Performance Evaluation Made Simple

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Nobody much likes corporate performance evaluation systems. Managers find them unworkable and uncomfortable. Workers dread them. Many experts think we should scrap them altogether.

But if you’re a working manager you don’t get much choice. You’ve got to do performance evaluations on your people using the system your organization has in place.

But with a little effort, you can still do performance evaluation better. Here’s how.

There are two different things that go by the name, “performance evaluation.” Your organization’s formal performance appraisal process is one of them. Since you have to use it, your objective should be to devote your time and energy to making the system deliver the best results possible.

The product of most formal systems is like a report card. It’s a summary judgment of performance that took place over a period of time, usually six months or a year.

Even in elementary school, that wasn’t the only evaluation. There were tests throughout the period. You teachers talked with you often about how you were doing.

Every day you should be having conversations with your team members about their behavior and performance. If you do that, then you can use the formal evaluation meeting as an occasion to review and to plan.

There should be no surprises. When you sit down at that formal meeting with a team member, he or she shouldn’t be surprised by anything you have to say. You shouldn’t be surprised by your team member’s reactions either.

That will happen when you talk to your team members a lot about their performance. Here’s how to make that work.

Figure out what’s most important. What are the critical things that your team member should be able to do? What level of performance should he or she strive for? What behavior is important to keep the team functioning at top level? Once you know the answers to those questions, you know what to monitor and measure and adjust.

Show up a lot so you learn about your people and they get to learn about you. And every time you show up take the opportunity to coach, encourage, counsel and correct.

Most of your suggestions to change behavior or performance will be informal. That means you won’t need to document. And most of the time your suggestion and coaching will result in improved behavior.

But sometimes things don’t change and you need to start documenting. Give notice to your team member before you start. Most often the notice will be enough and you won’t need to escalate to documentation.

If you must document, do it right. Keep good, contemporaneous records of the performance or behavior that you’re tracking. Be specific about what happened, when and where. Evaluate without adjectives.

Keep good records of your counseling meetings with your team member. What did you say? What did he or she say? How did you agree that things would change? By when? What will happen if things change? What if they don’t?

Making small course corrections along the way has a couple of advantages. First, small corrections are far easier to make than big ones, so your odds of a successful outcome go up.

Second, by making small corrections and documenting your counsel and your team member’s behavior, you’ve got the issue on the table. When it’s time for the formal performance evaluation, your team member will know where he or she has come up short. And you’ll know what they’ve got to say about how they’re doing. No surprises.

Take enough time in the formal session. In one organization where I did research we compared the time that top supervisors devoted to the annual performance appraisal meeting to the time that other supervisors took. The top supervisors spent almost twice as long in the formal session as their less-effective peers.

But, if there weren’t any surprises, what did they spend time on? They talked about growth and the future. That’s more enjoyable and more productive than going over what did and didn’t happen since the last review.

Make agreements on what will happen next. Be sure you leave the formal performance evaluation session with a clear plan for how your team member will develop during the next period and what you’re going to do to help.

Boss’s Bottom Line

The performance evaluation that makes a difference takes place every day, every time you encounter someone who works for you. If you take every opportunity to coach, counsel, encourage and correct your people, and if you document where you must, there will be no surprises at formal evaluation time. Then you can use the evaluation time to help people grow and develop.

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