3 Tips for Better Performance Evaluations

When asked their opinion about employee evaluations, many leaders will first cringe and second say they don’t find them useful. This has led to many companies adopting a new philosophy regarding performance evaluations; ditching the old formal review for mini feedback sessions or real-time performance conversations.

I don’t recommend this approach. “Mini feedback sessions” in real time are called MANAGEMENT. This is what an employer, manager or supervisor should be doing daily given their responsibility of running a workforce. This is not a replacement for a performance evaluation. There are a multitude of reasons that the formal performance evaluation should still take place. Here are three tips for making a performance evaluation better for everyone involved:

  1. Plan the meeting in advance. Schedule a meeting with your employee and allow enough time for a real conversation to take place. I recommend about 30 minutes as a starting point. Planning the meeting in advance means you will have blocked out time dedicated to the conversation and will not be tempted to cut it short or allow interruptions. For the employee, having a planned time to talk gives them the opportunity to think about what they want to discuss and have thoughtful input in the exchange. You both will be ready for the conversation and in the right frame of mind to discuss the employee’s performance.
  2. Make it a conversation. Part of what makes performance evaluations so terrible is that it is a one-sided meeting. The employee is expected to sit there and listen to the employer’s opinion of them. While this is certainly one of the aims of the meeting, a much better evaluation involves dialogue. If you have a review form that you use to make notes about an employee’s performance for the meeting, consider providing a copy to the employee ahead of time as well. Then you can compare your thoughts with theirs and understand any misconceptions or differences in opinion. You can also provide the employee a list of questions you’d like to have them answer ahead of time. These should be open ended questions that help you both to pinpoint areas of growth. For example, you can ask “Give me an example of a way in which our company/I/our team helped your performance in the past year.” and “Tell me about a way that our company/I/our team hindered your performance over the last year.”. This is the kind of back and forth that results in feeling of satisfaction for the employee and pinpoints areas of growth.
  3. Ditch the scoring and ranking. No one likes to be reduced to a number. Employees hate it and managers hate doing it. Using a score or a ranking when planning or making notes ahead of time for the meeting may be helpful, but don’t share these numbers with the employee. Besides, an employee walking away with an overall impression that they are a “3.23 out of 5” is arbitrary and doesn’t provide a lot of concrete steps toward improvement. It also fosters an environment of competition amongst employees – who got the top score, who am I better than, etc.

Don’t let the prevailing attitude of “everyone hates performance reviews” be an excuse to avoid the conversation. Many employees won’t come to you on an impromptu basis to share their thoughts and feelings. This gives you both the time and space to discuss these things without distractions. Employees crave feedback. They want to know how they are doing and where they can get better. Remember, for them this is a conversation about growth and career progression. That should be as important to you as it is to them.

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