Performance Evaluation Structures
Regardless of its form, a formal evaluation structure benefits managers, employees, and companies. Say your star employee makes a huge mistake that costs the company big money and has your superiors all over your case. It's a major screwup, and everyone in the department knows about it. Will you remember it in six months, when it's time to do that employee's formal performance evaluation? If so, to what level of detail? The reality is that memories quickly fade, even (or perhaps especially) bad ones. You might swear at the time that you'll never forget, but you will.
And if that's not problematic enough, other employees will remember — but not necessarily the whole or true story. Employees talk, and as they do the details change. (Remember the childhood game of telephone?) It's not that people intentionally misrepresent the facts. They might have had limited knowledge in the first place, just a piece of the whole picture. So they fill it in, because everybody likes stories with details and endings. And memories fade — even theirs. What people can't quite remember, they create. It's human nature.
Many Shapes and Styles
There are any number of approaches, methods, and systems for evaluating job performance. If your company doesn't have one yet, Appendix B lists some resources for learning more about various performance evaluation systems. The particular structure your company uses isn't nearly as important as the fact that it has a structure of some sort in place.
Regular communication — daily or at least weekly — is the most effective way to both monitor and shape employee performance. It remains your most effective tool as a manager. Don't save things, good or bad, for a formal evaluation meeting. Nothing you or the employee says in a formal meeting should come as a surprise to either one of you.
A well-designed performance evaluation system includes processes to document extraordinary experiences at the time that they happen (and ideally to address them with involved employees at the time they occur). The most traditional structure features an annual review, usually on the anniversary of the employee's hire date, with supplemental quarterly meetings. Some companies review salary and performance at the same time, while others separate them. Be sure you know your company's policies; your mistakes could cost employees money.
Structure Means Consistency
Most of the time, you're better off following the structure your company uses, consistently and without deviation. This prevents, or at least minimizes, the likelihood that the evaluation will return to haunt you. And most managers don't like playing the bad guy. A performance evaluation system provides the documented support that you need to present your perspective or defend your position. From morale to legalities, a formal performance evaluation structure truly does benefit and protect everyone.
Some managers hate paperwork, but this doesn't make it okay to avoid structured procedures, like performance reviews, for that reason. Consider Beverly's situation.
It didn't matter why the paperwork was necessary; Beverly just hated it and avoided dealing with it at just about all costs. Her employees generally admired this attitude; it positioned her as somewhat of a rebel, making her seem to belong more to them than to upper administration. Clarence was one of those employees. In the two years he reported to Beverly, he hadn't had a single performance evaluation. He didn't work any less hard as a result; in fact, he put a lot of time and effort into his work because it felt less bureaucratic than the typical corporate environment. Of course, Clarence didn't get a raise during this time, either, since the company linked raises to performance. But he didn't really mind; he was well-paid already, and he believed all it would take was a good word from Beverly and he could circumvent that part of the process, too.
Before he got around to asking Beverly to do that, the company adopted new policies and procedures that forced Beverly to do formal performance evaluations for all of her employees. To his surprise, Clarence discovered that Beverly wasn't entirely happy with his performance. She perceived issues in several key areas of his job responsibilities and asked him to propose an improvement plan. Because of his relatively low measures on the formal evaluation, Clarence received a mediocre raise. He felt betrayed and stabbed in the back. Yes, he could see that he had tripped himself up in certain things, but that wasn't really his fault since no one (such as Beverly) had told him he was on the wrong track. Clarence filed a grievance.
Present the Performance Evaluation
For many managers, evaluating an employee's performance is not nearly as difficult as sharing that evaluation with the person. No matter how objective you are, there are emotions attached. People like to hear good things about themselves, and sometimes hearing about the need to improve sounds like criticism. The way you present your comments goes a long way toward shaping the employee's perceptions of his or her performance as well as feelings about what you say.
Schedule your performance evaluation meeting so you have plenty of time to address questions and concerns that arise. Establish ground rules at the start of the meeting. “I will tell you my assessment of your performance for each measure, then give you an opportunity to share your perspectives and comments. I ask that you not interrupt me, and I promise I won't interrupt you.”
Stay focused on the topics at hand and keep digressions to a minimum. Give examples of observable behavior to support your comments. If issues surface that need further discussion, schedule another appointment to address them. Take notes, and encourage the employee to do the same. Offer the employee the opportunity to add his or her comments (on a separate page) to the evaluation packet that becomes part of the employee's file.
Present improvements from a positive perspective as much as possible. “You've done a great job developing a system for monitoring report status. Let's take a look at some ways that you can streamline your workflow to be more efficient.” If there is bad news, it shouldn't be news to the employee. He or she should know, or at least suspect, that there is a problem. Be direct in presenting the problem, and have a sense of what action you intend to take in response. Conclude the meeting with a plan for improvement, whether this means correcting performance deficiencies or helping the person take steps toward his or her career goals.