Taking the Sting Out of Employee Evaluations

Employee evaluations serve an important purpose. They let both the employee and the company know how things are going. Ideally, they offer feedback, guidance and recognition; too often, though, they become just another drudgery and serve no real purpose. Here are some ways to improve the experience for both sides.

For the Supervisor.

1. The number one rule is that an employee must never be surprised by his or her evaluation. Good managers deliver evaluations regularly by praising areas where the employee excels and offering guidance and instruction when the employee falters. It’s not fair to your staff to keep them in the dark about their work performance and then spring it on them once a year.

2. Keep a written record on each employee. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a folder where you can jot down notes when Sally does something exceptional or when you have to discuss Bob’s tardiness. Keep copies of any “attaboys” your staff gets, too. It’s easy to forget things that happened eleven months ago and then end up basing the evaluation on the work of the past month.

3. Never criticize an employee’s performance without offering some corrective action. If you are going to grade someone down in “interpersonal skills”, make sure you offer concrete examples of when he or she didn’t handle a situation very well. Then brainstorm a little and encourage the employee to suggest ways in which he or she might improve in that area.

4. Use the evaluation time to look ahead to the future as well as reviewing the past. Insist that your employees come prepared with personal and professional goals for the coming year. Go over their goals with them and discuss how you might help. Maybe the company can offer to send Sam to that training class on PowerPoint, or maybe Jean would be interested in starting a corporate blog. Encourage your staff to dream big and then help them get there – even if “there” takes them away from you and on to a bigger, better job.

For the Employee.

1. Keep a file on all your accomplishments during the year. Every time someone says “great job”, make a note of it. Write down all the extra things you do, like staying late to get the budget figures in on time after the finance dept changes their requirements at the last minute. Take particular note of any special projects your boss asks you to work on.

2. A month before evaluations are due, write up a “brag sheet” about yourself and send it to your boss. List all your accomplishments over the past year and the projects you have lined up for the coming year. If you want to ask for some special training or for more responsibility, this is the time to do it. Add a paragraph about how learning to write effective business correspondence or how to design direct mail brochures would help you do your job better and how it would benefit the company.

3. Understand the company culture and how it affects evaluations. If the policy is to grade on a curve, with most of the employees in the middle, then you’ll have a better idea of what your actual grades mean. Without being defensive, ask your boss to explain any very low grades and ask for specific examples of where you could have done better.

4. If you really think you’re being unfairly evaluated, don’t respond right away. There’s nothing wrong with calmly explaining that you need time to process the feedback and asking for a second meeting. Take the time to gather your facts and possibly consult with an outsider, like a former boss or a friend in the HR business or a career coach. NEVER discuss your evaluation with another employee in your company. If a second meeting with your boss doesn’t resolve your concerns, then you should take the case to your HR dept. Again, keep your emotions in check and stick to the facts. Ask if you can write a rebuttal letter to go in your file.

While there is no single (or simple) answer to managing the stress of evaluation time, the most obvious idea is that performance, goals, problems and achievements are things that require ongoing discussion. Both parties (the supervisor and the worker) need to communicate clearly and often. If the communication is there, the performance evaluation will be easy, because it will be just another part of the dialogue.