appraisals required by law?

Appraisals are not required by law. However, most employers will implement them to ensure employees are working to the best of their ability and have the opportunity to raise questions and concerns.


Which appraisal system is best?

Not all of these appraisal methods and means will be suitable for every company. The best appraisal system is one that suits your company culture and fits in with your ways of working.

Click on the banner below to start your free trial of Breathe’s people-first HR & performance management software to make your next appraisal cycle a breeze.


Author: Aimée Brougham-Chandler

An IDM-certified Digital Copywriter (2023) & English Language & Literature graduate (BA Hons), Aimée is Breathe's Content Assistant. With 3 years' content marketing experience, Aimée has a passion for writing - and providing SME HR teams with solutions to their problems. She enjoys delving into & demystifying all things HR: from employee performance to health and wellbeing, leave to company culture & much more.

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