As you enter the clinical laboratory profession, one of the most important aspects of the employment process is called performance management or development (commonly called performance appraisal). The purpose of this process is to ensure that an organization is able to provide high quality service to meet the service needs of the customers. This is achieved by promoting employee competence and development. It should ensure that all new employees are competent to perform the basic responsibilities of the job, held accountable for job expectations and that all current employees continue to learn new information and develop new skills.

While many people view the performance appraisal process as beginning after 6 or 12 months of employment and view it as a review of how the employee has performed for the previous period, a successful performance management process begins during the hiring process. It continues as an ongoing cycle from recruitment, through hiring, orientation, and goal setting and on to performance appraisal and evaluation. This process occurs in three stages with the following components.

perf chart

The performance management process starts with employee planning and ends with an evaluation of employee progress. Managers and employees should meet to discuss planning and goals throughout the year. If possible, formally sitting down with your supervisor or manager on a quarterly basis is optimal. The process, at its best, is a collaborative one which should add value for both the employee and the employer.

It is unreasonable for a prospective employee to understand all of the requirements and duties of a position before they are hired. The process to set goals and evaluate performance should be discussed during the hiring process. Once you have accepted a position, the initial few months of employment should focus on orientation, training and competence assessment. During orientation, development goals for the coming year should be mutually discussed and documented. Expectations for the coming year should also be clearly defined by your supervisor. It is not unreasonable to expect that on a regular basis, your progress should be reviewed. It is recommend that you take the initiative to ask how you are doing, if there are areas on which you should be concentrating on or that need improvement, or if there are additional content areas for you to learn.

The annual performance appraisal is usually done in two steps. First, you and your manager complete the performance appraisal form – you doing a self assessment. Often organizations also use a 60 degree feedback process, asking for input from your peers. Secondly, you and your manager participate in a formal performance appraisal interview. The appraisal form, used in the first step, consists of performance standards and criteria that are used to judge evaluate your performance. The items comprising your job description are usually the performance standards that are used in your annual appraisal. Most clinical laboratories use a criterion-based job description. The performance standards are derived from a job analysis, which is a detailed list of all of the skills involved in performing a task. For example, what are the skills necessary to perform a complete blood count? The criteria are used to determine the level of performance, which can be excellent, average, or poor (or alternatively meets, exceeds or does not meet standards). Once your appraisal is complete, your score is averaged and your merit raise (if applicable) is determined from the final score (Wallace & Klosinski, 1998; Wolfgang & Wolfgang, 1998).

If the above process occurs, the formal, annual performance appraisal process should be more of a formality. There should be no surprises at this session. If ongoing performance review has occurred, this session can concentrate on a thorough review of your overall performance, but more importantly can concentrate on setting goals for the coming year. Those should include specific areas of improvement, project goals, and specific learnings that should take place as you move forward. The components of an effective process are:

GOALS: Along with your supervisor, you should establish key goals on a regular basis. A few points to keep in mind are:

  • Make sure the goals are few in number (3-5) so that you can focus on them. Some of these will be in common with other employees and others will be specific to you.
  • Goals should match your personal development goals and be aligned with the overall goals of the department.
  • Goals should be clear, precise, measurable and time-specific
  • Goals should be within your control to achieve but also allow you to “stretch”.

ONGOING LEARNING: To support your goals, learning that will be required to achieve these goals should be defined and should provide continual development and growth. Focus on knowledge and skills you will need to be effective now and in the future, that will contribute to your achievement of goals, and are relevant to the your needs and interests.

COMPETENCIES: For every employee expected competencies should be defined. They fall into three categories.

  • Those that apply to all employees and are important for the organization to remain successful. These may be things like customer service and employee satisfaction or engagement.
  • Those that are the “core” of your job description and reflect those competencies necessary for you to be successful as a laboratory professional.
  • Those that identify new knowledge, skills or abilities that you must learn to remain competent in your job for the upcoming defined time period. They may evolve around new instrumentation, process improvement or high-risk functions and regulatory changes.

View the performance management process as an opportunity for you to continually grow and develop during your career in the clinical laboratory profession. Take advantage of this process to help you define how you can be successful in your organization and as an individual. As a professional, career and personal development requires and investment of time and commitment from both you and your employer.


Wallace, A. M. & Klosinski, D. D. (1998). Clinical Laboratory Science Education and Management. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Wolfgang, J. W. & Wolfgang, K. E. (1998) Standards and Appraisals of Laboratory Performance. In Snyder, J. R. & Wilkinson, D. S.(Eds.), Management in Laboratory Medicine (3rd. ed., pp. 245-254) Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott-Raven Publishers.