Improving Performance Evaluations

High performing organizations take a rigorous and disciplined approach to conducting performance evaluations. Good performance evaluations require committed leaders, courageous supervisors, and open employees.

Strategies for Success

  • Begin with a strong performance plan. Cascade business goals into individual deliverables, include clear performance measures, and update plans throughout the year as things change. A clear performance plan greatly reduces the amount of time needed to draft an evaluation.
  • Use a uniform evaluation cycle. Conducting all evaluations at the same time helps supervisors devote enough time to write good evaluations, ensures consistency between employees, and allows management to assess individual contributions to organizational goals.
  • Require regular coaching and feedback. Providing ongoing feedback eliminates surprises in the evaluation, helps supervisors focus on supporting employees, and gives employees time to improve performance. It also reduces the chance that supervisors will evaluate employees based only on their most recent performance, whether good or bad.
  • Hold formal interim reviews. Consider conducting one or more interim evaluations during the year. Document achievements and progress towards achieving performance plan deliverables.
  • Set clear expectations for supervisors. Supervisors should know both the time frames for completing evaluations, and the standards against which their evaluations will be judged. Include expectations such as:
    • Prepare. Identify key issues/themes that need to be discussed. Give employees a draft evaluation with enough time to review and come prepared to the evaluation conference.
    • Avoid surprises. The evaluation conference shouldn’t be the first time an employee hears about a performance problem or receives recognition for an accomplishment.
    • Be specific. Clearly explain accomplishments and failures. Refer to the deliverables in the performance plan. Describe the impact of achievements or performance issues.
    • Be balanced. Document both good and bad performance. Capture specific awards and commendation, as well as corrective or disciplinary action and performance improvement plans. Make sure to evaluate the entire year, and avoid the ‘halo/horn effect’ of evaluating only the most recent performance.
    • Be succinct. Focus on the key deliverables and issues. Avoid details that don’t pertain to the employee’s performance.
    • Be constructive. Focus on what the employee needs to do next to either develop knowledge and skills, or improve performance.
  • Provide supervisor training. Teach supervisors how to have meaningful conversations with employees about their progress. Show them how to provide difficult feedback that an employee needs in order to be successful. Make sure they know the evaluation process and the best way to complete forms.
  • Provide HR support to supervisors.  Supervisors sometimes forget their training when faced with difficult employee issues. Build a trusting relationship between supervisors and HR consultants. Ensure that HR consultants have the expertise to support supervisors. Provide web-based tools and resources for supervisors to review ‘just-in-time.”
  • Build a culture that values feedback. Reinforce the expectation that employees deserve feedback, and that a primary function of supervisors is to help employees be successful.
  • Monitor and review evaluations. Monitor the completion of performance evaluations, and report to senior management. Provide feedback and coaching to supervisors on quality of evaluations. Take corrective action against supervisors who don’t meet expectations.
  • Use 360 degree reviews. Have supervisors solicit input about employees from their co-workers, customers, stakeholders, and other supervisors and managers. This can help ensure a balanced and complete evaluation.
  • Have second-line supervisors review draft evaluations. Reviewing evaluations with their own managers prior to meeting with their employees helps supervisors avoid mistakes and provides coaching opportunities.
  • Have supervisors of similar work units develop evaluations collaboratively. Supervisors can learn from each other and create consistency in evaluations across the organization.
  • Have supervisors and employees develop evaluations collaboratively. Employees may have greater ‘buy in’ to a process where they draft an evaluation and work with their supervisor to merge the two drafts into a final evaluation.

Potential Challenges

  • Overloading supervisors. Supervisors are commonly assigned other deliverables in addition to their supervisory duties.  Be careful not to assign so much work that supervisors lack time to complete evaluations. Consider this when making decisions about organizational structure and lines of service.
  • Employee resistance. Some employees don’t expect or want to have their performance evaluated. Help them see the benefits of evaluations. Teach them to expect supervisors to invest time to help them be successful.
  • Lack of executive support. To achieve meaning evaluations, senior leadership must communicate its expectations, evaluate their own direct reports, and allocate the necessary time and other resources.

Original: January 21, 2008
Last update: February 17, 2010