Time to evaluate your evaluations

   Congratulations! You’ve made the commitment to yourself to sit down and draft an employee evaluation before it’s actually due so you can meet the deadline. Now for the actual work.
   When done well, evaluations serve several different purposes: They acknowledge the good work someone has done, they point out the areas of growth needed to improve performance, they serve as springboards for discussion about goals and future plans, and they can allow for employees to provide feedback regarding what they need from their supervisors to excel in their work. Effective evaluations invite feedback from both directions so discussions are thorough and useful.
   What’s the best format? Good question. I’ve seen lots of different evaluation forms and, done well, each may be useful. What’s more important is making sure the evaluation covers the issues that are relevant to performance. Some companies use a free form essay style evaluation. While they allow for plenty of freedom, people who are not strong writers may struggle with being able to articulate their thoughts on paper. Starting with a blank sheet may be overwhelming to some and they may concentrate only on those things that are positive and not address the areas of weakness or vice versa. Having a more structured format may be useful in making sure people address all the important points.
   A common way of evaluating people’s performance involves a rating system — a 1 – 10 scale, an excellent to poor scale – anything that allows the supervisor to choose the most applicable score. This is often subjective and allows people considerable leeway so they can avoid being too harsh. What I believe is that people don’t always get a clear message because the numbers or ratings become confusing. What’s really the difference between a 7 and an 8? Am I a better employee if I receive a “needs improvement” rather than a “poor”? The clearer the message, the better chance of improving performance. Over the years, I have become an advocate of a simple and clear rating scale: “exceeds expectations” “meets expectations” “does not meet expectations.” It forces me to be very clear about what I expect, what I see, and what I want to see done differently. Assigning a rating doesn’t mean the job is done.    Along with the rating must come concrete examples of behaviors that support it so employees understand how I am arriving at my conclusion. Focusing on behavior helps maintain objectivity. I share what I have seen and heard over the year and tie that back to my expectations.
   If an evaluation is given once a year, it can be challenging to give feedback that covers the time span. Keeping a file with notes of things you don’t want to forget will help you when it comes time to write the evaluation. This doesn’t mean you should sit on important information for several months. There should be no surprises on an evaluation so if you have a concern about performance, address it immediately. You may want to reference it in the evaluation and cite whether there has been improvement or not.
   There are some important logistics to attend to when presenting an evaluation. Allow people time to read the evaluation privately first so there is time to take the information in and think about possible questions and areas that need more attention. Be sure to set aside ample time for discussion so both parties feel heard. Make sure there are no interruptions: there is privacy, the phone is turned off, the door is closed, and you will not be disturbed.
   So often I hear people say that the heart of their businesses are the people that work there. Doesn’t it follow that it makes sense to provide those people with feedback so they will feel valued and respected? The rewards will far outweigh the time and effort it takes to prepare and deliver the evaluation.

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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