An employee evaluation gives a supervisor the opportunity to provide guidance, explain expectations, offer praise and make suggestions for improvement. It gives the employee an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns while receiving feedback on his performance. A successful evaluation should improve communication between supervisor and employee.
Peter Friedes, retired CEO of Hewitt Associates, author of “The 2R Manager: When to Relate, When to Require, and How to Do Both Effectively” and co-creator of Managing People Better, a free online tool that helps managers and supervisors become more effective.
eHow spoke with Friedes, who offered some key insight into what makes an evaluation effective -- whether you work for a large company with an existing employee evaluation system in place, or you own your own business and want to improve or establish employee evaluations.
eHow: Why is an effective employee evaluation important to employers and employees?
Peter Friedes: Feedback helps a person correct his course. Employees need to know what they are doing well so they can do more of it. They need to understand what’s not working, so they can make adjustments to become more effective.
eHow: What are some common elements of an effective evaluation process?
PF: Regardless of the type of evaluation you use, it is essential that, as a supervisor, you define up front, in writing, what you expect of the employee. Make sure goals are measurable and observable. Stay away from vague, subjective terms. Also, discuss the goals with the employee to ensure her understanding -- and obtain the employee’s agreement and signature.
Ideally, a supervisor should provide written evaluations about every six months, although new employees may need them sooner. For new hires who are struggling, consider once-per-month evaluations. Make sure written performance reviews reflect the entire evaluation period, not just the past week.
A supervisor needs to make written notes throughout the year of things done well and things that need correction. You should do both -- praising and correcting -- in real time. If you like something, say it immediately. If an employee makes a mistake, you shouldn't wait six months until the next formal evaluation; discuss it right away.
Finally, a supervisor should ensure that written comments are factual, detailed and constructive because they become part of an employee’s permanent file. You should document the organizational implications of performance. You shouldn't change performance criteria after the fact; the appraisal shouldn’t digress from the measures you initially defined.
eHow: Who should be involved in evaluating an employee?
PF: Many companies use some form of 360-degree feedback, getting input from multiple sources at least once each year. A supervisor may love a particular employee, but the employee’s colleagues may have an entirely different view. With 360-degree feedback, a supervisor can find out about personality conflicts, biases or communication issues affecting an employee’s work, customer satisfaction or employee morale.
eHow: How should evaluations be linked to salary increases and/or promotions?
PF: Discussions of performance and pay should be separated in time. If they are not, employees are more likely to focus on the pay part and miss important information about their performances. A promotion or pay increase should correspond to an employee’s performance. It sends a mixed message to approve an automatic raise for someone who has performance shortcomings.
eHow: What training do supervisors need to effectively evaluate employees?
PF: Supervisors need training in assertiveness so they are able to ask for what they want without apology. They need to be trained in how to deal with conflict -- to be comfortable with conflict -- because conflict is inevitable in the workplace. Supervisors also need to learn techniques to diffuse tension and turn conflicts into opportunities for healthy dialogue. Further, they need techniques for confronting poor performance.
Diversity/non-bias training is especially crucial. Supervisors need to be able to separate what they think about a person from what they think about his performance. For example, if a young employee decides to dye her hair pink, a supervisor may hate the hair choice, but it has nothing to do with job performance. A supervisor must be able to look past her pink hair and to the merits of her day-to-day work.
eHow: What tips/advice do you have for individuals delivering evaluations?
PF: Be relaxed and remember your goal is to help the employee grow. If you are tense, the employee will also be tense. Just think of this as a regular conversation with someone whose future you care about. If you are in the habit of regularly talking with each employee, this is just one of many conversations. It’s not some special once-per-year occasion that leads to stomach ulcers. Nothing in a written evaluation should come as a surprise. If you’ve done your job well, you’ve communicated along the way about everything included in the written appraisal.
eHow: How can a supervisor put the person being evaluated at ease?
PF: If the supervisor has been talking with the employee all along, throughout the year, the employee will already be more at ease during the evaluation meeting.
eHow: Is there such a thing as a review that is too glowing? How does a manager handle this?
PF: This isn't a problem. Compliments are great. Give them freely.
eHow: What special advice would you give supervisors for handling negative evaluations?
PF: Say it directly, but without finality. For example, “So far, you are not doing well on the job. I want to discuss what I see as some problems and see if you agree and then find ways to overcome them."
eHow: How should a supervisor respond if an employee believes she has been unfairly evaluated?
PF: If you have directly observed a performance shortcoming, say, “Here’s what I see, and here’s the impact it’s having on our business. If you aren’t seeing the same thing, let’s both agree to watch for this and talk about it right away if it happens again.”
If someone else in the 360-degree review process raises a negative issue you haven’t personally witnessed, and if the employee believes the feedback is unfair, volunteer to do more research. Go back to the employee who provided the disputed feedback and get more information. Ask probing questions to learn whether there may be a personality conflict or other contributing factor. When appropriate, you can amend a performance evaluation but make sure you have all the facts before doing so.
eHow: What unique issues crop up within nonprofit or governmental organizations?
PF: Nonprofits, in particular, often fail to confront performance shortcomings. Our colleague, Sarah Licha, describes the mindset of many nonprofit supervisors: “We are a nonprofit and well aware that people work here for less pay than in the private sector. There is an added expectation of always being 'nice' because we are 'doing good.' I don’t want to discourage our workforce by seeming mean. However, it is kind, not mean, to provide constructive feedback to employees. They need to grow professionally; your staff expects you to confront poor performance."
In the government sector, there’s an issue of tenure that some supervisors use as an excuse for not confronting a performance issue. Regardless of organizational type, supervisors need to confront performance shortcomings when they occur.