As we head toward the end of 2015, tis the season to take stock of what has been accomplished in our businesses this year.   The year’s end is a perfect time to revel in our successes and thoughtfully assess where we may have fallen short.  And as the year-end review gets underway, we must not overlook one process critical to company success: employee performance evaluations.

Business leaders need to thoughtfully assess which strategies, initiatives and current processes are yielding the desired results and which ones need retooling or even replacing.   The same approach should be applied to evaluating your employees’ performance.   Staff members deserve to know if the work they are performing is valued and viewed as helping the company meet its strategic objectives.   In an organization where every staff member feels accountable to meet personal and team goals, providing performance feedback is critical.

Employee evaluations have been almost universally adopted throughout the business world.   An August 2014 Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) survey of almost 400 HR professionals  found that – across all kinds of for-profit, not-for-profit and government entities – only 3% didn’t do any kind of performance evaluation.  And while every company may do employee evaluations, the approaches are varied and evolving.  Happily, the days of the loathsome, autocratic, regimented, formal written reviews that stack rank employees are coming to an end. 

In an October 26, 2015 Wall Street Journal article, “The Risks of Reviews,”  reporter Chana R. Schoenberger highlighted the recent movement by some large U.S. firms – including Microsoft, Cigna, General Electric, and Adobe – to stop giving performance ratings.  The rationale cited for most were that an overall rating such as “meets requirements” or numerical rating of “3 on a scale of 1 – 5” disappoints most employees, especially considering the few number of top ratings allowed to be given.   Even so, it is important to note that although some large companies are departing from providing overall evaluation ratings, they aren’t abandoning giving frequent feedback on behaviors that are either working well or needing correction.

How effective is your current performance management process?  Do you have an annual performance evaluation process that your staff members embrace?   Do employees feel the process is fair and feel motivated to sustain or improve performance based on performance evaluation discussions?   Or, do your managers dread completing evaluation forms and/or having the appraisal discussions?  Unfortunately, even if you aren’t hearing anything –  good or bad – about your current process, it may indicate people are just going through the motions to check off the box that they completed the appraisal. 

What can you do to evaluate how well your process is working?

  1. Survey your employees.   Anonymity is best so there is no fear of repercussions for telling the Emperor he has no clothes.   Ask what is working, what is not and for their ideas to strengthen the process.
  2. Do a focus group with managers.  Learn how they prepare and complete appraisal forms and how they deliver appraisal discussions.   Ask how they would enhance the current process.
  3. Track changes in performance and productivity after annual performance discussions.   If you assign ratings to individuals, analyze subsequent production changes for each differently rated group.   Are the highest rated individuals outpacing lesser rated people?  Have the lower rated people improved or are the results just more of the same? 
  4. Determine if staff members are being surprised by evaluation feedback.   You don’t want employees to be “blindsided” and learn about substandard performance for the first time at their annual performance discussion.   Accomplishments need to be acknowledged as they happen (nice job!) and deficiencies need to be coached in the moment to have impact (let’s talk!).   A strong evaluation process summarizes the past period’s actions and produces results that both the staff member and you are very familiar with.

Giving positive and constructive feedback to your staff members is a gift to them so that they can continue to grow and develop in their careers.   It is also a gift to your organization.  When every employee understands how they are doing and how to improve, then your company will be poised for greater success now and in the years to come.

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