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Evaluating Employee Performance: A Learned Skill

Although managers are, or should be, expected in all organizations to evaluate the performance of the individuals they supervise, it’s not uncommon for managers to receive little training or guidance on how to provide meaningful feedback. Generally, “performance” involves the extent to which an employee meets the organization’s expectations in two areas: (1) technical or job skill competencies; and (2) behavioral competencies. “Feedback” should include informal communication, as well as formal performance evaluations at regularly scheduled intervals. 

With regard to informal communication about acceptable performance, managers should periodically recognize and provide positive feedback on particularly good performance as it occurs. Documentation of good performance in the form of a memo to the file or a note to the employee is often a morale booster.  Managers must, however, also be willing to communicate with employees regarding unacceptable performance and understand that this is an essential function of their role as a leader. Employees often interpret silence as, “everything is okay.” This type of communication should take place at or near the time the deficiencies are discovered. The employee should be provided with specific examples of how his or her performance is unacceptable and the reason why it is important for the deficiencies to be addressed. The language used should be respectful and express optimism that the employee “can do it.” The manager should solicit the employee’s commitment to improve and document the conversation in a memo to the file. 

Formal evaluations should be conducted in accordance with the organization’s specific policies and procedures. Regardless, the evaluation should be completed on time and include both positive information and opportunities for improvement. Key accountabilities and goals that were set at the beginning of the review year should provide the framework for evaluating the employee’s performance. Employee’s comments should be solicited and noted. An employee should also be given the responsibility of developing a draft action plan on improvements for the manager’s review.

Even though every manager will have his or her own style, a good reviewing manager will generally observe the following basic rules: 

  1. Give Credit Where Credit is Due. 

    Find specific behaviors you want to encourage and can honestly praise:

    “Jane has stepped up to work extra overtime, which really helped us out.”

  2. Be Descriptive and Specific, Not General and Accusatory.

    Your goal is to describe objective, job-related matters.

    “Jane argues with her supervisor about how to do her job.”

    Not: “Jane has a bad attitude.

    “John was late to work twelve times since his last review.”

    Not: “John has an attendance problem.

    “John’s work contains numerous data input errors.

    Not: “John does a bad job at data entry.”

    “When Jane finishes an assignment, she waits for new instructions rather than finding work that needs to be done.”

    Not: “Jane is lazy or Jane is not proactive.

  3. Be Cause and Solution Oriented

    Ask the employee what they think causes the observed behavior.

    Ask the employee to propose solutions rather than telling him or her how to change, then set goals for improvement.

  4. Always Allow for Employee Comments and Require Employee Acknowledgment.

    Give the employee an opportunity to be heard. 

    Have the employee sign an acknowledgment that the issues were discussed. 

  5. Show Respect for the Employee.

    “We have talked about several suggestions and I feel ___________ is probably the way it should be handled. Can you see anything I have left out in my approach?

    Not: “I have made up my mind: this is the way things are going to be.”

Keep in mind there have been times you have made mistakes too.