Against a backdrop of new public management (NPM) thinking and managerialism generally applied to universities in a range of countries, this study examines one of its manifestations – performance management for academics. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 40 academics at an Australian university, this article identifies six stances regularly adopted by those conducting performance appraisal interviews with academics. These are labelled ‘nurturing’, ‘hard-driving’, ‘self-serving’, ‘coddling’, ‘disengaged’ and ‘hostile’. Each of these appraisal stances is described in detail and then considered from two perspectives – that of academics themselves and of NPM. The material presented suggests that while a ‘nurturing’ stance was viewed favourably by the academics interviewed, it is out of step with NPM thinking. ‘Hard-driving’ and ‘self-serving’ stances, which directly reflect NPM thinking, were disliked by many (although not all) of the interviewees who had experienced them. The most common appraising stance – a ‘disengaged’ one – was widely condemned, as was the ‘hostile’ stance, yet both stances have much in common with the ruthlessness of NPM.