What Happens During Annual Appraisal Interviews? How Leader–Follower Interactions Unfold and Impact Interview Outcomes

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Abstract

Despite a wealth of research on antecedents and outcomes of annual appraisal interviews, the ingredients that make for a successful communication process within the interview itself remain unclear. This study takes a communication approach to highlight leader–follower dynamics in annual appraisal interviews. We integrate relational leadership theory and recent findings on leader–follower interactions to argue (a) how supervisors’ task- and relation-oriented statements can elicit employee involvement during the interview process and (b) how these communication patterns affect both supervisors’ and employees’ perceptions of the interview. Moreover, we explore (c) how supervisor behavior is contingent upon employee contributions to the appraisal interview. We audiotaped 48 actual annual appraisal interviews between supervisors and their employees. Adopting a multimethod approach, we used quantitative interaction coding (N = 32,791 behavioral events) as well as qualitative open-axial coding to explore communication patterns among supervisors and their employees. Lag sequential analysis revealed that supervisors’ relation-oriented statements triggered active employee contributions and vice versa. These relation-activation patterns were linked to higher interview success ratings by both supervisors and employees. Moreover, our qualitative findings highlight employee disagreement as a crucial form of active employee contributions during appraisal interviews. We distinguish what employees disagreed about, how the disagreement was enacted, and how supervisors responded to it. Overall employee disagreement was negatively related to ratings of supervisor support. We discuss theoretical implications for performance appraisal and leadership theory and derive practical recommendations for promoting employee involvement during appraisal interviews.

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