Employee Evaluations: 14 Do’s and Don’ts That You Should Know

Performance reviews are, in general, not effective. In reality, only 5% of managers feel satisfied with their company’s annual performance review process, and almost 90% report they don’t give accurate results.

Success-driven organizations “know it must be a part of a bigger performance conversation strategy.” Quantum Workplace considers six reasons why these annual reviews don’t work:

  1. Employees want continuous and ongoing feedback, not annual ones that dump a year’s worth of evaluations in one fell swoop.
  2. The unspoken connection to salary increases (or decreases) causes too much stress, often for both parties, and makes transparent honesty more difficult.
  3. It’s difficult to accurately remember events that happened 11 months before at all, let alone accurately.
  4. Performance reviews tend to feel like an interview process rather than a conversation.
  5. The employee evaluation structure focuses on the employee’s actions and behaviors in a top-down manner rather than a two-way conversation.
  6. Annual performance reviews “drive down employee motivation and engagement.”

Liz Ryan, a Fortune 500 HR SVP for “10 million years,” has now transitioned to writing about the workplace for LinkedIn and Forbes.com. She sees performance reviews as “….artifacts left over from the Industrial Revolution….com[ing] from an earlier time, when work was designed on the mechanical model I call Godzilla.”

She cites five reasons performance reviews are a “waste of time:”

  1. They take up too much valuable time for too little gain.
  2. Their purpose is obscure and unclear.
  3. They are unfair and tend to weigh recent events and results “more heavily than those from earlier in the year.”
  4. They are insulting and “cement the bad, old idea that when someone is your supervisor, they sit on a higher plane than you do.”
  5. They lack both a “clear objective and a desired outcome.

But before we start picketing to halt employee evaluations and performance reviews altogether, it’s critical to realize that even if they are no longer formalized, they still happen. It might just happen behind the scenes without input from the person being evaluated.

So if evaluations will happen, whether or not we call them “Employee Evaluations” or “Performance Reviews,” what can we do to get the best results with the least costs? What type of employee evaluation can achieve the goals of development, transparency, and fairness?

14 Do’s and Don’ts That You Should Know

We’ve come up with 7 do’s and 7 don’ts that every employer should know when sitting down with their staff to talk through how we feel their work is going and what, if anything, could use a tweak or change.

Evaluating an Employee

Do:

  1. Talk with your employees frequently and regularly, not annually.
  2. Check any personal biases or opinions you have at the door.
  3. Set up the meeting with the expectation of having a two-way conversation.
  4. Be future-focused and talk about the development goals you have for the employee.
  5. Be transparent about how the employee’s contribution impacts the company.
  6. Make sure the process is fair and feels fair to the employee
  7. Summarize the session and end on a positive note.

Don’t:

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  1. Set up an evaluation review meeting with short or no notice.
  2. Conduct the evaluation in a less-than-comfortable setting.
  3. Focus solely on performances.
  4. Be vague and use a one-size fits all model.
  5. Avoid giving any critical feedback.
  6. Focus solely on an employee’s weaknesses.
  7. Forget to follow up after the evaluation session.

Do talk with your employees frequently and regularly, not annually. If you want to contribute to your employee’s success, you need to keep in regular and intentional communication with them.

Many things can change over the course of a year, and having monthly or even quarterly conversations about performance can help you have a clearer perspective on how employees are doing.

Talking With an Employee

Although many companies are concerned that having more than annual reviews will eat up too much time, the reality is that more frequent conversations can be shorter and still cover important issues.

Do check any personal biases or opinions you have at the door. One of the biggest weaknesses of employee evaluations is if and when the supervisor comes to the meeting with a personal bias toward or opinion about the employee.

An Employee Evaluation Meeting

Facebook incorporates peer evaluations that can be read by their coworkers and managers before a one-on-one evaluation takes place. They go one step further and have managers sit together and discuss the reports in person, “defending and championing, debating and deliberating, and incorporating peer feedback,” in an effort to minimize personal opinion.

Do set up the meeting with the expectation of having a two-way conversation. Employees’ nerves are often shredded by the time they walk into their employee evaluation meeting.

This is especially true when the meeting is set up with a one-way conversational style. That’s where the supervisor or manager does all the initiating, and the employee’s only role is to answer questions or respond to either praise or criticism.

A Two-Way Conversation

Better by far is to “encourage a free flow of information in both directions. This not only keeps information overload to a minimum but also communicates to the employee that their perspective and experience are valuable contributions to the health of the organization.

Do be future-focused and talk about the development goals you have for the employee. Rather than spending the entire time together looking at and dissecting the past, empower your employees by looking towards the upcoming season.

A Meeting Discussing Development Goals

It can be discouraging for employees to feel they need to justify behavior or actions they don’t have the power to change. Taking notes from your observation of how they handled things in the past can be helpfully translated to set goals for their future development within the company.

Do be transparent and involve the employee in planning and preparing for their evaluation. Another way to mitigate the natural anxiety employees feel as they prepare for an evaluation meeting is by giving them a clear and collaborative agenda for the meeting beforehand.

An Employee Evaluation

Allow the employee enough time before the meeting to ask for clarity or request additional topics be put on the agenda.

Do make sure the process is fair and feels fair to the employee. Unfortunately, there will still be a certain level of unconscious bias on the part of some, if not many, managers.

A Team of Employees

Marcus Buckingham, the Head of People and Performance research at the ADP Research Institute, is quoted as saying, “On average, 61% of my rating of you is a reflection of me.” The most common rater bias can still be found in the following:

  • Gender (women are “far more likely…to receive performance appraisals that are shorter and contain ‘vague feedback,’ less praise and less actionable guidance.”)
  • Racial (Center for WorkLife Law study shows that 43% of people from a minority racial group were corrected for at least one mistake per evaluation, as opposed to only 26% of whites.)
  • Anchor (Refers to a tendency to hang on to a first impression to interpret future behaviors.)
  • Proximity (Employees who work on-site tend to be given higher ratings than those who work remotely.)

Do summarize the session and end on a positive note. At the end of the evaluation, it’s important to summarize the time spent together. Taking notes during the session will help you remember key points you can then reflect on to your employee before they leave your office.

Employee Evaluation Notes

According to Rick Hanson, a psychologist and author, human nature dictates that we tend to remember negative interactions much more strongly than compliments and praise, whether it’s bad emotions, impressions, memories, or feedback.

Ending on a positive note can make the difference between an employee being happy to see you the next time your paths cross in the office or working hard to stay out of your way.

Don’t set up an evaluation review meeting with short or no notice. While it may seem you’re doing your employees a favor by giving them minimal time for their nerves to kick in, the opposite is almost always true. They may have had a good sleep the night before, but feeling unprepared and surprised walking into your office will not set the tone for a collaborative and constructive meeting.

Scheduling an Employee Evaluation

Allow your employees the time to read through and respond to your suggested agenda for the meeting. The agenda should reflect the reasonable, measurable, and attainable objectives that have been set for them.

Don’t conduct the evaluation in a less-than-comfortable setting. In order to get the best out of your evaluation meeting, it’s worth considering where you’ll hold the session.

The setting of your meeting can send a message before you even say a word. Meetings in an office across a desk will seem more formal, with greater distance between the two of you. A closed-door meeting can make your employee anticipate bad news, and knowing other employees can see you through a glass office wall or door can inhibit natural reactions.

An Employee Evaluation Session

On the other hand, holding an employee evaluation meeting over lunch or coffee can help the employee to relax and feel more comfortable. Eating or drinking together gives both of you a secondary focus and still allows for a sense of privacy and discretion.

Don’t focus solely on performances. Evaluating employees only on their performance at work is only one measure of how well they align with your company’s goals and objectives.

The five specific types of performance measurements have typically been identified as “input, output, efficiency, quality, and outcome.” But these are not the only measurements that inform how the employee works within the organization.

Analyzing Employee Performance

Be sure to include feedback on how they support teamwork, their sense of obligation, comportment, flexibility, innovation, dependability, and leadership and interpersonal skills.

Don’t be vague, and use a one-size fits all model. No two employees are the same, and no two employee evaluations will follow an identical format.

A Unique Employee Evaluation

By communicating clear performance goals, managers and employees can measure their impact, define success, demonstrate the effectiveness of performance plans, and make strategic decisions.

Don’t avoid giving any critical feedback. As difficult as it may be, sometimes you’ll need to give critical feedback.

Providing an Employee Critical Feedback

Fortunately, almost all businesses now have access to supporting data in the event some changes need to be made in an employee’s performance. Many sources can provide this information, including recent recognition, 360-degree feedback, talent review ratings, one-on-one notes, and progress on goals.

Don’t focus solely on an employee’s weaknesses. This may be the best way to break an employee’s spirit and ensure that future performance won’t be any better.

Discussing Employee Growth Opportunities

It’s possible to take an employee’s weakness and turn it around into an opportunity for strength and success. By using powerful action and specific language, focusing on how to solve problems with measurable behaviors, your employee will leave the meeting still feeling respected and a valued member of the company.

Don’t forget to follow up after the evaluation session. What happens after the evaluation meeting is almost as important as what happens during the session.

An open-door policy is one good way to encourage open communication and help provide follow-up support for the actions both parties have agreed to take until the next evaluation session.

Employee Evaluation Follow Up

Another helpful way to make sure that your employee feels supported in any changes they’ve been asked to make is to give them a copy of any notes you made during the meeting. Don’t leave all the responsibilities on their shoulders.

Say Good Things

The words you say hold tremendous power. Science even backs up this idea. The neurochemistry of conversation reveals why it’s so “critical for all of us — especially managers — to be more mindful about our interactions.”

“When we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors…Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex.”

And if you’re lacking in some positivity-framed phrases, Indeed has compiled 250 Top Employee Evaluation Phrases for Effective Feedback to help you expand your feedback toolkit. Take every opportunity to authentically and honestly incorporate some of these into every conversation with your employees.

A Positive Employee Evaluation

Here are just a handful of effective examples:

  • You’re competent, flexible, creative, and innovative.
  • You assign “proper duties” to the team members you lead.
  • You’re a “self-inspired professional.”
  • Your “positive attitude remains [your] most special strength.”
  • You “maintain an extraordinary level of precision with work.”
  • You keep a “calm and composed manner under tense situations.”
  • You’ve “built good work relationships through open and friendly communication.”
  • You’re an “expert at taking innovative ideas and turning them into solutions.”
  • You’re “always ready to help coworkers and every customer.”
  • You’re a “faithful and trustworthy employee.”
  • You help the team “keep engaged and focused.”

You won’t just be contributing to their self-esteem, confidence, and empowerment — you’ll make work a better place for everyone.

Reach out to us for more ways to support and keep your employees on track and feeling fulfilled. We’d love to hear from you and give you a no-obligation consultation!

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