I have written dozens of quarterly and yearly reviews but I don't actually know who I should be addressing. Am I writing to the employee being reviewed or am I writing to a 3rd party (My boss, HR manager etc.)?

I've talked to a couple of different HR folks and some peers who gave me conflicting answers.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Mark's picture
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Reviews are written in the third person, addressing future decision makers about your subordinate's career performance and therefore their potential. They are designed to help (you and) others make decisions about fitness for jobs and necessary development.

They should never include "I" - it is redundant. If you write it, it becomes so, as you are speaking for the firm.

One never addresses one's object (the direct). The review is not FOR the direct - it is ABOUT the direct.


GEBELTI's picture

Mark´s advice differs from writers´ like Steven Covey. For whom, in his "8th Habit" this traditional hierarchy-oriented performance appraisal is just a relict ("management bloodletting ritual"). Or from Gerald P Markle (in "Catalytic Coaching") who notices that appraisals written in the 3rd form certainly haven´t got the appraisee as customer. In Markle´s view that is an indicator that they are wasted in the context of performance improvement. Markle´s brilliant analyis of the traditional appraisal business process is definitely worth reading (the true process customer is the HR guy who makes sure all appraisal forms are signed and handed in on time...).

Here´s what I like: Mark states his take of the appraisal´s purpose and customer clearly and unambiguously. Too often managers are not clear for whom they are producing an appraisal. And thereby confuse what should be said in which context. They mix up personal advice and "coaching" with judgement, rating, and classification. All in the same appraisal document. And are astonished when this ambiguity turns into conflict over appraisal formulations and a loss of credibility of the entire process.

This really important and interesting question deserves an additional, and likely salomonic view from David Maister, acceptable for the softies around here....

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Anybody who really thinks that HR - in most organizations - should be the customer for an appraiser is crazy. Checking to see if they're done is something left to an intern.

The reason appraisals were invented was to help leadership in large organizations decide who was worthy of additional responsibility. All such systems are fundamentally built on this concept. Coaching and advice happen daily, not annually (because if you coach or advise only once a year, it's not received as coaching or advice).


GEBELTI's picture

I have expressed Markle´s position with the wrong words. Markle is not saying that HR SHOULD be the customer of the appraisal process. He sais that sadly, the way the traditional performance management system works, the HR intern turns out to be the only customer who has a benefit ("task ticked off"). The other potential customers - managers, legal, staff - either hate the traditional system or don´t have a discernible benefit.

Of course, many of the measures Markle suggests to improve the traditional performance appraisal are similar to those of Manaer Tools.

Len's picture

I write performance appraisals fou military personnel, as well as for Civil Servants. For the military side, the audience is clear: the reports are used by members of promotion boards to select those who will be nominated to the President for promotion. Having sat on those Boards, I'm very familiar with the way the reports are viewed/used.

For the Civil Servants, the story is not clear. We submit them to HR, where they are filed. But the Civil Service system doesn't use promotion boards or any sort of conventional "promotion" process. People get promoted by applying for (and being accepted for) a new job, at the next higher grade. I've never known of an instance in which the performance evals were used.

John Bull's picture

Bad news for Mark´s theory: in the public sector, often the customer of the appraisal definitely is the HR intern. Given that the HR intern doesn´t even read the appraisal, the final customer is probably the HR file storage shelf in room 2124 ..... Anyway, in my public sector company appraisals, when finished, are never heard of again until next year when the old appraisal is used as template for the new one...