Put staff evaluations higher on your ‘to do’ list

   It’s an interesting dilemma: Managers say they think performance evaluations are important and yet they often dread doing them and miss deadlines so employees have to wait months beyond their scheduled due date. What gives?
   Without scientific data to back me up, my practical experience tells me there are a number of roadblocks that get in people’s way of sitting down and preparing a document that is useful.
   First on the list is the fact that most managers have a “to do” list that is longer than the workweek has hours to finish it in. Decisions have to be made regarding what has priority and evaluations often fall fairly far down the list.
   Why? A number of possibilities come to mind: Managers think their employees already know how they’re doing so there’s no need to sit down and go through such a formal process, there may be hard feedback to give so it’s easier to put off than actually do, there is an organizational culture that supports giving evaluations late, managers may not feel prepared or skilled to craft the document or it’s simply not a task managers like to do.
   Any or all could be feeding the urge to do the evaluation another day, week, or month. Now look at it from the employee’s perspective. How important are evaluations if they are not delivered on time? And if they aren’t important, how meaningful is the feedback once it’s finally delivered?
   Does the missed deadline mean good — everything is fine — or bad — things need to change — news?
   Either way, the feedback is important to the employee. People love to hear how well they’re doing and the more the better.
   If the feedback is critical, the sooner it’s delivered, the sooner it can be attended to. If the evaluation is tied to changes in salary, the deadline becomes even more important, especially if a raise is in order.
   The question of fairness is brought into play and the organization’s credibility can be at risk. Of course there’s always other things that need to get done that have tighter deadlines. When will that change?
   If your work is seasonal, consider when evaluations are scheduled. Perhaps evaluation timelines can be shifted so that it is more feasible to complete them when they are due. Consider whether the evaluation system is supported by other systems in the organization or if they are at odds. If so, determine what changes can be made.
   Evaluations, when done well, are formal summaries of a person’s work over a specific period of time. While there have been conversations throughout the year, they are often in passing and focused on a particular topic or issue.
   Evaluations provide an opportunity for people to sit down for a longer period of time (30 to 60 minutes) and focus on performance, goals, and sometimes even dreams for the future. Is it a luxury? I don’t think so. Since employees make up the majority of a company’s expenses, it makes good business sense to assess how people are doing on a regular basis. Think of an evaluation as a yearly physical. It’s a proactive way of making sure the body is healthy, looking for any warning signs that could indicate problems ahead, and devising a plan to ensure continued good health.
   The manager, as physician, looks at overall health and focuses attention on those areas that are particularly strong and those that are weaker. The employee, as patient, asks questions, shares perspective and works the manager to devise a plan that encourages progress. No doctor wants to lose a patient and employers feel the same way. While evaluations are not the magic pill for every ailment, they serve a valuable function of letting people know how healthy they are and how they can improve their health if they are ailing.
   Next month, I’ll address the actual writing of the evaluation and how to provide feedback that is useful.

Kathy Washatka specializes in interpersonal communication, leadership development, and planning through training and consulting. She provides executive coaching to individuals and conducts workplace mediations. She can be reached at Kathy@washatkagroup.com

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