It’s that time of year again. Everyone’s favorite. No matter what they’re called in different organizations – performance evaluations, P.E.’s, employee appraisals – year-end meetings summarizing employees’ work accomplishments (or lack thereof) are often anticipated by managers and employees with as much enthusiasm as a visit to the dentist. Accordingly, here are 5 tips for managers to help make employee evaluations more productive than painful.
1) Prepare, prepare, prepare – And then prepare some more. This is no time to wing it, to have a hazy command of facts and data. A year-end accounting of an individual’s overall performance is an important event for an employee – and an important managerial responsibility. You owe it to your employee (and to your own management) to have in-depth knowledge of how he or she has performed – strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.
2) Clarity counts – Employee goals and objectives – and whether or not those objectives were satisfactorily achieved, using hard metrics wherever possible – need to be clear. If the target an employee is aiming for is unclear, how can anyone ever be sure whether it’s hit? Clear goals and objectives are fundamental to sound management. And clear understanding of job functions and project details all help establish and maintain your “street cred” as an effective roll-up-your-sleeves kind of manager.
3) No surprises – An end-of-the-year formal evaluation is the absolute wrong time for an employee to be hearing about a problem for the first time. Clear consistent communication is always a key component of solid management, and substantive problems/issues/failures – whatever you want to call them – should be addressed at the time they occur, not months after the fact. Major surprises (which it’s safe to assume in this type of meeting will generally be of a negative nature) are a good bet to throw a meeting off track and into train-wreck territory. But if a problem has already been discussed in detail earlier, it’s reappearance at a formal evaluation should be no surprise at all, just business as usual.
4) Don’t dance – Around tough issues, that is. It’s the job of management to communicate openly and directly. Ignoring tough issues merely kicks them down the road, saving the problem for another day. Similarly, there’s nothing to be gained by dancing around excellent accomplishments where praise is deserved. There’s no point being “emotionally stingy.” It’s simple: When someone has done great work, say it.
5) Think development – While a good evaluation is mainly a conversation about the past, it’s also an opportunity to begin to look to the future by utilizing, say, the final part of the meeting, to discuss development desires and opportunities. Numerous studies show that employee development is a much neglected function – yet employees virtually always appreciate a manager taking a sincere interest in their career. Using the latter part of an evaluation as a springboard to a soon-to-be-held, longer development conversation is a productive tactic. It can place a difficult conversation in a more positive light, and demonstrate your goodwill as a manager.
While some companies may be moving away from traditional employee evaluations, assessing employee performance by one means or another remains an integral management function. But whatever form such a dialogue may take, being well-prepared, clear-thinking, candid and sincerely interested in an employee’s future will always make the discussion more productive and constructive.