Performance evaluations are the most underused tool in management. And when they are used, they are the most misused tool in management.
Why? For the simple reason that managers are rarely instructed in their benefits or in how to use them. In fact, I’ve seen some managers down right intimidated by a simple piece of paper.
To be fair, let’s consider the potential pitfalls a manager may face when documenting someone’s performance.
A. What a manager writes can become a legal issue. A disgruntled employee may take issue with what has been written.
B. The employee may get upset at the manager—or the company—for pointing our areas that need improvement, which can strain a relationship (or add to an already strained relationship).
C. Many performance evaluation forms are too generic or too restrictive. As a result, the manager cannot adequately describe an employee’s behavior within the limits of the “official” form he or she must use.
D. Performance reviews are supposed to be based on written job descriptions, and many managers have not written such descriptions. And often, if a job description does exist, it’s badly outdated.
Many more reasons for non-use could be listed, but let’s move on to the benefits and power of a performance review:
1. Performance reviews give both the manager and the employee an opportunity to talk about the workplace. The simple act of writing about and reviewing someone’s performance clarifies expectations for both parties.
2. Better communication on workplace situations allow for exploring ways to resolve problems or concerns—in both directions.
3. Plans and goals can be created—as well as reviewed for progress when tracking past reviews.
4. The “air” gets cleared of misperceptions, resulting in better working relationships and, quite often, higher levels of productivity.
With these and many more benefits, it seems unfathomable that performance reviews continue to be under-used and/or misused. So what can be done?
First of all, education and training need to occur. Not only on the mechanics of conducing a review, but also on the “human” factors involved. Additionally, managers need to understand—and become advocate of—the benefits of conducing a review. Mental assent is not sufficient. They need to “own” the value in their gut.
If you want to make a shift, but think you’ll have a tough time getting your managers to be performance review evangelists, here’s another alternative: Have employees complete short monthly self-evaluations.
A monthly self-eval lists between six and twelve routine “job requirements,” and includes a matrix with a short narrative for five levels of performance in each requirement.
For example, under the requirement of “displays good work ethic,” you could list five categories:
Consistently Surpasses Expectations: Arrives on time, goes extra mile without being asked. Anticipates upcoming projects to fill time. Avoids excessive chit-chat.
Often Exceeds Expectations: Arrives on time, goes extra mile when asked. Minimal chit-chat. Manages self for good work effectiveness.
Meets Expectations: Shows up and leaves on time. Follows through on all work assignments as communicated.
Needs Improvement: Occasionally late, misses some deadlines. Frequently initiates chit-chat that distracts others.
Fails to Achieve: Is frequently late and leaves before scheduled time. Frequently misses deadlines and initiates excessive chit-chat.
It also helps to put a section on the back of the paper that allows employees to note any training, special projects, or other items for which they feel they should get recognition. It takes a couple of hours to put such a form together and think of narratives for each category, but two huge benefits make the effort worth it:
1. The employee simply circles the appropriate box once a month (the easy ‘trigger’ for this is to do it on paydays). By having employees review what is expected of them on such a regular basis, they are constantly reminded of what constitutes excellent performance – all without the manager having to say a word.
2. When time for the “official” annual performance review comes along, the manager has twelve pieces of paper in each employee’s file. All that needs to be done is review the self-evaluations and compile the annual review.
Note: It really helps if the manager circles the appropriate descriptors for each employee each month, too. Two minutes for each employee each month saves many hours down the road, and this also provides for instant dialog if the employee’s marks and the manager’s marks are too far apart.
Bottom line: Performance evaluations are one of the most powerful tools in a mangers toolbox. Use them well and you build a phenomenally better workforce.