In my almost 30-year career, I have used many employee evaluation tools and programs. Some were elaborate programs with many elements and actions and some were very basic. I know, as I have had to utilize the more complex tools for my own staff, the outcome has not ever been what I hoped. To be truthful, I do not personally care for the formalized tools and programs but do understand the purpose and what is trying to be accomplished. I know, based on my experience of “evaluating” my own employees, that they struggle with some of the formalized tools and processes that I have been mandated to use.
One does not have to dig too deep to find articles on evaluating employees. Many management books have entire chapters dedicated to employee evaluation. They have many perspectives and all have tips and strategies for evaluating employees. With so much written about evaluating employees it certainly is widely accepted as an important activity. What is the purpose of evaluating employees though? To help them grow professionally? To improve their performance? To reward their performance? To identify training needs? To improve morale? I think all of these apply. However, given the importance of these purposes, it is puzzling to me how many of the tools I have used in the past over-complicate the process.
I have worked for small and large companies. What I have found is the larger the company, the more complex the process becomes. When I worked for a small company feedback was immediate, when I showed extra initiative I was praised, when I screwed up I was trained, all within minutes of the actions. We did not have a formal process. If I wanted to make more money or work a different job, I was told what skills I needed and how to learn them to improve. We did not have a formal meeting, computer program or even a form to complete. There was just dialog and action. I have to tell you the first time I was exposed to the “formal process” of an evaluation I thought it was ridiculous. I had to fill out a 15-page form, outline goals and objectives, identify training opportunities and then plan how to achieve it all. I certainly agree these are all important activities. I believe that goals and objectives are necessary for the growth of our employees and our businesses. But, asking an employee to help come up with 10 or 15 goals makes their eyes glaze over in loss of interest
I think there are many factors working against a simplified, meaningful evaluation. One of the companies I worked for had a large HR department and they worried about litigation incessantly. The document I had to complete for my employees, had many items that were included for regulatory agencies. It seemed like every regulating agency had their hands in the employee evaluation, we had an age specific competency section, job specific competency and a privacy document. All put in place to satisfy some interpretation of a regulation. Given all this “stuff,” if you will, I think the true purpose of an employee evaluation is lost.
We should always be asking ourselves the question, “What am I trying to accomplish?” I think the goal is to grow employees, make them feel appreciated, discover and remove the barriers to their success and understand their definition of success. In my opinion, this cannot be done with an annual meeting and a document. This is done with daily communication and an inherent desire to want your employees to succeed. However, many evaluation tools I have used focused on growing people out of their present position. I guess the thought is that by pushing people to different positions they will achieve more. I tend to disagree with this line of thinking. Most of the techs I have worked with are more interested in being the best possible technician than they are in moving to a different position. The people who want to move up will certainly let you know. We should not force it on everyone. As a manager, my job is to ensure my people are learning every day and developing into experts in their respective positions. And then, remove the barriers that impede their idea of success. The evaluation document should be more of a journal than a critique, because the critique should be happening daily.
So, what does it all mean? I have received and given many evaluations over the past 30 years. I know for a fact that the more complicated and long the process, the less likely it will be meaningful to the employee. Most times, given how busy everyone is, the process is more “check the box” to get it done, as opposed to accomplishing the lofty goals the document was designed to do. Lack of follow up and substance makes the entire process feel like busy work. I think continuous communication and feedback sets up a better process to help employees achieve more. Employees who need help will do better getting it when they need it not at some later date dictated by some regulation or program.
I am not advocating that we not give feedback to our employees, I just feel that giving feedback on a continuous basis at the time it is needed produces better results. Also, good employees will seek out challenges and maintain lines of communication with their manager. The bad employees, well you better be talking to them continuously, or they will never have the opportunity to improve and isn’t improvement what we want? I do not see the employee evaluation going away, all we can do is try to make it meaningful within the barriers imposed and do our best to help our employees understand and then improve.
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