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Employee Performance Evaluations

This Advisor column was originally published in January 2005.

Recently, as cities and counties try to do more work with fewer resources, we have seen a resurgence in public entities wanting to focus on performance management, including a recommitment to the use of annual performance evaluations. Performance evaluations serve as a valuable tool for recognizing the performance of your top performers, for providing redirection to employees who may not be performing to your expectations in a particular area, and for taking the first step in dealing with the problematic performer.

When you say the words "performance evaluation", however, many employees and supervisors immediately have a negative reaction. Because we strongly believe in the importance of performance management, including performance evaluations, we have spent a lot of time talking with supervisors about their concerns when it comes to performance evaluations. Several common issues of concern have surfaced, including, but not limited to, a lack of understanding as to why performance evaluations are necessary in the first place, a lack of training in how to give feedback to employees and/or how to prepare the evaluation, and a concern about how an employee will react to the feedback.

With these common concerns in mind, this article will focus two key performance evaluation issues. The first is the reasons for doing performance management and why it is critical to the workplace. Next, key issues to keep in mind when preparing the performance evaluation.

Reasons for Doing Effective Employee Performance Management

  • Employees want to know from their supervisors where they stand. They value knowing what is expected of them, especially in today's ever-changing work environment. Honest and consistent feedback about individual job performance helps the employee know the performance that is being done well, what needs to be changed or corrected, and results or consequences of his/her performance.
  • Employees who are self-motivated achievers and consistent performers will succumb to frustration and disillusionment if there is no distinction between their performance and the performance of the mediocre or poor performer.
  • The performance evaluation meeting provides the employee and the supervisor with an opportunity to have a conversation about performance goals and objectives, and to explore objectives for the next evaluation cycle.
  • Honest and accurate performance feedback provides managers, supervisors and employees with an opportunity to set performance goals for individual employees and the team.
  • Performance management in the form of a performance evaluation is an invaluable instrument that validates recruiting, hiring, and selection processes for hiring employees with specific job skills and qualifications.
  • Performance evaluations are a critical tool in assessing the organization's training and staffing development needs.
  • Doing performance evaluations is a required job duty of supervisors and managers in most public entities.
  • Performance evaluations serve as the first step in addressing problematic performance.

Supervisor's Performance Evaluation Checklist

  • Keep a file on all employees that work in your workgroup and include information about things that occurred throughout the evaluation cycle, such as work on a special project, citizen commendations, training, citizen complaints, performance discussions, etc.
  • Provide feedback to your employees, throughout the evaluation cycle, not just at evaluation time. Timely and consistent performance feedback is essential in detecting and correcting poor performance early in the evaluation cycle. Early detection will help the employee redirect his/her performance to a more suitable level. When addressed early in a systematic way, the chance of the conversation becoming confrontational is lessened. The annual performance evaluation meeting should not be the first time the supervisor has discussed performance with the employee.
  • Review the job description to see if there are any changes in the work being performed by the employee. All employees should have a job description that specifically details the essential functions of their position. In addition to providing the basis for analyzing potential disability accommodations, job descriptions play an important role in the performance evaluation process because they provide the basic understanding of what the employee's job duties are.
  • Using the job description as a springboard, the supervisor should have a set of performance expectations or performance goals for employees. These expectations should include basic standards of performance related to job duties, but also should contain more subjective elements such as teamwork and communications.
  • Consider what changes may have occurred in the organization and/or in the daily operations during the evaluation cycle. Organizational or operational changes may have directly impacted the employee's performance, i.e., introduction of new technology, new procedures, and staff shortages.
  • By their very nature, performance evaluations contain your opinion of the employees. Make sure such opinions are based on objective facts or behaviors.
  • Be authentic and sincere when giving an employee performance feedback. The supervisor's rating and remarks should reflect the actual performance, i.e., exceptional or exceeds standards, or below standard.
  • Resist the temptation to let recent events dominate the evaluation. Doing so leads to frustration in the strong performer who wonders if you were paying attention the rest of the year, and gives the message to the problematic performer that he/she only has to perform right before evaluation time.
  • Evaluate each performance element individually. Do not let the deficient or excellent performance in one element determine the tone of the entire evaluation.
  • Do not mention that the employee filed a grievance or other complaints. Do not base negative ratings on a disciplinary action that has been overturned on appeal.
  • Performance evaluations should never be influenced positively or negatively by a person's race, gender or other protected class status. With that said, do not let fears of discrimination cause you to rate all employees with the same rating.
  • Remember that the discussion about the employee's performance does not always have to result in agreement between the supervisor and the employee, but it does mean there has to be an understanding. In other words, the employee may not like the standard or performance expectations, but when he/she leaves the performance evaluation meeting, the employee understands what is expected.

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About Janice Corbin and Janet May