Many organizations still view the performance evaluation process as a nuisance. Managers complain that they don’t have enough time in the day to get their expected work completed, let alone write and deliver a performance evaluation. Yet they are the same individuals who continue to complain about the performance of the employees who report to them. Maybe the issue is that the organization still does not value evaluations as a management tool? Or, maybe it is that the organization has not trained their managers on the performance management process? Whatever the excuse, and they are excuses, properly communicated evaluations are essential to the operations of any business.
There are several employee benefits to completing performance evaluations. When evaluations are done properly, employees benefit in many ways. The evaluation should act as a tool for the manager to explain their expectations. However, well written job descriptions should have already outlined performance expectations. In addition, the properly written performance evaluation provides a fair notice of performance issues. Be careful in this situation though as issues with an employee’s performance should not be a surprise at this point. Proper progressive disciplinary action should have been documented and discussed prior to the performance evaluation conversation. The performance appraisal should also provide employees with a direction for improvement as well as provide reinforcement for good performance. By directing the performance evaluation discussion to how the employee may improve as well as providing positive reinforcement for what they have already accomplished, you will gain the employees buy-in and the overall process will have a greater impact.
There are several employer benefits to completing performance evaluations too. The evaluation process allows management to document performance vs. expectations, set future goals and expectations and document all training or additional resources needed to complete the job. It also allows for a basis for managers to compare performance with similar employees. However, managers should be careful when comparing performance as this may lead to subjective vs. objective information within the performance evaluation process. Again, performance expectations and/or metrics should be clear so that everyone has the same opportunity to perform at their highest level. The performance evaluation may also provide a written justification for employment-related actions such as: promotions, demotions, layoffs or a reduction in force (RIF), terminations and/or compensation or other related actions. When utilizing the performance appraisal as a tool for one of these employment-related actions, employers are encouraged to consult with legal counsel or a professional in the human resources field, as these actions may increase the organizations legal liability exposure.
When completing performance appraisals the key is to be prepared, timely and to know what you are going to say in advance. Managers should be held accountable in their own job descriptions for completing employee’s evaluations accurately and on time. It is strongly suggested that organizations, have a check and balance system in place for reviewing the evaluations prior to the manager discussing them with the employee. HR professionals and/or legal counsel would be the likely candidates to review them, as they understand the legal implications of information contained within the documents and present an objective outside view. Remember, performance evaluations are considered legal documents in a court of law and jurors tend to believe that if it isn’t written down then it did not happen, so accurate documentation is important.
Information written in an evaluation that may be considered an opinion or here say, also does not reflect well upon the employer. Managers should be trained to keep the information in the evaluation factual with specific examples to support the facts. In addition, they should avoid basing the evaluation on the employee’s personality. Criteria should be based upon how well the employee performs the essential duties and responsibilities of the job and how they conduct themselves in the areas of behavior and interpersonal skills. Managers are encouraged to use the “sandwich” approach when communicating evaluation information. Communicate what the employee is doing well, where they need improvement and then follow-up with more of what they are doing well.
The manager who is completing the evaluation should have “first hand” knowledge of the employee’s performance. This is not only important to the employee as it lends credibility to the evaluation, but it also is important if the evaluation ever ends up in a court of law. If an employee changes jobs or the manager changes positions, the manager with the most experience with that employee should complete the evaluation process. In addition, this helps to create consistency. Managers tend to have several employees to evaluate in either similar or different jobs. The evaluation criteria and rating should be consistent across groups in order to eliminate evidence of discrimination. However, managers need to avoid ambiguities, rating everyone the same, overemphasizing one event, and subjectivity. Sticking to the facts, being honest, and using the performance evaluation process as a developmental tool, and not as a disciplinary tool will have a proven success rate for any organization.
So, are performance appraisals your organizations friend or foe? Hopefully, by training your managers to be prepared and communicate them effectively, your organization will find that they can be your friend and help to increase your bottom line profits through improved employee performance.
For additional information on the performance evaluation process and/or training on this topic, please contact New Focus HR.
Written By: Kristen Shingleton, M.B.A., CCP
President, New Focus HR LLC