I am again going to get into a controversial topic with my normal contrarian approach. I can do this since none of you will be offering me a lucrative position with your fine organization in the foreseeable future. So, here is my opinion on performance evaluations.
The presumable objective of performance evaluations is to determine and evaluate an employee’s performance over a designated length of concluded time. In many cases this mandated, and feared, process is conducted on a yearly basis by members of management. I have never, ever, met anyone who looks forward to evaluation time. Managers dread that they only have a minimum amount of reward money to spread through their department. Those being evaluated fear that they will get a bad report and thus no raise. The performance evaluations are tied so directly to future increases in compensation that they serve to justify or deny this compensation.
Yeah, I get it that compensations must be tied to performance. My objection is to the evaluation process itself.
Many years ago, for a college course long forgotten, I conducted a survey at my place of employment. I asked managers a simple question: How do you determine the rating you will give each of your department members?
“I look at my best performer and I evaluate the performance of everyone else in comparison.”
“I evaluate everyone against the best person I have ever had.”
“I establish my average person and then rate to above and below that average.”
You can see where this is going. Using this type of criteria allows for only one superstar. All others will fall short with someone at the bottom no matter how they perform. No one ever said, “I rate my people on whether they meet their objectives.” I firmly believe that the only true means for evaluating performance is to use good objectives.
Give people SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Time-bound) objectives. Give them the support and tools to achieve them and “Measure” their performance against these objectives. If all the people meet their objectives then you have a great, engaged group and they can all be superstars. There is no need to force a bottom performer, or a top performer.
My second issue with performance evaluations is the timing. I get that once a year for a formal, written evaluation makes managers feel the power. However, a better option is to have a scheduled, non-wavering One-On-One with each person every week or two to discuss progress and evaluate the objectives to make sure they are still SMART. Do this and you will have documentation from your One-On-One notes to back up the yearly evaluation.
One more issue that just makes me crazy is when the person being evaluated is given a day or two to evaluate herself so she can compare notes with her manager. I am probably wrong in thinking that this shows a lack of courage on the part of the manager. The standard and expected response is that the employee will not rate herself high for fear of embarrassment. The manager can then “increase” the employees rating and avoid a possible conflict. If the manager had been conducting the One-On-Ones, the rating would already be known by both people and it should be a great rating. There could not be a bad rating since issues would be resolved way before the yearly evaluation.
My first encounter with this tactic caused me a great deal of anxiety. I, of course, was not prepared to evaluate myself, especially given such a short time. Then, I realized that my manager also had a short time and he would also be unprepared, with no documentation and only a vague memory of my accomplishments. I realized that he expected my self-evaluation to be fairly low.
I rated myself the highest possible rating on all categories. I provided a great deal of documented evidence of my performance. The result was that he had limited options for giving me a lower evaluation. I did allow him to negotiate me down one notch in one category. It had something to do with my tendency to modify management directives.
We shook hands with a smile and as I exited his office I glanced back. He was looking at my pile of documentation and shaking his head. He never asked me to perform a self-evaluation again.
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