There’s a reason so many people have come to dread performance evaluations: They’re often handled as an obligatory bureaucratic exercise that takes up far more time than they’re worth – if they have any value at all. But done right, performance evaluations can be truly useful for you and your team. Here’s how.
1. Make it a discussion. If you think the meat of a performance evaluation is the written form you fill out, you’re doing it wrong! Use the form to help you structure your thinking and reflect on how the year has gone, as well as to document your assessment, but the form itself should be a jumping off point for a dialogue between you and the staff member.
2. Think about what the fundamental message is that you want the employee to take away from the evaluation. Imagine that you had to sum up your take on the employee’s performance and what you’d like to see happening going forward in just one or two sentences. What would you say? Being able to distill your core message like that can help you ensure that it comes across – because otherwise it’s easy for the most important takeaway to get lost. For instance, your overall theme might be, “You’re doing a good job on the basics, but I’d like to see you doing more to drive the work forward without relying on me,” or “You’re operating at an outstanding level; keep it up!”
3. Don’t lose sight of what the employee actually achieved. Often in performance evaluations, managers focus so much on soft skills (how the person gets along with others, communication style, etc.) that they neglect to evaluate what results the person delivered. Make sure to keep a significant focus on what your staff member set out to achieve and what they did achieve.
4. Be specific and use examples to illustrate your points, both when praising and when identifying areas for improvement. Managers will often write in generalities, like, “You did a great job revamping the website.” You’ll deliver a lot more information if you instead say something like, “You were incredibly thoughtful about getting buy-in from other teams about the website, and I’ve heard multiple team leads comment on how much easier it is to get information up quickly now.” The same goes when you’re talking about areas for improvement. Don’t just say “work faster” when you could say “I’d like you to complete all data requests within three days and respond to customer emails within two days.”
5. Talk about the future. A significant part of your evaluation meeting should be spent looking toward the future. What should the employee be working toward in the coming year? What are the benchmarks for success? If you identified areas for improvement in the assessment portion of the evaluation, what concrete steps or improvements do you need to see, and on what timeline?
6. Look at performance evaluations as part of a conversation you’re having on an ongoing basis – not just once a year. Evaluations are an opportunity to step back and reflect in a structured way, but they should be an (admittedly more formal) part of a conversation that you’re having regularly anyway. If you normalize feedback by providing it throughout the year, you’ll likely get better results from your staff members and feel more aligned about where they’re spending their energy, and your staff members will have a clearer understanding of your expectations and feel more supported from you in meeting those expectations.