What Is The Critical Incident Method of Performance Appraisal?

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The critical incident method of performance appraisal involved identifying and describing specific events (or incidents) where the employee did something really well or something that needs improvement. It's a technique based on the description of the event, and does not rely on the assignment of ratings or rankings, although it is occasionally coupled with a ratings type system.

The use of critical incidents is more demanding of the manager since it requires more than ticking off things on a form -- the manager must actually write things out. On the other hand critical incidents can be exceedingly useful in helping employees improve since the information in them is more detailed ans specific than in methods that involve rating employees.

Some managers encourage employees to record their own critical incidents (where the employee excelled, situations that did not go well). That's an interesting variation that places more responsibility with the employee, and also does not require the manager to have been present when the incident occurred.

Generally, it's important that incidents be recorded AS THEY OCCUR, and not written at or around the annual performance review. Delaying the recording of critical incident reports (either good incidents or not so good) means a loss of detail and accuracy.


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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992 by consultant and book author, Robert Bacal. Robert's books on performance management and reviews have been published by McGraw-Hill. He is available for consultation, training and keynote speaking on performance and management at work.


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