Many employees would rather have their teeth pulled than go through a performance evaluation. Many managers feel the same way. But it's important to set aside a time and place to reflect on job performance, whether this takes the form of a formal written document or an informal conversation. Making friends with the process will help make your company better, despite the discomfort and awkwardness.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Evaluation forms offer the advantage of reflecting on job performance but they can feel awkward and artificial.
Advantage of Evaluation Forms
- Improvement. Anyone who cares at all about their work wants to improve. Improvement is in the best interest of the company, which benefits from a higher quality of work, and also in the best interest of the worker, who has the opportunity to learn and grow. Anyone who doesn't want to improve shouldn't be part of your staff in the first place and an evaluation form can help you make this assessment.
- Setting goals. An evaluation form shouldn't just be a reflection on past performance, it should also be an open conversation about what an employee and a company want to achieve in the future via their collaboration. Being specific about these desired outcomes helps an employee to develop with clear objectives in mind and also provides the basis for future evaluation conversations.
- Raises and promotion. Most companies tie increased compensation and added responsibilities to employee performance, and an evaluation is a formal and natural opportunity to appraise whether an employee is ready for a raise or a promotion. If the employee still needs to learn and grow before earning more or stepping into a new position, the evaluation process can help to pinpoint areas for improvement.
- Motivation. When an evaluation process is approached with heart and careful thought, it can improve an employee's motivation even if the feedback isn't unilaterally positive. The evaluation process is an opportunity to show that management is invested in an employee's development with the company. A willingness to provide careful guidance and follow through to bring about results can make the employee enthusiastic about stepping up and taking on new responsibilities.
Disadvantages of Evaluation Forms
- Artificiality. Unlike a spontaneous conversation about job performance, an evaluation form requires setting aside a time and space to gather and present this information. Although this may force the feedback process to happen when it might not occur otherwise, it adds a level of formality that can create resistance and resentment.
- Arbitrary standards. A feedback form may be targeted toward specific types of information that don't necessarily reflect an employee's strengths. Your questions and data may be geared toward evaluating an employee's total sales without looking at the fact that this employee brings in consistent repeat sales and builds strong relationships with customers. Arbitrary standards can make an employee feel devaluated and underappreciated.
- Perception of unfairness. A performance evaluation takes place at a specific moment in time, often the same month in each subsequent year, so it may understandably place undue emphasis on issues that are at the forefront at that moment. This emphasis is unavoidable but the employee may see it as unfair to be assessed for the entire year based on a difficulty that has only been prevalent for a short period.
- Lack of motivation. Done poorly, performance evaluations can do more to compromise motivation than to improve it. If an employee feels that a manager is nitpicking or that the questions on the evaluation are slanted in ways that don't reflect individual strengths, that employee is unlikely to invest the energy and care necessary to genuinely improve.
Best Practices for Feedback Forms
The advantages and disadvantages of feedback forms often hinge less on the fact that a company is performing evaluations in the first place than on the way these evaluations are done. Although the evaluation process itself plays a very important role in the effectiveness of the performance evaluation process, it's also critically important for managers to approach the endeavor with an attitude that will encourage employees to become engaged rather than feeling criticized or disheartened. Ideally, a manager should be a coach rather than a critic, providing tools that will bring about improvement rather than shaming and asserting power.
A performance evaluation should never be a one-off event, geared toward checking off a box on your human resources timeline. Rather, assessments and conversations about improvement and growth should be ongoing rather than confined to a single conversation. If regular feedback is an essential part of your management style, the information in a performance evaluation won't come as a shock and a criticism but rather than a formal expression of information that has been readily available all along. Similarly, thoughtful and sensitive follow up on the evaluation should be part of your company's daily routine rather than another awkward, artificial event.
Approach the Process with Humility
It makes a tremendous difference to employees if you learn to approach the performance evaluation process with humility rather than establishing a dynamic based on power and judgment. This process shouldn't just be an opportunity for you to say what you think about your performance, it can also be a way for employees to provide feedback about your managerial style. When sitting down for performance evaluation conversations, make clear that you understand that the process itself can be flawed. Listen attentively to an employees responses as they are expressed both verbally and through body language.
In addition to providing a managerial perspective on an employee's performance, a performance evaluation is an opportunity for employees to reflect on their own work. By posing self-evaluation questions thoughtfully, you can open the door for fruitful conversations and lead employees to develop useful insights and suggestions on their own.
- Questions about performance. Ask employees what work they have done lately that has made them feel especially proud. The answers may be different from what you expect and you may find that employee feels especially good about an accomplishment that you have barely even noticed. The process of asking these questions may also spur an employee to recognize a personal achievement that has occurred largely under the radar.
- Questions about goals. Include questions that ask what the employee hopes to achieve between this evaluation and the next. This will give you insight into personal interests and priorities and will also lay the groundwork for the next employee appraisal conversation. Include specific quantifiable objectives such as sales numbers and also intangible aims such as developing a more positive attitude.
- Questions about company culture. This is your opportunity to solicit feedback about whether your company is providing its employees with the tools and the environment they need to bring their best to their work. It's useful to know whether an employee feels supported by coworkers or whether an atmosphere of cutthroat competition discourages creative collaboration. This is tricky territory because an employee who says there is no cultural problem at the workplace may simply be speaking honestly or may be refraining from giving a heartfelt opinion because of an oppressive company culture.
- Questions about management style. Asking about your personal management style and the approaches of your fellow managers help to level the playing field, showing that you are open to constructive criticism as well. As with questions about company culture, your management style itself will influence how employees answer these questions. Do everything you can to communicate both verbally and nonverbally that you appreciate honest, useful answers.
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Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.