Perfecting the Employee Evaluation

My law firm, which concentrates its practice in the areas of labor and employment law, is still a big believer in the performance appraisal process. Despite the beguiling arguments of those who assert that employee evaluations are a waste of time, we subscribe to the traditional view that evaluations serve a number of beneficial purposes for most businesses. Those beneficial purposes include maintaining and improving employee performance; motivating employees; ascertaining manpower needs; ascertaining whether a change in position or compensation might be warranted; giving employees a well-deserved pat on the back; obtaining important feedback from employees; providing useful information regarding work scheduling, budgeting and human resources plans; diagnosing training needs; and enhancing efficiency.  

To achieve these purposes, however, the evaluation process must be undertaken seriously. It does no good to treat appraisals as a five-minute exercise of circling numbers on a grid. That tells employees nothing and ultimately will be of no benefit to your business. So here are some tips to make the evaluation process more meaningful for both your company and your employees:

    I.    Preparation

  •    Utilize an evaluation form and format that are geared to your business and your employee classifications. An evaluation form that is appropriate for a clerical employee may be meaningless for a production worker, technical employee or professional.
  •    Keep a log of each employee’s accomplishments, projects, deficiencies and work quality throughout the year so that you have a handy reference to cite when rating the criteria in the evaluation form. Ratings, without citing specific examples of performance and conduct that form the basis for the rating, do not provide employees with meaningful information regarding the employer’s expectations and ultimately will not lead to performance improvement.
  •     Observe the employee’s performance or, at a minimum, review the employee’s work so that you are familiar with the work quality and quantity. This should include reviewing tangible objective performance information such as production records, work quality reports, attendance records, disciplinary records, project criteria and deadlines.
  •     Instruct managers that evaluations are an important part of their job and that they must put in the time and effort necessary to make the process meaningful. In other words, they are stakeholders in the success of those whom they supervise.
  •     Consider having employees perform a self-appraisal using the same form that management utilizes. Studies have shown that employees tend to be more self-critical and revealing in their self-appraisals than boastful or prone to exaggeration. Their insight and reflections may assist management in providing its own third party perspective.

II.    Drafting the evaluation

  •     Be consistent in completing evaluations. Use the same criteria for similarly situated employees.
  •     Describe concrete behavior, not attitude. Cite examples of conduct, not personal opinion.
  •     If providing a numerical score based upon a scale, provide examples of performance that caused you to assign the employee a certain score. Rankings are not helpful without comments and examples.
  •     Be honest. If the employee is in trouble, don’t sugarcoat it. Point out the employee’s deficiencies. If the ultimate fate of the employee is to be discharged, a less-than-honest evaluation will make termination of employment harder to justify and sustain. Avoid the so-called halo effect. No employee is perfect. Even your top performers will make mistakes and can learn from them.
  •     Avoid evaluation inflation. Mediocrity is not satisfactory in any business. Evaluators have a tendency to rate deficient performance as “satisfactory,” satisfactory performance as “above average” and above average performance as “outstanding.” Make sure that the examples of performance you give match the ratings you assign.
  •     Don’t just point out deficiencies, tell an employee how he or she can improve. Set goals and a timetable to accomplish those goals. Then follow through with the employee to ensure that he or she has met them.  
  •     In the case of an employee with serious performance deficiencies, create a plan of assistance with specific expectations and a timetable by which those expectations must be met for employment to continue. Be sure to state that the plan of assistance is not a guarantee of employment for any period.
  •     Don’t use the evaluation process as a “gotcha.” There should be no surprises in your comments. Employees should be aware, due to periodic counseling, of any concerns that a supervisor might have regarding their performance. Don’t wait until the formal evaluation to bring a problem to an employee’s attention. Evaluation is an ongoing, daily process.  

III.       The Evaluation Meeting

  •     Select a private location, without distractions, to discuss the evaluation
  •     If the evaluation is negative, consider having two managers present to conduct the evaluation meeting.
  •     Have any underlying data on which you relied handy, if questions arise.
  •     Explain to the employee how the evaluation process was conducted and the steps you took in completing the employment evaluation form.
  •     Indentify both the employee’s strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and likewise, no one is totally incompetent.
  •     Avoid the discussion becoming emotional by focusing on future expectations and how an employee can improve performance.  Nonetheless, avoid making promises or saying things which contradict or are inconsistent with the content of the evaluation.
  •     Use the meeting as an opportunity to motivate the employee to do a better job and to obtain their suggestions for performance improvement
  •     Give the employee a copy of the evaluation. Have him or her sign the original for the employer’s retention and as a record that the evaluation was received. Keep the evaluation in the employee’s personnel file.
  •     Set performance goals that are challenging, desirable and doable.  Invest the employee in the process by having him or her participate in the goal-setting process.
  •     If an action plan is appropriate, identify objectives and set realistic timetables. Follow up with the employee periodically to ascertain progress in meeting the objectives of the action plan.
  •     Allow the employee to respond to specific issues or events that are cited in the evaluation. Employees have the right to provide a written response to the evaluation, which also must become a part of the employee’s personnel file.

Keeping in mind these tips will make your job as an evaluator easier. It will make your employees more aware of what you expect and how they can achieve those expectations. Employees who are given recognition for a job well done, as well as employees who are made aware of how to correct deficiencies, ultimately will make your business more successful.

Karen Bush Schneider is a shareholder with White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, PC, a law firm specializing in employment and benefits law.








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