Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 1
Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness
Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine
Note: This is the author’s draft of a published paper. Readers should not quote from this draft but access the
definitive version: The International Journal of Educational Management, 1 June 2003, volume 17, issue 6,
This paper initially provides an overview of performance management and appraisal in
schools in New Zealand (NZ), briefly backgrounding the context and purposes as well as
the legislative framework. One principal appraisal cycle is provided as an example of an
approach fitting the intended development and accountability balance of the nationally
In the later component of the paper the author’s conclusions on the key features of
effectiveness of appraisal are examined. These conclusions are drawn from the findings
of three converging, but distinctive, studies conducted by the author between 1996 and
Performance Management as an Integrated Cycle of Micro-Processes
Performance management is a macro-descriptor that encompasses all of the micro-
processes associated with personnel management. It covers the functions that begin
when a staff member enters the school through to their exit. In NZ, the Ministry of
Education (MoE) document Performance Management Systems 1 (PMS1; MoE, 1997:1)
describes it as encompassing recruitment, retention, selection, appointment,
employment contracts, registration, appraisal and assessment, professional
development, career development, succession planning, remuneration, discipline, and
dismissal. Performance management is therefore the bigger picture within which
appraisal is located. This is an important point to clarify because many principals
confuse the two terms and use them interchangeably.
Appraisal, although only one contributing micro-process in the macro context, is central
to the effectiveness of performance management. The mandated guidelines for
appraisal in NZ (MoE, 1997) designate that clarification of performance expectations is a
first step in appraisal. Here a job description, covering nationally prescribed professional
standards, and a performance agreement (with development objectives) are written and
ratified. The clarification of expectations is followed by professional development,
monitoring of development objectives, data collection, observation of teaching if
appropriate, self-appraisal, checking professional standards, a final interview and
reporting. The following cycle represented in Figure 1 reflects the integrated
development and accountability intent of the MoE guidelines. Note that the term “Board”
refers to the governing body of each school.
Getting the right balance of accountability and development in appraisal is difficult and,
in this author’s opinion, is associated with several key features linked to effectiveness.
The background to the findings that the features were derived from is provided prior to
discussion of the features themselves.
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 2
Figure 1: A Principal Appraisal Cycle (Piggot-Irvine, 2001)
Appraiser/Board chair and
Principal provides evidence of
achievement of professional
standards, job description and
objectives. Drafting of
standards, job description
objectives in preparation
for appraisal interview.
Principal continues to
gather own data for
principal check on
modification if needed.
and feedback about
Principal gathers own
data for portfolio (a
out (if pertinent).
Principal finalises PAAP.
PAAP signed off.
1. Confirm performance
expectations in job
2. Develop objectives
3. Draft outline for
Agreement Action Plan
Appraisal report submitted
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 3
The Research Leading to Conclusions about the Key Features of Appraisal
Between 1996 and 1999 the author was contracted to facilitate training associated with
the introduction of the mandated guidelines for appraisal (see Cardno, 1999, for a review
of aspects of the training). Throughout this period (and subsequently in 2000 and 2001)
data was collected to both monitor the implementation status of appraisal generally and
to evaluate the impact of the training delivered. The findings cited in support of the
conclusions for the features of effective appraisal noted in this paper were collected from
three separate but parallel studies conducted during this 1996 to 2001 period.
The first study occurred as a type of exploratory, “State of Play” study, involving an
average of 70 appraisers nationally each year from 1996 to 1999 (see Piggot-Irvine,
2000 for sampling detail). In early 1996, as preparation for the training (a needs
analysis), initial data was collected on the general implementation status of appraisal.
The 1996 results provided an alert that some aspect of the training needed to be
focused on helping appraisers to establish trusting, open, non-defensive, yet problem-
confronting relationships. The development of such openness via an “educative
process” (Piggot-Irvine, 2001) was subsequently included in training conducted by this
author. On-going data collection in the “State of Play” study continued during 1997 to
1999 in order to monitor the impact of the mandated requirements and training on
appraisal implementation. In summary, the results of this study revealed that the
tightening of requirements for appraisal and training had an overall positive impact on
almost all aspects of appraisal systems implementation (for example policy
development, process establishment) but that there was variable implementation of
these processes in schools (Piggot-Irvine, 2000). The results also provided a strong
indication that much of the training conducted nationally for appraisal had largely been
superficial and had failed to help appraisers to confront problems with appraisees.
The second study was an evaluation of the educative process component of training for
219 appraisers from 25 secondary schools. The overall training covered general skills
implementation (two to three days) as well as one day focusing on developing the type
of educative process elaborated earlier in this paper. Here, data that was collected from
a sample of 45 appraisers (and their appraisees) showed a considerable gap between
appraiser espousals of educative process skill implementation and their actual practice
The third study was a more in-depth evaluation of longer-term (approximately eight
meetings over one year) training based on an action research approach employing the
Problem Resolving Action Research (PRAR) Model (Piggot-Irvine, 2001). The focus of
this training, again, was on developing educative process interactions. Here the
triangulated data from interviews, surveys and observation with appraisers and
appraisees showed a positive shift in skills implementation for three of the five
appraisers involved in the action research (see Piggot-Irvine, 2001).
The features of effective appraisal described in the following section have been
developed from the data of all three studies.
Key Features of Effective Appraisal
What does effective mean? In this author’s terms effectiveness occurs when appraisal
interactions are non-controlling, non-defensive, supportive, educative and yet
confidential. Effective appraisal therefore is underpinned by a relationship of respect
and has outcomes directly linked to improved learning and teaching. Effectiveness is
also linked to appraisal processes and information that have clarity, objectivity and high
integrity, where deep development is a goal rather than quick-fix expedience. The
features described are not presented in order of significance - all are important, as
Figure 2 shows.
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 4
Figure 2: Elements of Appraisal Effectiveness
An Integrated Development and Accountability Approach
Earlier in this paper the dual development and accountability components of an
integrated appraisal cycle were described. Feedback from participants in all three of the
studies conducted indicated the desirability of a retention of the balance between
development and accountability in appraisal. A quote from a contributor to the “State of
Play” data noted that appraisal had to be “An avenue to help staff identify future
developments and highlight strengths/weaknesses” (Piggot-Irvine, 2001:71).
Results from the “State of Play” study pointed to a continued avoidance of appraisers
and appraisees assembling objective information for appraisal (Piggot-Irvine, 2000). For
example only 27 percent of respondents in 1996 reported that they assembled objective
information; 26 percent in 1997. Although there was a rise to 59% in 1998, one
respondent in that year suggested that observation was conducted in a loose way when
they stated that information was gained as “Only informal casual observations” (Piggot-
It is essential that discussions are based on factual, objectively collected, “data-based”
(Cardno & Piggot-Irvine, 1996:20) information if the process is to be considered as a
valid, fair, rigorous and reliable approach to managing the performance of staff. If such
information is not collected then an outcome may be of perceptions of appraisal as a
poorly constructed process that reinforces inadequate, inaccurate and subjective
decision-making at management level. This, in turn, could lead (an hypothesis that
needs checking) to a climate of substantial mistrust between managers and staff and the
demise of appraisal as a credible process for enhancing organisational and individual
Integrated development and
Beyond the superficial – on-
going and in-depth
with training and
Based on objective,
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 5
In particular, the lack of assemblage of objective information could create a potentially
explosive situation given the current trend to associate promotion with appraisal. Lack of
objective information could be linked to lack of transparency, subsequent iniquitous
decision-making and injustice in summative decisions made about the most sensitive
issue in teachers’ lives, that is, their remuneration. A sense of injustice, in turn, could
result in a proliferation of litigation between aggrieved staff and the governors whose
responsibility it is to ensure an effective appraisal system.
What can be done about this? Foremost there should be an emphasis on the
establishment of appraisal procedures that ensure valid information gathering. The use
of triangulation, or “multiple perspective” (Cardno & Piggot-Irvine, 1996:20), data
collection can enhance validity. In this author’s practice in appraising principals, for
example, there is a non-negotiable expectation that the cycle incorporates documentary
evidence. Policies, procedures, self, student (if teaching), staff and Board (and possibly
community) evaluations frequently form part of this evidence. In the case of the latter
evaluations, the use of a sampling process and well designed data-collection tools can
mean that this is an efficiently co-ordinated system that should not be overly
burdensome in terms of time or cost to the school.
Confidential and Transparent Processes
Implicitly linked to objective information gathering is the requirement for confidential and
transparent processes. Both of these features were considered to be important by
appraisers and appraisees in the short and long-term training evaluation studies cited.
At first glance, the two descriptors of confidentiality and transparency may seem
contradictory, or self-cancelling. This is a misconception. There is a logical congruency
between confidentiality and transparency. As an appraiser it is important to be absolute
in maintaining confidentiality in dealing with information, whether it is from respondents
providing feedback, or documentary evidence, or information from the principal.
However, an appraiser also needs to be clear, with all respondents providing information
(for example in evaluations), that their information will not be tampered with or altered.
The latter is an example of the way that an appraiser can be transparent about process
in dedicating to represent the situation as it is, without own alteration or interpretation. It
also shows that confidentiality is assured.
Setting Deep Objectives
The findings from the three studies cited showed that a key to effective appraisal is the
establishment of appraisal objectives and plans for improvement that are in a “deep” as
opposed to “surface” format (Piggot-Irvine, 1999). Deep refers to plans that outline small
action research type projects that are carried out on an individualised (for personal
objectives) or group (for department or school-wide objectives) scale. The following
example from a participant in the short-term training is such a deep plan. John, the
appraisee, was guided by his appraiser but he wrote the plan. The latter is crucial if
ownership by the appraisee is a goal. John’s plan (Table 1) contains stages of
reconnaissance (examining the current situation with the issue), planning for
change/improvement, carrying out improvement and then evaluating its effectiveness.
At all stages of the plan there are expectations of data-based reflection and an emphasis
on improved learning and teaching.
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 6
Table 1: John’s PAAP (Performance Agreement Action Plan)
Objective Actions Measurable
(Recorded for each
so that I
1. Check how I facilitate
meetings currently by:
a. asking staff to
complete a quick
on my effectiveness
b. asking a colleague to
check and record what I
do in meetings
2. Do some reading on
meeting facilitation and
develop some criteria for
3. Think about the
results from the
feedback etc. and
develop a plan for the
way I will improve
Carrying out Plan
4. Attend a 2 hour
workshop on meeting
5. Observe another
manager who is reputed
to facilitate good
6. Put my plan for
improved facilitation into
practice for 2-3
7. Seek further feedback
from staff on
improvements, and ask
my colleague to observe
against my criteria for
a clear set of
criteria for this
staff, and my
are not only
but are focused
2. Photocopying of
4. Workshop fee
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 7
John’s plan is not a typical one observed in the short-term training. More frequently
plans contained just a couple of sentences outlining development such as “attend a
workshop on literacy”. The latter is a quick-fix approach to objective setting: one that is
concerned with getting the objective out of the way as quickly as possible rather than
focusing substantially on something that results in considerable improvement to learning
and teaching. It conforms to a surface approach which McKay and Kember (1997, p.58)
state, is “based on a motive to minimise effort and also to minimise the consequences”.
John’s approach, however, is “deep”. He is committed to a thorough examination of his
facilitation of meetings, to changing his practice and then to checking to see if what he
has done has worked. He is basing his decisions for change upon his reflections on
data and background reading. It will cost the school no more than a surface approach to
meet his development objectives and yet the outcome is most likely to be substantial
change at both a personal and professional level. The development of such a deep plan
also provides clear indicators for assessment of the achievement of objectives. The
latter accountability feature helps to provide the objective data that was noted earlier as
an important feature of the entire appraisal process.
Separation of Discipline Processes from Appraisal
Participants in the evaluation of the short and long-term training on appraisal noted that
an aspect that would jeopardise the development of trust and openness in appraisal was
having the same personnel carrying out appraisal and disciplinary proceedings. Support
for this critical separation has been reported elsewhere (Cardno & Piggot-Irvine, 1997).
That is not to say that appraisal may not alert the appraiser and management to the
areas that need to be addressed under discipline proceedings. Once the alert has
occurred, however, either a different individual should carry out the disciplinary-based
system, or if the appraiser is to be nominated as carrying out this process, then a new
appraiser should be appointed.
The crucial separation of appraisal from disciplinary processes highlights the importance
of principals and Boards clarifying the linkages, connections and distinctions between
the earlier mentioned micro-processes in performance management generally. Such
linkages need to also be clarified in policy development for each micro-process.
The latter statement suggests that clarity in guidelines and criteria for all performance
management micro-processes is crucial if staff are to understand how to implement
policy effectively. NZ now has appraisal criteria established in the nationally mandated
guidelines, however individual schools have some flexibility in the way that they adopt
processes to meet the guidelines. It is clear from the findings cited in this author’s
research that the process should be developed with a genuine intent for improvement
and not check-listing alone. The process should also be well publicised in the school
and explicitly detailed.
Making and taking enough time to carry out appraisal was considered by participants in
all three studies cited as crucial to effectiveness. The following quote from an appraiser
(in the evaluation of the short-term training) concerning what makes appraisal effective
Time - use class time - counterproductive; use staff time - resentment - already
under stress; that is a problem - any solutions? (Piggot-Irvine, 2001:143)
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 8
There is an implication from all of the findings that management (particularly middle
managers as the key implementers) must be given time and support to implement
appraisal. Where appraisal is working well for example, it is often because management
has accorded it priority in the plethora of management tasks that occur in schools and
middle managers have time allocation to carry it out. It is also apparent that, in these
schools, the senior managers themselves fully engage in their own appraisal, that is,
they model that it is worthy of a high priority in their time management.
How can time be provided in a context as frantic as that in schools? There are multiple
ways that time for appraisal was allocated in the schools associated with the three
studies cited in this paper. Several schools gained consent to open one hour later, two
times a term, to allow for appraisal interactions to occur. Other schools used specified
teacher only days for appraisal. Others still recognised that appraisal is too important an
activity to squeeze into a free period during the school day and they made use of time
before and after the timetabled day to conduct the process. Ultimately however until the
issue of overload is addressed and managers are given time to manage appraisal then
we will continue to see not only highly stressed staff in schools but also poorly
Developing Educative Interactions
Respectful, trust-based and open relationships are at the core of appraisal effectiveness,
as one of the appraisees in the long-term evaluation study reported “The trust
the most important” (Piggot-Irvine, 2001:259).
Good interpersonal interactions generally are often noted as important but elaboration
beyond such broad statements is rare in the general appraisal literature. It is the more
specific literature on productive reasoning (Argyris, 1985, 1990) that led this author to
conclude that openness and trust could only be established if appraisers and appraisees
created what has been described earlier as an “educative process”. An educative
relationship is based on bilateralism (shared control, shared thinking, shared evidence,
shared planning and monitoring) leading to appraisers having more confidence to help
appraisees to confront and resolve problems if they arise.
The educative process is not merely the sort of good listening and questioning skills type
interpersonal interactions that several authors nominate as being important for appraisal
(see Edwards, 1992; Immegart, 1994; Marshall, 1995; and Middlewood, 1997). An
educative process is situated at a deeper, problem-confronting, level. Such a process,
in turn, can create high trust, shared (bilateral) rather than hierarchical control, and
therefore an open relationship. Such an open, bilateral, relationship should enhance the
potential for problems to be confronted rather than avoided. The confronting of
problems, in turn, should lead to problems being solved. Problems solved should mean
that appraisal has improvement outcomes for learning, teaching and management. This
causal link is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Causal link diagram of appraisal effectiveness
Educative Problem Problems Appraisal
Process Confronting Solved
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 9
The dearth of literature on how to help appraisers develop the sort of educative,
problem-resolving, interactions in appraisal, is indicative of the extent to which this is
overlooked and perhaps even avoided because it is in the “too hard” basket. The
following quote from an appraiser in the short-term training evaluation study underscores
that appraisal is not only hard but other complex issues also impinge:
It’s still an uncomfortable thing to do, especially with an average teacher or one
who is out of their depth. It’s an extra burden on an already over-abused group,
Helping appraisers to develop educative relationships should be an essential feature of
all appraisal training. This author’s research in the appraisal context indicates that such
educative process training has to be in a different format to that of the standard one to
two day block allocation which was used for initial appraisal training in NZ schools.
An implication from the findings of the studies noted is that school management must re-
think their approach to training for appraisal so that it goes beyond the quick-fix, one day
(or even shorter), approach. It is recommended that the training includes a coverage of
all elements of appraisal such as values, purposes, objective setting, observation skills,
data-gathering skills, interviewing and report writing. The training should also focus on
helping appraisers to develop an educative process. A suggested approach for this
could include that the principles and content:
• focus on personalised actionable knowledge (Argyris, 1993), where individuals
are helped to examine their own actions and to take responsibility for both
detecting and correcting defensiveness associated with interactions;
• should help appraisers to expose the gap between their espousals and actions.
This exposure must also involve challenge and critique and be based on
objective evidence that the appraiser can reflect on;
• must introduce appraisers to effective models for interacting in bilateral, open,
non-defensive and problem confronting ways. Regardless of the model chosen,
it must be presented at a level that is both simple and concise, “yet its
complexity must not be underplayed” (Cardno, 1994:237);
• must engage participants in taking this model from a level of espousal (thinking
or beliefs) to implementation; and
• must be followed-up by intensive, on-going practice. The follow-up may be best
designed in a series of spaced (say one to two months) sessions of
approximately four hour duration over at least a year. This spacing, or “time-
lapsed learning” as Cardno (1994:240) describes it, allows participants to
assimilate and internalise their new learning.
The following quote from one of the participants involved in the evaluation of the
longer-term, action research based approach to training, underscores the complexity
and intensity associated with helping appraisers to appropriately establish an educative
process with staff.
Our senior management team initially attended a 2 day “Positively Dealing with
Conflict” course with Eileen, following an earlier year long management contract
…but it wasn’t until Eileen came in to do an evaluation of my performance that
the reality of the extent of my avoidance and controlling strategies when dealing
with staff problems became painfully clear.
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 10
I was totally devastated! … I guess the really depressing part of it all was that I
really believed that the way that I was dealing with staff issues was okay. The
sudden realisation that I wasn’t really shattered the idealistic view I had of myself.
After four days of intensive reflection, self-doubt, and self-loathing, I returned to
the school feeling very scared. I was also really determined to deal with these
problems I had.
Eileen and I then began some intensive reflection on the reasons for my
behaviours. She got me to re-read all of the material we had covered in
workshops (my Christmas holiday task!). She asked me to draw up a set of
criteria for analysing my implementation of appraisal. All of this has led to Eileen
and I now constantly re-examining the way that I manage and appraise staff. I
am recording the interactions. We then critique this against my summarised
criteria, and I re-practise more effective ways of interacting. I am focusing on
developing shared control, and genuine openness to learning with staff.
This account reveals that substantially more than short-term training is required to help
appraisers to develop educative process interactions with appraisees.
Creating Respect, Openness and Trust Generally
The final feature of effective appraisal overlaps with earlier mentioned features. The link
between appraisal effectiveness and on-going educative relationships cannot be
ignored. The findings in each of the studies cited reveals that respect, openness and
trust need to be established through honest interactions in all situations - not just that of
appraisal, but in every interaction at every level of the school.
The development of an approach to appraisal that has the key features of effectiveness
described in this paper begins with an understanding of the location and integration of
appraisal in the wider context of performance management. Underpinning the approach
are values linked to objectivity, fairness, honesty, openness, transparency, respect, trust
and non-defensiveness. These values, however, cannot just be “turned on” for
appraisal. For appraisal to be effective the process must be embedded in a wider
culture where the values form part of the fabric of the everyday life of the school. Most
importantly the values need to be modelled from the top down. That is an ultimate
challenge for all school leaders and governors.
Draft of ‘Key Features of Appraisal Effectiveness’, by Dr Eileen Piggot-Irvine, page 11
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