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The assessment interview and The New Assessment: tips and examples

Help, the end of the year is coming! The appraisal interview is the perfect time to give feedback to the employee and to focus on development points for the upcoming year. But how do you keep this from becoming a “judgment call” instead of a review meeting?

As an employee, you may experience the performance review as unfair or, as a manager, you may have difficulty conducting a performance review. Perhaps you experience the appraisal interview as “heavy” or the interviews still barely connect with practice. There are four more situations of which we give you tips on how to deal with in this blog. We also give you sample questions you can ask to make the performance review meet its primary goal: to make employees feel positive about their development. As an HR professional, you can make a difference to the organization and its employees by revamping the appraisal interview, focusing on employee growth and development.


What is the assessment interview?

The assessment interview was brought to life as early as the year 1920 by Walter D. Scott. The conversation is the third and final conversation in the traditional HR cycle. In most cases, performance reviews are held at the end of the calendar year, which is why they are also referred to as the “year-end reviews. It may also occur, depending on the company, that the call cycles begin as soon as the employee joins. Then the assessment interview does not always have to take place at the end of the year, but the meaning remains the same. Indeed, at the beginning of the year, goals are set in the planning interview, halfway through the year they are evaluated in the performance interview, and at the end of the year they are assessed in the assessment interview.


What is the difference between the performance and assessment interview?

Because the performance appraisal interview and the appraisal interview can be very similar, we are going to look at what the similarities are and how the appraisal interview differs from the performance appraisal interview.


The performance interview

This is a two-way conversation between the manager or supervisor and the employee. The conversation may occur more often per year, but normally falls once a year in the HR cycle. The conversation is informal in nature, which means both parties can give feedback. In this, the opinion of the employee is central. The performance review discusses:

  1. The employee’s current situation;
  2. employee’s completed projects;
  3. the employee’s performance;
  4. collaboration between employee, co-workers and supervisor;
  5. how to develop further;
  6. feedback for the organization and supervisor.

This conversation does not affect: terms of employment or salary (increase).


The assessment interview

In this conversation, the manager or supervisor “assesses” how the employee performed over the past year. The appraisal interview is formal in nature and has traditionally been one-way. The manager sends out information and the employee receives. In the interview, the following will be discussed with the employee:

  1. employee performance (business results);
  2. development that the employee showed;
  3. possible remuneration (salary increase);
  4. assessment about employee’s way of working.

Salary increase?

Some companies operate a directly linked system that determines whether the employee is entitled to a salary increase. A review may then result in a predefined salary increase. Other organizations omit this, but they do use appraisal as input to determine salary increases.


Optimal goal for both conversations

The primary goal of both conversations should be for employees to feel positive about their development and to become familiar with areas in which they can develop further. Both the performance and appraisal interviews should provide enough clarity to find out how they can best contribute to the success of the organization and what steps they should take to grow further in their careers – should they want to, of course. In practice, however, it often happens that the appraisal interview provides little room for growth and development because of the one-sided assessment. For this reason, the appraisal interview may be interpreted by the employee as “judgmental.


What are the disadvantages of the traditional appraisal interview?

In recent years, newspapers and news pages were regularly filled with texts such as “Abolish the performance appraisal process” and “the performance appraisal process does not work.” Many companies had also done away with the appraisal interview. Why? For both employees and managers, there were numerous disadvantages.


Employee appraisal interview:
    • Considered mandatory;
    • revolves solely around financial reward;
    • is perceived as unfair. Employees feel that the method of creation is not fair and that only a small part of it is traceable to actual performance. This is according to research by Killian Wawoe (VU, 2017);
    • does not give attention to talents. An article by HR Practice (2018) shows that only 15% of employees feel that the interview matches their skills;
    • 66% of employees say the traditional interview cycle lowers their productivity (CEB, 2015);
    • does not lead to higher performance, motivation and job satisfaction;
    • focuses on errors.


The assessment interview among managers:
      • 90% of HR managers report that the performance and appraisal interview lacks qualitative information (CEB, 2015);
      • 95% of managers report dissatisfaction with the annual interview cycle (CEB, 2015). With a rapidly changing market, it can be difficult to set annual goals. By increasing the frequency of calls, goals can easily be set for a shorter period of time and results achieved sooner. This can also be seen in the trend of the agile* method that many companies are now using. It is important to monitor organizational and employee development, as 85% of companies expect to have a skills shortage within 3 years (WEF, 2020);
      • the annual interview cycle takes an average of 210 hours per year (CEB, 2015);
      • creates a damaged working relationship.

*Agile = agile and flexible organizing. The organization is aware that circumstances change rapidly.

Because in many cases the employee was burned off in the performance appraisal interview, it was also known as the “judgmental interview. In particular, mistakes made by the employee were named. This often also has to do with the company’s salary cap. Companies cannot always give a “good” rating to every employee because the rating equals a salary increase that is not always available. Any salary increase in this case is linked to the assessment given.

14% lower quality of conversations as structure disappears


Trend of abolishing

Because of the long list of disadvantages of the appraisal interview, many companies chose to do away with the interview altogether. This became a trend. Much was written about it, but now some of those companies have come back from this. Indeed, the complete elimination of the appraisal interview had the following consequences:

      • 14% lower quality of conversations as structure disappears. Many managers benefit from this structure because they often have few people skills (Gartner, 2018);
      • the need disappears, as fewer or no calls are made at all. Once responsibility is placed on employees, the interview cycle becomes fragile. Introverted employees and first-timers will most likely not show initiative in having conversations, and that while development is super important;
      • 10% lower productivity as a result of less and lower quality (Gartner, 2018).


Trend of renewing

There were also experts who said at the time that the appraisal interview needed to be revamped. So don’t abolish the conversation, but renew it. “The way assessment is created within the performance management cycle could use a solid refresh,” writes business economist Jacco van den Berg in his book “The New Assessment” (2017).


7 Solutions to common challenges in conducting an appraisal interview:

So how can we use the appraisal interview, but in an innovative way? How can we give employees enough room for growth so that it does not become a “judgment call”? For a round of talks to go well, it is good to tackle challenges and problems in the preparations already. The following are practical solutions to the most common situations.


1. Do employees look up to the appraisal interview?

A traditional one-way assessment interview can cause great degree of anxiety that employees sometimes have about the interview. As a result, the conversation may be perceived as “heavy” by employees. One solution is to engage with employees more often and provide them with ongoing feedback. Thus, the content of the appraisal interview is no surprise.

More than a quarter (27%) of 1,019 employees surveyed wish that appraisal were an ongoing process. And only 10% of those surveyed indicated that assessment is already set up as a continuous process (Protime).

By adapting the HR cycle, you can engage with employees more often and provide them with interim feedback. In addition, supporting managers can also contribute a lot to the method of assessment. We at Learned wrote a comprehensive roadmap on how to arrive at this modern HR cycle. The Learned system allows you to organize the type of cycle that suits your organization. Want to know more? Download our E-guide: ‘Design yourself a modern HR cycle in 5 (effective) steps’.


2. Is the assessment interview separate from practice?

A common objection is that the appraisal interview is detached from practice. This can have several causes, but the most common are:

It looks back at goals that have been outdated for some time:

At the end of the year, if you look back at the goals set at the beginning of the year, chances are they are no longer relevant. The solution: schedule more frequent conversations to plan and evaluate goals. Discussing quarterly goals, for example, will bring them more in line with the organization. The Learned platform not only helps you set SMART goals, but it also shows you the progress of the goals in the conversation form. This makes frequent evaluation easier.
A generic list of skills and competencies is assessed:

An interview form with a generic list of skills and competencies for each employee may cause employees to not recognize themselves in the feedback received. We therefore recommend using personalized forms. In Learned, the conversation form automatically adapts to the employee’s role. Depending on the role, different skills & competencies are used as evaluation criteria, because each role requires different competencies and skills. Learned has mapped relevant skills & competencies for more than 4,500 positions.

The way assessment is created within the performance management cycle could use a solid refresh.”


3. Is there too much focus on performance and not development?

In a traditional appraisal interview, the focus is on evaluating the employee’s performance. While this is an important part and, in our opinion, should remain part of the conversation, it is even more important to dwell on employee development. How can the employee improve his or her performance in the future?

Employees who are performing well, want to continue to grow or perhaps even develop in a new role. In addition, employees who perform below expectations are more helped when their development is considered. This is because it does not only zoom in on what is not going well, but also looks at development opportunities. With the Learned platform, we make it possible to provide feedback on the relevant skills & competencies for the employee’s position in the assessment interview. For example, the skill matrix in Learned shows where the employee stands, what they can still grow in and what is expected of them.

Another opportunity is: questions can be added to the conversation that focus more on the employee’s happiness. From this, interesting insights can be gained. For example, start by asking how many days a week the employee enjoys going to the office. In many cases, the answer to this question is a good indicator of the employee’s performance. Another interesting example is measuring the extent to which employees can use their talents.

“At my job, I have the opportunity to do what I’m good at every day.”

When employees have the opportunity to do what they do best at work every day, there is a 44% greater chance of higher customer ratings, 50% lower employee turnover and 38% greater productivity (Gallup).
Learned HR software usage survey – (Q3) 2021.

  • 8 in 10 users found it easier to prepare and conduct interviews;
  • 6 in 10 users make more calls;
  • 8 in 10 users find the conversations more valuable.’


4. Do managers find it difficult to have a good conversation?

Managers may find it difficult to have a good conversation. Conducting a constructive appraisal interview can be challenging. Although HR staff can assist managers by attending appraisal meetings, in practice we often see that this takes a lot of time. So it pays to train managers to have good conversations. Practicing conversational skills and using a structured assessment form with help questions can increase the quality of conversations. In Learned, these forms are ready for use by any manager who is listed as a “coach. The appraisal interview form evaluates on the employee’s skills to see if the employee conforms to the behavioral examples of the job profile. This gives the manager guidance in the appraisal interview. Curious about the most frequently asked questions in a modern assessment interview? Download our sample questions below!


5. Do employees experience the conversation as unfair?

Do you have an organization where managers have a large span of control*? If so, we recommend expanding the conversation to include 360° feedback. In the conversation form in Learned, there is the option to invite colleagues, external colleagues or customers to solicit their opinions. This provides a richer picture of the employee’s performance. Gathering all these opinions makes it easier for managers to provide an informed assessment.

Another common problem is that managers have a very different view of assessment compared to each other. Simply put, one manager gives lower ratings than his or her immediate colleague, for example. To make this fairer to employees, average ratings of managers can be compared in plenary sessions: calibrating. With the recently launched calibration feature in the Learned platform, this is now even easier. For example, as an HR manager, you make sure the reviews are calibrated before they are discussed with the employee.

*Span of control = the number of employees assigned to a manager.


6. Does the interview process take a long time and take a long time to return all the forms?

Appraisal interviews can be time-consuming, but even more time can be spent in the administrative preparation and handling of the interviews. Prevent managers from losing commitment by overcomplicating conversations. Digitize the rounds of conversations and process them in Learned for a smooth process. This makes the preparation and completion of interviews run smoothly and saves you a lot of time. For example, employees and managers can fill out interview forms digitally in advance and ask for feedback from colleagues and even external clients or customers directly from the platform. With this digital signing feature, you, as an HR professional, keep a lot of time for strategic HR issues and developments of your team. Going around asking fellow managers to print, sign and send in forms is a thing of the past with Learned.


7. Is it all about salary?

How do you keep the employee’s focus on discussing their performance and development, rather than the pressing question, “How much salary do I get?” Many organizations struggle with the link between the performance review, the final appraisal and its impact on the employee’s compensation.


We advise organizations to:

Do not discuss appraisal and compensation in the same conversation:
For example, you can schedule a specific salary review separately at the beginning of the calendar year in Learned or in the month before the employee’s contract is renewed. (Note: this is not always possible when dealing with a collective bargaining agreement.) By not discussing any salary increase in the appraisal interview, this paves the way to go deeper into the employee’s performance and development. It is more effective and sustainable to focus more on employee development in the conversation.
Don’t link pay just to last quarter’s assessment:
Look at the entire year and assign a weighting to the employee’s development. It allows organizations to tie salary increases to employee growth potential rather than just performance. Indeed, at the beginning of an employee’s career, the development curve is often steeper than at the end of a career. In addition, consider factors such as age and the job market.


Sample form of a renewed assessment interview

Want to revive the appraisal interview? Or do you need inspiration for an updated conversation form focused on development? We wrote the sample appraisal interview form with the best practices and sample questions you can use to prepare for the appraisal interview. This way, you not only support managers in a quality appraisal interview, but also the growth of employees.

The form includes:

  • 10+ examples of new style assessment interview questions;
  • 6 main talking points that are (almost) always forgotten;
  • Best practices for evaluating for goals, skills and competencies.