One More Time: Why We HATE Performance Evaluations!

They are the subject of jokes, disliked by employees and employers alike, deemed “untrustworthy,” yet they still continue to be staple in 2017 of how people are managed.

“O performance evaluation, how I hate thee…oh, let me count the ways…”

What’s Broken. As I work with employers and employees across North America I hear horror story after horror story about how much people dislike the annual ritual of performance evaluations. Here are my unofficial Top Ten Reasons why people loathe performance appraisals, and what has to be fixed to make them effective.

1. The same performance is graded inconsistently across departments. In other words, Sally is a tough rater so she rarely gives anything over a three, while DeMarco is easy on his people and gives them fours and fives for the same performance Sally assigns a three. If this is the perception in your organization, few employees will really trust their evaluation scoring is valid. Solution: Adopt a scoring system that all raters pledge to use consistently, and define examples of the performance that constitutes each score. Then relentlessly train all staff on the scoring rubric.

2. Evaluators are not well trained in the process. Evaluators who lack some level of understanding of how the process works (beyond just applying consistent scoring) do not inspire confidence in the evaluation process. Solution: evaluators need to be properly and completely trained in the process each year, so they have a total grasp of the forms, processes, procedures, timeline, and all other details of the current evaluation cycle.

3. Evaluators do not really know their staff well enough to evaluate some individuals. This is most true when a new supervisor takes over a group and is asked to administer an evaluation. It may be true secondarily if the supervisor is not spending time working with and observing his or her staff. Solution: evaluators must consistently observe performance, provide feedback in the moment, coach, teach, and document what is observed. These are all hands-on ways a supervisor can eliminate this concern. Managers cannot manage by flying a desk!

4. All of the offenses of a year are collected then dumped out en masse at the evaluation. Supervisors who are slow to address concerns as they are observed are often guilty of this. In some cases, employees learn about a transgression for the first time in their evaluation, months after it has occurred. Solution: evaluations are never the place to introduce an issue – good or bad – for the first time. Managers must address issues – good or bad – as soon as is practicable after they are observed.

5. Evaluations can seem like an unfair, personal attack. In other words, evaluations are seen as “gotchas”, focused largely on the negatives, and delivered in an unkind, judgmental way. Solution: evaluations should be balanced. Evaluators must be professional, kind, and reasonable, but not gloss over issues where performance or behavior is not acceptable. Remove personally judgmental language from anything said or written.

6. They suck up far too much time. Time is taken to complete the forms as well as to meet with employees to review the evaluation. Many forms ask for a single rating for a topical area and ask the evaluator to define the topical area, then provide an explanation for their score. The problem may also be compounded during busy periods. Solution: forms can be streamlined to require less time and less writing. Scheduling them well in advance can be done in a ways so as to manage around busy time periods. Employees can be given their evaluation a few days ahead of the meeting, in order to make the meeting a more productive discussion that looks forward (setting goals) as well as backward (what drove the scoring).

7. Communication seems to be a one-way street. The manager talks, the employee listens, and the session ends. The manager hands the employee their evaluation and narrates while the employee tries to read and process what has been written. The employee emerges and feels poorly about what just happened. The manager emerges and feels he or she has done his/her duty. Solution: engage the employee from the start by using a self-evaluation where employee input is considered by the manager before rendering a final score. Provide the employee his/her evaluation several days before holding the performance discussion. And the employee should drive the discussion meeting, not the manager, and initiate discussion about the areas he or she wants to discuss.

8. They do not happen when they are scheduled, get delayed and put off for weeks at a time. This is a sure way to tell an employee by your actions that you, the manager, considers other things more important than the employee. When it is delayed more than a few days, most employees lose trust in the entire process, feeling as if they do not matter to their manager. Solution: since the performance evaluation meeting is seen as one of the most important meetings of the year, managers MUST commit to and follow-through on having the meeting as scheduled.

9. They are too subjective and opinionated. Many evaluations do not tie to specific standards and are therefore subjective by design. And many evaluations are designed to have the evaluator define the category by his or her comments/opinions, making it seem much more subjective. Solution: design the evaluation form to use common standards and objective criteria that can be measured and substantiated, so that the guidance provided by the evaluation is more credible and actionable by the employee being evaluated.

10. The entire experience feels de-motivating. In addition to the shortcomings already cited, the atmosphere surrounding the process can seem rushed, critical, arbitrary, and even confusing. Some employees emerge from their evaluation discussion feeling they have fallen far short and not do not know specifically what they need to do to improve (other than to “do better next year”). Solution: the process has to be turned around to be more of an employee-led discussion- about the past year’s performance, before spending the second half of the meeting cooperatively planning and looking ahead to the upcoming performance year. Done effectively, the entire process can be one of the most inspiring, productive, and motivating meetings of the year.

Bottom Line. It is easy to see why performance evaluations are universally disliked, given the above reasons why people dislike them. Many of the articles written over the few years even suggest that performance evaluations as a business practice, be laid to rest. I’m of a different opinion…evaluating performance regularly is a best practice. It is just that the process must be re-engineered.

As I write this article, more than three dozen of my client companies have re-engineered their performance evaluation process with great success. I’ve implemented a proprietary evaluation process that fixes each of the Top Ten evaluation problems outlined in this article. This approach is in use in organizations from 15-2,500 employees across most sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, financial, telecommunications, child and elder care, and higher education. Re-engineering performance evaluations works if the leader is fully committed to fixing the process.

This article was adapted from my leadership development course, Conducting Meaningful Performance Evaluations, which is part of the Leading Through People™ series.

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. Our extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. Our acclaimed career development tools, the Job Search Readiness Assessment for experienced professionals/skilled workers and Graduate Employment Preparedness Assessment for students/recent grads both assess and explain over 3,000 career.

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