Performance Evaluations/Appraisals: Do you love them, hate

them, need them, want them? To be honest with you, I’m a bit schizophrenic

about them, because all of the above apply to me.

I love them when they are meaningful, well prepared, well

thought out, and presented in a fashion that encourages true dialogue regarding

personal and career growth.

I hate them when they are meaningless, thoughtlessly put

together, based on a poor instrument, and presented in a mechanical fashion, as

if read by a machine.

I need them because they are (or should be ) the vehicle

that drives my employees’ growth in my organization and set down clearly in

writing what my expectations are for them.

I want them because … hmm let me rephrase that–I want a
well-prepared one because feedback is important to all of us.

So you see, (and I am sure I am not alone), I have a ton of

mixed emotions regarding the subject. A performance evaluation can be a

horrendous experience (regardless of the rating) if done poorly or with

disregard, or it can be a completely empowering situation for both the

supervisor and the employee, if done correctly. So given this setup, let’s talk

about the primary issues one at a time, starting with:

The instrument: Performance

evaluations are usually form-based with specific instructions on how the evaluation

is supposed to be done. It is usually created by the HR department, and

generally, they allow very little leeway on modifying it. This being the case,

the instrument can be a tremendous asset in guiding you through the process or

it can be such a hindrance to the process that it acts as a barrier to creating

something that is meaningful for your employees. Some instruments are highly

structured while others are just sets of guidelines for the supervisor/appraiser

to follow. In this case, I like my instruments medium-rare, with just the right

amount of structure while giving me some flexibility to tailor things to fit

the job description of the person I am evaluating. To me, the ideal instrument

blends just the right amount of measurability with some room for

judgment/subjectivity. Remember the “plays nice with others” category from your

old report card? I think that kind of subjectivity needs to be included. Others

may disagree.

Preparation: Performance

evaluations should not be a surprise nor should anything on them be news to the

employee. The employee should have a hand in what they will be measured on and

it should not change without their knowledge. And as far as actually sitting

down to prepare it, it is not a race, no matter how many you have to prepare. Doing

one haphazardly will result in a poorly-prepared appraisal and a bad session. My

favorite technique is to have employees prepare their own, and then you can sit

down with them and do a comparison. While this is NOT a negotiation session, the

opportunity to explain your reasoning results in a learning process for both

parties, and scores can be adjusted per your prerogative should you deem to do

so. My experience has been that most employees are harder on themselves than I

am, so there is always room for good discussion.

Presentation: One

hour minimum – period. You can’t have a healthy dialogue that is meaningful in

less time without feeling rushed (for both parties). Additionally, it’s neither

a funeral nor a carnival, no matter how you rated your subordinate. I have seen

supervisors who looked like death warmed over as they called in an employee who

they were going to give a less than stellar appraisal to and then turn around

and look like they won a million bucks when calling in their next employee who

happened to be a star. Keep an even demeanor and be casual, but correct: you

don’t want to make a joke out of the situation–just enough joviality to take

the edge off a potentially stressful situation. Also, don’t be a machine gun

and rattle through the appraisal at a high pace just to get it over with. MEANINGFUL is what you are striving for.

Lastly is privacy. No one wants their strengths and weaknesses discussed where

others can hear. If you are cube-bound, go find a conference room to reserve

for the day. If you are lucky enough to live in a fair-weather state, and there

is a fountain or park nearby that can offer you some privacy and a pleasant

setting at the same time–use it! Even if you are not cube-bound, finding

somewhere other than your office removes the stigma of being called to the

“boss’s” office, if your staff do not already frequent there.

And, I almost forgot: Earlier, I said that the appraisal

should not be a surprise because the subordinate helped create it. But, it

should also not be a surprise because you are already communicating how an

employee is doing on a regular basis. If performance-appraisal day is the only

day of the year that your employees are getting feedback from you, you are

doing something wrong. Additionally, let’s hope your behavior on a daily basis

is consistent with your appraisal. If you are telling Jim “great job!” everyday

and then reaming him out during the appraisal, you have got your wires crossed

somewhere and you had better re-evaluate your own performance.

Now that you have some guidelines, feel free to carry on your
love-hate relationship with performance appraisals–know I will.

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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays