Performance evaluations are one of the most dreaded practices in organizations. Employees fear them because they don’t know what to expect, and managers often avoid them because they often feel ill-prepared. Evaluations take time, effort, and planning, and many managers feel they don’t have the time.
When the performance evaluation process is done correctly, it can be meaningful and effective. Employees need consistent and ongoing feedback to work at their peak potential.
An important part of a leader’s job is to manage the performance of employees. This means providing clarity around expectations, coaching, providing timely and meaningful feedback, developing employees to higher levels of performance, and facilitating difficult conversations, when necessary.
Most employees want to do a good job. For them to be effective, they need consistent information to adjust their performance. An evaluation is essentially feedback and information. The purpose of feedback is to give the employee information to better their performance, or to encourage the employee to continue excellent performance.
Performance Evaluations for employees is a process, not an event.
Managers should provide constructive feedback to each employee on a regular basis. The formal evaluation is a written record of what has already been discussed throughout the year. This means you need to be holding regular coaching and feedback sessions with your employees, as well as giving them on the spot recognition and feedback. There should be no surprises for the employee when they receive their annual evaluation.
The best way to set yourself up for success when writing performance evaluations is to document performance throughout the year. If you use the performance log, it will be much easier to create an effective, meaningful evaluation.
Below are some guidelines for writing the performance evaluation:
➡️ Information shouldn’t be a surprise.
➡️ Be factual and careful with perceptions. For example:
- Perception: You don’t seem engaged in the team meetings.
- Specific/Observable: I’ve noticed you are frequently on your phone during meetings and have only spoken up once in a meeting this past year. In the coming year, please be present in each meeting so that you can engage and share ideas and suggestions. You have a wealth of knowledge in our industry, and your ideas and leadership presence have an impact on the team.
➡️ Be specific (dates, observable behaviors, examples, statistics).
➡️ Avoid the phrases “always” and “never”. Focus on performance, not character:
- “You’re always late” (judging a person’s character)
- “You have been late four times in the past two months.” (behavior)
➡️ Describe the picture of what you are looking for after you cite a development opportunity. Paint the picture of what you want to see in the future. Use phrases like: “In the coming year…”
➡️ Provide suggestions for improvement.
A best practice for writing a performance evaluation is to include a combination of documenting specific performance from the previous year, as well as including language that shares what you expect in the coming year. This makes the evaluation a balance of previous performance and future expectations, which is more meaningful and actionable.
When citing a development opportunity, be sure to paint the picture of what you are looking for from the employee.
A helpful phrase is: “In the coming year…”
As we discussed in our November coaching session, you have been making repeated mistakes when you submit wires to the accounting department, which causes a delay for the member and more work for your coworkers. For example, on October 21st, you wrote an incorrect ABA number, resulting in the wire being delayed by one day. On October 30th, you deducted the wire amount from the wrong account, which caused overdrafts on the other members account and a delay in the wire being sent. On November 2nd, you deducted the wrong amount from the members account, resulting in the wire being sent back from accounting and subsequently delaying the wire transfer.
We discussed these errors in our coaching session on November 15th and you committed to double checking your wires before they are sent to accounting. This has resulted in the reduction of errors and better service to our members. I am confident that our continued focus on accuracy will ensure that our members receive the best service, which includes timely wire transfers. In the coming year, I would like to see you improve your level of accuracy by making no mistakes on wire transfers.
Planning & Planting Seeds
Planning for the performance evaluation meeting should start much earlier than most leaders think. Most of the challenges and stress leaders feel around this process have to do with poor planning.
NOW is the time to start planting the seeds and planning for a successful performance evaluation season. The bulk of preparation is documenting performance throughout the year and writing the evaluation.
60% is planning: documenting performance, scheduling the evaluation meetings, preparing your employees, and writing the evaluation.
40% is delivery: framing the conversation, engaging the employee in the discussion, and facilitating the goal setting and plan for the year.
The performance evaluation process does not have to be dreadful. With proper preparation, you can use this practice to have a productive, meaningful conversation with your employee.
In the upcoming “Part 2 of Performance Management” blog series, I will share best practices for facilitating an engaging, productive performance evaluation meeting. Stay Tuned!