When it comes to things people love about work, performance evaluations likely come in toward the bottom of the list – and that goes for both the managers who have to give them and the employees who have to receive them. Regarding the latter group, just 14 percent of employees strongly agree that the evaluations they receive inspire them to improve, according to Gallup.
For most people, then, performance reviews just aren’t performing the way they should. And that’s a shame, because a well-run evaluation process is a great way to reaffirm and bolster your top employees and put lower-performing ones on a path to improvement. Moreover, fair, accurate and constructive evaluations can strengthen employee engagement and boost employee retention.
To that end, here are five steps for conducting effective performance evaluations.
Provide Feedback Often
An effective employee evaluation process begins long before you sit down with the subject of the review. At the beginning of the year – or at the start of each evaluation period – your direct reports should have clear performance goals and an understanding of how their performance will be evaluated. Throughout the evaluation period you should be providing regular feedback based on those goals. When the formal performance evaluation takes place, employees should already have a good idea of what to expect based on the goals they were given and the feedback they have received leading up to the review.
If you have been giving your employees informal feedback throughout the year, there should be no major surprises during the evaluation. Still, a formal conversation about an employee’s performance can be uncomfortable for all parties involved.
Some experts suggest sharing your written performance evaluation with the employee before you sit down to discuss it: “When people read someone’s assessment of them, they are going to have all sorts of churning emotions,” performance management consultant Dick Grote tells Harvard Business Review. “Let them have that on their own time, and give them a chance to think about it.”
When it comes to discussing areas where an employee is falling short, it is important to be clear and direct – as well as respectful and measured – about how they need to improve (and you should strengthen your feedback with concrete examples). Attempts to spare the employee’s feelings (or reduce your own discomfort) by delivering ambiguous or watered down feedback will only rob the employee of the opportunity to improve going forward.
Identifying areas for improvement as discussed above is a crucial part of any evaluation. But it’s also important to acknowledge the employee’s strong points. Highlighting successes will reinforce those behaviors and show that you’re aware of, and appreciate, their positive contributions to the organization.
Make it a Conversation
It’s important to get a sense of how an employee perceives their own performance at work. You want to be sure that their understanding of their performance goals aligns with yours. During the evaluation, make sure they have plenty of opportunities to respond to your feedback. Ask them what they feel their strengths are, where they think they can improve, what challenges they have faced, what successes they have had and what support they need from you.
Develop a Plan
In addition to reviewing past performance, the evaluation should also look to the future. Work with the employee to set goals for the upcoming year that align with the overall goals of the team. Ask the employee if they have any ideas for how they can address areas for improvement that you identified. And offer your own suggestions. Ultimately, you want to develop a plan – including milestones and progress check-ins – aimed at facilitating the employee’s success during the coming evaluation period.