Keep evaluations simple, for everyone's sake

    I once worked at a public agency where performance evaluations were 12-15 pages long. Seriously. With a dozen or more employees, this adds up. When I calculated the total time it took me to perform all of the associated tasks required in this system, it took three calendar months of the year.
   Think about it — that was one quarter of my entire year spent assessing performance of tasks and people. You know Ms. Maven believes in frequent and effective feedback, but that’s too much time spent on one issue, however important.
   Whatever form your performance evaluations take, you should be collecting information regularly. Keep it simple: make a folder for each person with a few pieces of paper in it, enter notes regularly, and keep as you go. If you’re feeling terribly clever and progressive, have folders for you, the workgroup itself and your boss. Every now and again jot down impressions of how things are going. Did Jean do a particularly good job of handling a difficult customer? Make a note of it. (And of course, compliment Jean right now.) Did Don blow up again at one of his co-workers over a minor issue? Jot it down. (And of course, deal with Don right now.)
   It will only take a moment or two, and even a little bit of the story will be of enormous help at 11 p.m. on a wintry November night when you’re trying desperately to get the performance evaluation form filled out before the holiday crush really gets going — and it’s already five months late. At that point, you will fall down on your knees thanking yourself and Ms. Maven for every line you’ve written.
   Of course, the Maven knows you won’t ever let it get that far. You’ll make a note of individual and group accomplishments and difficult times as they happen. Just like cleaning as you go, it’s really a lot easier in the long run. Darned if that tortoise doesn’t often end up winning.
   Note your own accomplishments as well. If you work for someone else, your performance evaluation or raise negotiation will benefit from having reminders of your brilliance and cost-effectiveness over the year. I used to have a goal of saving the department an amount equivalent to my annual salary. It was a worthy goal, and a few years, I think I made it. Not only was it great for me to see that I had done so, it made it pretty easy to ask for a raise.
   And when you make a mistake, note that, too. What happened, what would you do differently, and what would you do the same? Which pieces fell apart and why? Learning from mistakes is one of the best teachers available, and you control the tuition. We all make mistakes — it’s how you handle them and learn from them that makes the real difference.
   So keep those folders, and just make it a part of your routine. Of course routines can differ. You may want to make a note of things at once, or in your PDA to enter later, or look back over each week. Ms. Maven strongly recommends you find some way to make a note of things immediately, although it can be more time-efficient to actually write all of the documentation/sentences/etc. in the files at one time, say weekly.
   But keep it there – don’t say you’ll do it monthly. Ms. Maven has found from cruel experience that a monthly approach is a slippery slope, and the next thing you know the year is up and there you are again, cursing your own good intentions and promising to do better the following year. Whatever system you use, be sure to keep it confidential, and possibly cryptic, if you’re entering items into a Daytimer or some other methodology that is not under lock and key. (Just be sure that you aren’t so cryptic that on that wintry November night you can’t read a word you wrote…)
   If you jot those notes, print off any e-mails about performance, add any training session information, and do so consistently over the course of the year, you will find that not only will your own life be much easier, but you will be able to have a much more effective coaching session on performance. And that’s good business.

Ramona Abbott helps businesses maximize their efficiency, effectiveness and group dynamics. For more information on how to take your organization to the next level, go to



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