Should We Bother With Performance Evaluations?

 I worked for a University that required that all employees have an annual performance evaluation. The required form asked questions like, “What have you done to help your department?” “What service have you performed for the community or in service of the University?” No wonder everyone hated the process.  

The performance of the employees wasn’t being evaluated. Instead, it was an exercise designed to prove that employees were helpful to the University.  

Performance evaluations shouldn’t be a waste of time. They should help both the employee and the employer. Even worse, a poorly done review could lead to a discrimination complaint or poor morale.  

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management indicated that 53 percent of human resource professionals graded their own company’s evaluation a B to C+.  

When I found out that my institution required evaluations, I decided that I had to make it more meaningful. So, I changed the process. I still had employees answer the basic questions, but I also required that employees and supervisors develop goals. Every six months, there was a written and in-person evaluation of these goals. I wanted to make sure that each employee knew how they measured up against defined objectives. The process began with employees completing a self-evaluation. Supervisors would do their written evaluation that would be followed by a meeting in which both sides could compare the two documents. Once a year, we used the findings to distribute merit salary increases.  

It’s not a perfect system, but I learned some valuable lessons along the way.  

Honesty is important. For a while, I found that some of my managers were so afraid of confronting an employee about their shortcomings that they only praised their work. At one point, a frustrated manager came to me, wondering if we could dismiss an employee because they were no longer doing all of their work. I asked how long this has been going on? I was told, “a couple of years.” I went back and looked at the employee’s previous evaluations, and they were all glowing. There was no mention of any concern over poor performance. That’s why I always tell managers to be ready to praise, but never back off from tough conversations about performance.  

The basis for all evaluations should be well articulated and measurable goals. Set reasonable expectations. Use your experience to coach your employees as needed.  

Those face-face meetings can be very stressful. As Dick Grote, author of “How To Be Good At Performance Evaluations,” says, “What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable.” 

During these meetings, the manager should be listening as well as talking. Harold M. Messmer, Jr., Chairman, and CEO of Robert Half said: 

 ”Keep in mind you’re having a two-way discussion. This is not a criticism session, so avoid detailing every mistake an employee has made and don’t dominate the conversation. Instead, make it a chance to discuss a team member’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of his or her achievements over the review period.” 

An essential focus of the meeting should be on how the employee can improve (and continue) before the next review. Keep personal comments out of the review. Avoid saying, “You need to be more persuasive.” Instead, “You need to come to meetings with well-researched recommendations.” 

Managers should never wait for the evaluation to critique performance and develop improvement plans. In reality, an employee should never be surprised by what they hear during the session.  

That’s one reason why I like to give employees a written copy of my evaluation before we meet. I want them to digest my thoughts in the privacy of their office.  

New employees should be told early on about the process you use. Within about six months of the person’s start date, a meeting should be held to establish measurable goals for performance.  

Even though I’ve used performance metrics to help distribute merit salary increases, I prefer not to discuss compensation during these meetings. There’s time for that later. 

Finally, it’s wise to remember the thoughts of Meghan Biro, founder of Talent Culture: 

“Employees engage with employers when they’re treated as humans worthy of respect.” 

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