The Essential Performance Review Handbook

Book by Sharon Armstrong

Sharon Armstrong has done the world of management a great service. She has compiled a book that shows us exactly how to develop and deliver top-notch performance appraisals.

As stated in the introduction, the purpose of the book is to “cut through the anxiety and make the process more productive and less unpleasant.” That’s an admirable goal for a book dealing with the single most dreaded managerial task in the workplace today.

Chapter one of the book describes why performance appraisals are so universally abhorred. To help readers move past their fears, Sharon provides self- assessments to ferret out the grounds for discomfort. The assessments list appraisal best practices, so a low self-rating will immediately give the reader an indication of where they need to focus their learning.

Subsequent chapters walk readers through the components of good appraisals, starting with preparation and planning through conducting the meeting and follow up. Each is packed with relevant quotes from the experts and sample stories of good and not so good practices. Plus, Sharon includes numerous examples of organizations that adapted their performance appraisal process in ways that truly improved on results, such as instituting employee-driven objectives.

I especially liked her “A List” of actions that produce a good appraisal process:

  • Being Active by sharing ownership of the evaluation process with employees
  • Being Accurate in documenting work performance
  • Being Attentive means always keeping goals and plans on the radar screen
  • Being Appreciative by including frequent recognition of goal achievement


The book wraps with a chapter on performance reviews in a changing world. This is perhaps one of the most valuable sections because it focuses on generational differences. With four and sometimes five generations working in the same office today, understanding how each cohort group prefers to give and receive feedback is critical.

If I could give just one book to a first-time manager, it would be The Essential Performance Review Handbook. I believe that this guide not only imparts useful tips and strategies, it lends a sense of understanding and control to a process that can be daunting for a rookie — or even experienced — manager. Any manager will feel calm and confident, which goes a long way toward making these sometimes difficult conversations more pleasant and productive.