Employee Evaluations as a Process, Not an Event

Most managers and employees dislike evaluations. Why? It is because in most organizations employee evaluations are an event, not a process. What do I mean by that?

When I say that evaluations are an event, I mean it is something which occurs at a given date and time. In the case of evaluations this might be an employee’s anniversary date or simply the end of the year. We get notice from HR that evaluations are due. We pull out the evaluations tool, write the employee’s name at the top and go to work. We have very little, if any, information to support the ratings that we assign.

I often hear supervisors and employees complain that the evaluation tool is broken.  I suppose it could be outdated and no longer reflect essential job duties but I suspect the tool is fine.  It is more likely a lack of commitment on the part of the organization to the evaluation process.  I guess my point is that even if the tool has some problems it can still be effective.

Earlier, I said evaluations need to be a process.  As supervisors, we are evaluating our employees every day.  It is the day to day, directing, counseling, mentoring, and training which truly drives employee performance.  We praise positive behaviors and we point out negative behaviors.  Why?  We want to encourage the positive behaviors and modify the negatives ones.   The process does not stop there!  When we praise or correct, the next step is to document.  We need to “paint a picture” of the employee.  This approach is such a departure from organizational culture that many organizations can’t get there.   I’m talking about allowing the employee to see what is documented about them, a totally transparent system.   Oh my gosh!  Am I really saying that an employee should be able to see what I have written about them?  Absolutely!   To be clear, I’m not referring to confidential documentation.  It is understood that various types of internal investigations should remain confidential.  I’m referring to documentation related to routine employee performance.  The bottom line is this:  Documentation that an employee knows nothing about does nothing for either the employee or the organization.

How many times have you taken corrective action in an effort to change a behavior?  Did it work?  I’ll bet it did.  The real question is did the employee eventually slip back into the same behavior?  In most cases the answer is going to be yes.  This is due to the fact that corrective action, or negative reinforcement, will only work for a short time.  Employees do not like being corrected and will perform just enough to avoid further corrective action.  If an employee is only performing to avoid corrective action, they will most likely slip back into the same behaviors once the “danger” is over.

What does that have to do with documenting positive and negative behaviors?  Everything!  If an employee has been corrected by his supervisor what is the result?  It can cause a short term change in behavior as indicated in the previous paragraph.  But that is not what we want.  We want a long term solution.   Transparent documentation provides immediate opportunity to improve.  This happens when the supervisor notices the behavior change and acknowledges it both verbally and in writing.  With a transparent system the documentation is seen by the employee.  What was once a negative is now a positive.  Guess what?  The employee wants more.  He likes seeing that he is doing something right.  If you are thinking that reflecting the behavior change at evaluation time would yield the same results you are mistaken.   That could be months from now.   I want to bring out the best in my employees.  Immediate acknowledgement of positive behaviors will always do more to improve performance than negative reinforcement.

Are goals or performance plans part of your employee evaluation system?  My experience was that we set goals and forgot them.  Typically during the next evaluation interview the supervisor will ask the employee if he has met his goals.  The response, “show me what my goals were and I can tell you if I met them.”  Who failed here?  I think we can agree the employee failed to meet the established goals, but the organization has to take overall responsibility.   In the transparent system, the employee would be able to see the goals at any time.   The supervisor would have scheduled regular meetings during the year to discuss progress.  In other words the organization is putting the employee in a position to be successful.  As an organization if we set expectations we need to monitor and praise progress toward achievement.  That is where real change happens.

If evaluations become a process we can avoid many of the problems that make us think the tool is broken.  We will not be basing the evaluation on recent or significant events.  We will be looking at the entire evaluation period.  We can justify giving high or low ratings in a particular area.  And there are no surprises.   The transparent documentation has given the employee ample opportunity to improve.   With all the data we have collected we will be less likely to base the evaluation on our likes or dislikes about the employee.  We have “painted” that picture of the employee and because of that we are in a great position to support our ratings.

So what do you think?  Are evaluations an event or a process in your organization?