Nobody really likes annual performance evaluations. They’re stressful for both giver and receiver, and leaders responsible for providing evaluations tend to think of them as a chore and a headache.
There are ways to make the evaluation process better and more productive for everyone.
Sometimes it’s enough of a problem that executive coaching is necessary so that top leaders can learn how to tackle this necessary task in ways that benefit everyone involved. Much is asked of both the reviewer and the reviewed, and performance evaluations that aren’t complete, honest, and timely tend to waste time and resources and leave people feeling drained rather than reinvigorated for the new performance period.
Here’s why honesty and transparency are indispensable to an effective performance evaluation program.
Dishonesty in Evaluations Harms the Organization
Dishonesty in performance evaluation usually falls into one of two categories: underrepresenting performance and overrepresenting performance. Both situations ultimately harm the organization.
Underrepresenting performance (i.e. telling people their performance is worse than it really is) causes people to adopt a “Why try?” attitude and can lead valuable employees to leave. Overrepresenting performance (i.e. telling people their performance is better than it really is) can lead some people to “coast” on past performance.
It can also lead to perceptions of “playing favorites” and can make discipline for later infractions tricky. “But you told me I was doing great work!” may be the employee’s answer to criticism.
Key Elements of Good Performance Evaluations
Here are four of the 10 key elements of good performance evaluations outlined in my book Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees:
- Employee involvement – because performance objectives should be set with the input of the employee
- Valid performance criteria – because employees should be evaluated based on criteria that determine success in their role
- Year-round process – because employees need regular feedback to optimize their performance
- Preparation – because both leaders and employees need to devote time to preparing for performance evaluations
Include the right elements in performance evaluation and you help your employees create concrete, mutually agreeable goals to work on.
When annual performance evaluations happen to fall during unexpectedly busy times, it’s all too easy for both evaluators and those being evaluated to give the process short shrift. Nonetheless, it’s important for all parties to take the necessary time to ensure that the effort that goes into performance evaluations isn’t wasted.
Leadership Coaching in Performance Evaluations
Though team leaders don’t usually have “coaching” as a formal part of their responsibilities, basic coaching principles can be applied to help team members improve their performance and maintain good performance levels. Team leaders can apply the following coaching principles without taking on undue burden:
- Describing what effective performance involves
- Communicating the importance of effective performance
- Listening to employee concerns and feedback
- Offering to help with specific skills and goals
- Thanking employees for their efforts to improve their performance, citing specific examples where it has worked
The principles of coaching aren’t just for executives undergoing executive coaching. They work for leaders at all levels – and particularly for leaders at the team level who are responsible for evaluating the performance of team members. While this type of leadership coaching is less formal and less intensive than the type of leadership coaching high-level executives engage in, it gets results that ripple outward throughout the organization.
Employee performance evaluations may be one of the less-liked aspects of professional life, but when they are done in an honest and timely manner, using specific, evidence-backed assessment, they can lead to better performance and achievement of goals. Don’t be tempted to tackle performance evaluations as a distraction or simply as a box that must be checked off. Put the proper effort into it, and it can be a prime learning endeavor for leaders and team members alike.
If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to check out my books, especially Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees, which goes into depth on the process of evaluating employees and coaching them to greater achievements.