Getting Results Through Performance Evaluations

I present full-day business management workshops for the National Kitchen & Bath Association that are based on a newly released book I’ve written for the association. During those workshops, I devote an entire segment to job performance evaluations.

When I ask how many people in attendance do formal, regularly scheduled sit-downs with their employees, the response is usually less than 10 percent. While I find this puzzling, I also understand that most kitchen and bath dealers just aren’t sophisticated in their human resource management skills. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a great opportunity to get better.

In relation to this, just today I read an article by Amy Joyce of the Washington Post titled “Tolerance for Office Slackers Can Hurt.” She talked about the importance of employee performance evaluations and offered statistics as they apply to workers in the private and public sectors.

She stated that too many companies “gloss over the dead-weight folks,” while too many managers “put up with poor performance.” What a shame, because supervisors have a great opportunity to help improve employee performance.

Choosing Systems
What are the objectives of a good performance evaluation system?

Well, when selecting an evaluation system, your first concern should be making it as fair as possible. The criteria against which you judge an employee must be clearly related to the demands of the job. The process must also be objective. Simply put, judge the work, not the person.

An objective evaluation system will:

  • Eliminate the uneven standards that can vary from manager to manager.
  • Remove the temptation to judge employees by their personalities.
  • Motivate employees with evaluations.
  • Create the most productive work force possible.

There are several kinds of evaluation methods available. There is the rating scale system, in which the employee is given a numerical score for each area of job performance. There is the behavior scale, which assigns a number value to job-related behavior. There is the essay evaluation, which uses a narrative style. The ranking system assigns employees points along a standard distribution curve, or compares employees to each other to obtain a ranked list. You can also report on critical incidences where the employee’s performance is noted in specific situations; this illustrates how well the employee performs.

All of these classifications are meant as discussion-starters. In practice, most evaluation systems are combinations or variations of all of them.

When it comes to reviewing an evaluation form – whether you “borrow” the forms from my new book, “borrow” them from someone else or start from scratch, there are issues to consider. Such as:

  • Is the form easy to understand?
  • Does the form ask for information directly related to the tasks and responsibilities of the job?
  • Does it require evaluators to give examples of the employees’ performance – both good and bad?
  • Can the form be adapted for various jobs? Forms for salespeople are not the same as forms for bookkeepers and installers.
  • Is the form comprehensive enough so that overall performance is described?
  • Are criteria defined so all evaluators assess the same factors?
  • Does the form fully encourage consistency?
  • Does the form meet all legal requirements?

Evaluating Performance
Evaluations should be conducted by the employee’s immediate supervisor. This is the person who actually controls the rewards and punishments that can be administered. This is also the person who can best observe a subordinate’s behavior and determine the relevance of that behavior to job objectives.

It can also help to use other sources during the evaluation process.

Self Evaluation: This requires the employee to evaluate him or herself. We used this method at our business and found the employee being evaluated was generally less defensive when both the supervisor and employee completed an evaluation form. Self ratings often result in superior on-the-job performance than do traditional evaluations.

Peer Evaluation: People working together as equals know one another well and usually understand the scope of the job. Studies have shown peer evaluations to be a reliable judge of performance, even though friendship, animosity and prejudice can be a problem.

Two-Up Evaluation: The immediate supervisor and that person’s supervisor both do evaluations of the employee. Note that it’s tougher for the higher-up supervisor to be specific because he or she is once removed from the employee.

Regarding what employees can expect from performance evaluations, note that, to improve their skills, employees need to know what responsibilities have been assigned to their jobs. They need to know what future goals they are expected to meet, how their performance is measured, what it takes to get an outstanding rating and what their superiors’ goals are.

Most employees want to do a good job. They also want someone to help them answer the question: “How can I do a better job?” in a constructive way.

Just as employees like to know how they’re doing, they want and need to know exactly what’s expected of them, and a written job description does just that. The job description is the criteria that their performance is compared to. Take the time to learn how to develop job descriptions, and then write them!

While evaluations can be used to give employees direction, they should not be used primarily to correct poor performance. Corrective criticism is only a small part of a good evaluation.

Coming to an agreement on goals and outlining a course of action are also important. In any evaluation, criticism is useful only after the goals are clearly defined and realistic ways to reach them have been discussed and agreed upon.

Once the employees at my company understood that management’s goal was to help mentor, coach, train and motivate them, they began to look forward to their reviews. In fact, discussions during the evaluation process were so open and honest that both the employees and management learned things that helped both sides improve. The performance evaluation is the best venue for great manager-employee communication that there is!

Since this important topic is more than I can cover in one column, my next column will discuss job performance evaluations in more detail, including how to get a copy of the supervisor’s evaluation form and an employee self-evaluation form.