Performance Evaluations (Appraisals) … useful or not?

Performance ManagementIt’s that time of year again. Allison Green says that, “there is a reason so many people dread performance evaluations.” I agree with that thought. One of my annual responsibilities an HR Director was the Performance Appraisals Process for my organization. This was viewed by many as an obligatory bureaucratic exercise that consumed far more time than it was worth.

Even with many training sessions with employees and managers, the process was viewed with suspicion. The chief suspicion, was that it was “rigged” to govern or regulate the amount of salary increases. However, I assert that the appraisal, if done right, has overall value to the individual, the organization and specifically, your team.

Consider each of these elements:

1. The Discussion
The discussion is the critical element! The critical or essential element of the Performance Evaluation (Appraisal) is not the written form you fill out. Use the form to help you structure your thinking and reflect on how the year has gone, as well as to document your assessment, but the form itself should be a jumping off point for a dialogue between you and the staff member.

2. The Fundamental Message
What is the fundamental the fundamental message that you want the team member to take away from the evaluation? Imagine that you had to sum up your take on the employee’s performance and what you’d like to see happening going forward in just one or two sentences. What would you say? Being able to distill your core message like that can help you ensure that it is “heard”, because otherwise it’s easy for the most important takeaway to get lost.

For example, the general theme could be, “instance, your overall theme might be, “You’re satisfactory job on the basics of your responsibilities, but you are capable of doing more to drive and monitor the “XYZ Project” work flow without waiting to be asked to move to the next step. The main goal is to help your further relying on me,” or “You’re operating at an outstanding level; keep it up!”

3. Actual Results
Often in performance evaluations, managers and team leaders tend to focus on soft skills (how the person gets along with others, communication style, etc.) that they neglect to evaluate what results the person delivered. Maintain a significant focus on what your steam member set out to achieve and what they actually achieved.

4. Be Specific
Be Specific and use examples to illustrate your points, both when praising and when identifying areas for improvement. Team leaders will often use generalities, like, “You did a great job revamping the website.” You’ll deliver a lot more information if you instead say something like, “You were incredibly thoughtful about getting buy-in from other teams about the website, and I’ve heard multiple team leads comment on how much easier it is to get information up quickly.” The same goes when you’re talking about areas for improvement. Don’t just say something general like, “work faster” when you could say “I’d like you to complete all data requests within three days and respond to customer emails within two days.”

5. The Future
A significant part of the evaluation and discussion should be spent looking toward the future. What should the team member be working toward in the coming year? What are the benchmarks for success? If you identified areas for improvement in the assessment portion of the evaluation, what concrete steps or improvements do you need to see, and on what timeline? This is also an excellent time to outline your plans for continuous coaching so that it will be expected and not cause a surprise.

6. Performance Evaluation is an On-going Process
Look at performance evaluations must be viewed as on-going process and not merely an annual event or ordeal. Evaluations are an opportunity to step back and reflect in a structured way, but they should be a formal part of a conversation that you should already be having regularly with your team. If you normalize feedback by providing it throughout the year, you’ll likely get better results from your team members and feel more aligned about where they’re spending their energy. Your team will have a clearer understanding of your expectations and feel more supported in meeting those expectations.

Team members also have a responsibility to provide information about their performance. In the next article on December 2, 2014, I will share some insight on what team members can do to aid in the evaluation process.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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