Taking The Dread Out of Year-End Evaluations

October 20, 2016

It’s not too early to start working on year-end evaluations.  Whether you’re a first time manager or a seasoned veteran, chances are that you dread the process.  Here are some simple tips to reduce the stress.

  1. Encourage employees to self-evaluate before the formal evaluation. Evaluations should be an interactive process, but too often employees sit silently while their supervisors lecture. Change the dynamic.  You don’t need an expensive evaluation program.  Ask employees to be prepared to discuss their achievements, their challenges and their short and long-term goals during the evaluation.  Be sure to discuss the employees’ self-evaluations rather than simply saying, “Do you have any questions for me?”
  1. Begin at the end. One of the great frustrations of evaluations is the belief that they exist at only one point in time.  They are given and forgotten – a particularly frustrating problem if you or your employee find yourself discussing the same issues during every evaluation.  In your own preparation, start with your employees’ prior evaluations.  Has the employee improved as suggested? How is the employee progressing toward short and long term goals? Reference the last evaluation during the current evaluation.  If the employee is new, review projects the employee has worked on, review any notes or comments you’ve given the employee.  Demonstrate that you put in some time in developing the evaluations.
  1. But don’t forget the middle. As humans we tend to think in a linear fashion.  What happened most recently is what we remember most vividly.  If you’re not careful that means a bad employee who recently had a good outcome may get a glowing review while a good employee who had a recent set-back may get a bad review.  Ideally, such problems are addressed by more frequent or informal performance evaluations throughout the year.  If you don’t have the benefit of interim evaluations, take the time to review the employee’s file.  Are you forgetting that big sale she landed in March because she lost a small account in October?  Are you being too generous with an employee who was a disappointment January through August but had one good outcome in September?
  1. Always do it in person. You may find it hard to believe, but some managers do whatever they can to avoid having an honest, face-to-face evaluation with their employees.  They use written, computerized evaluations or they have someone else (often an HR rep) who had little or no interaction with the employee deliver the evaluation.  The result is often what we see on social media: De-personalization leading to things that would never be said directly. Or worse, misinterpretation of comments because the person cannot see expressions or hear inflections.  Avoid misunderstandings. Do it in person.  Start with a positive observation.  Discuss challenges after the positives. If your company uses an HR rep to deliver evaluations, consider sitting in for a portion of the evaluation.  If it is physically impossible to be in the same room, use technology that allows you and your employee to appear on screen.  Your employees will appreciate it.
  1. Remember the three E’s – Explanations, Expectations and Examples. Employees are more likely to find evaluations helpful if you explain why certain traits or deliverables are important to your company and, more specifically, to the employee’s role in your company.  If you can’t explain why, consider whether that trait or deliverable is relevant to the employee’s role. Once you’ve explained what you need, tell the employee how he did relative to your expectations.  Looking to the future, tell the employee what you expect. That gets us to the third E – Examples. When discussing expectations, give specific, realistic examples of what is expected.  Don’t tell an employee to increase productivity.  Tell the employee that the goal is to increase productivity by 10%.  If the improvements are difficult to quantify, at least discuss what you hope to achieve.  Ask for the employee’s input on how to achieve the goals.  For example, “The company would like to broaden its market by appealing to millennials, but I’m not sure how to do that.  Do you have any thoughts?” Or, “Will you work on how to accomplish that?”
  1. Look to the future. It is less expensive to keep good employees than it is to replace them – regardless of the employees’ wages.  End the evaluation on a high note.  Talk with the employee about what can be done to help her be successful.  Ask your employee what his projected career path is. If there are challenges that need to be addressed in the short-term, set a follow up meeting to check the employee’s progress. Start next year with a positive outlook.

Still dreading the process?  Let’s talk.

Jean Novak is co-chair of the Employer-Employee Relations Practice Group and member of the Business Services and Public and Non-Profit Practice Groups. She can be reached at 412-281-5423 or at jnovak@smgglaw.com.