The Quest for a Workable Employee Evaluation: The Saga Continues

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In HR you have seen it all: late evaluations, lost evaluations, evaluations with all “5’s” checked and no comments, sexually inappropriate comments, cutesy comments that will get you sued such as, “not the brightest crayon in the box,” and the ever popular perfect 10 with a recommended bonus…and then the manager wants to fire him/her a week later.  HR has also seen 360° evaluations - “Guess what, I’m wonderful!!” and the anonymous 180° - “My boss sucks!”

All of this, like the quest for El Dorado, is in a desperate hope of gathering information that will assist, not impede, employee training, progress, and other HR goals. A well crafted evaluation from an involved supervisor is like gold-but unfortunately, in some companies, equally rare. A sloppy employee evaluation is simply an invitation to future litigation.

What do employees get out of the process? The hope is that employees focus on their skill set, and if there are issues, make real improvements.  But this depends greatly on the employee being willing to focus on change as well as the company supporting training and setting clear cut goals.

One impediment to this process is the time gap typically found in the common “annual” evaluation.  In light of this issue a growing number of larger companies like Adobe, Gap, GE, Microsoft, and recently SAP Software Solutions, are abandoning the “annual” review process in favor of more frequent progress checks. Such progress checks can be both formal and informal but are meant to provide clearer direction on what employee success looks like.  One hope is that the less time intensive process will lead to greater cooperative feedback rather than the sometimes more adversarial moment of a single annual evaluation.

But like many things in HR, this depends almost entirely on front line supervisor conduct.  Supervisors need both training and support to make constructive change happen. 

Some basic goals for any supervisor in an employee evaluation include:

  1. Understand your goal.  Is this evaluation for a reward? Is it a warning?  Planning for future changes? Know what you need to convey.
  2. Be honest but not unkind.  Double speak and ducking the issue only gets you into trouble later.
  3. Set clear performance expectations.  What would success look like?
  4. Be concrete, lead with examples of triumphs and failures.  You don’t need a list, just a representative sample.
  5. Be consistent in how you address employees.  Success shouldn’t be a treasure hunt-it is a clear path to a goal.  It also shouldn’t depend on who tells the funniest jokes or buys the coffee.
  6. Repeat feedback. Reiterate what has hopefully been regular, informal feedback.
  7. Check the file. If this person has worked for others or even if they haven’t, make sure you know what has gone on in the past.
  8. It’s not about you. Don’t make it about you or your dislike for your job or how much you hate doing reviews.  This is about his/her performance and company expectations.
  9. Prepare a plan. Have a plan for improvement if improvement is needed.
  10. Provide an opportunity for feedback. Encourage feedback and participation in development of any performance plan, future goals, and expectations.  Not all feedback is useful, but having the opportunity for feedback is critical.

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