Can performance evaluations in the workplace really be painless?

The chance for enhanced communication and feedback is too often wasted, misused or squandered

Nov 28, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By Marnie E. Green

Universally, managers and employees dread the annual ritual of performance evaluations. This opportunity for enhanced communication and feedback is too often wasted, misused or squandered, resulting in a painful experience for everyone.

Advisory firms across the country are realizing that performance evaluations don't have to be dreadful. Cutting-edge firms are adopting three primary perspectives that transform organizations into firms where employees look forward to the annual feedback ritual, leading to enhanced individual and firm performance.

A painless performance evaluation is defined by these three concepts: no surprises, employee-driven and future-focused.

No surprises:

The no-surprises rule means that only previous issues/concerns should be raised in the performance evaluation meeting. It is an opportunity to summarize the previous rating period's discussions and should be nothing more than a review. Performance evaluations are not the time to solve all of the employee's performance challenges.

You can't avoid surprises unless you and the employee talk regularly about the employee's performance. Any problem or concern should be discussed when the situation takes place. If the employee has demonstrated success, it should be recognized on the spot. Trust is enhanced when specific feedback is a regular part of the work environment.

If these conversations are saved for the year-end meeting, uncomfortable surprises inevitably will arise. The conversation can take on a more productive and positive tone when it is a summary of your previous discussions. This will lend itself to the second element of a painless performance evaluation: employee-driven.

Employee-driven:

A performance evaluation is painless when it is a two-way dialogue. Typical evaluation conversations, where you do all the talking, don't allow for the employee to have a point of view. In painless performance evaluations, you will direct the conversation in a way that is valuable to the employee.

One strategy for engaging employees is to seek their input before the evaluation is prepared. Ask the employee to assess his or her own performance by posing the following simple questions:

1. What have been your greatest accomplishments this year?

2. What were your biggest challenges this year?

3. What new challenges or goals would you like to pursue in the upcoming year?

4. What can the firm or I do to support you in the future?

These answers allow the employee to remind you of his or her triumphs, which gives you a sense of how they perceive themselves.

Before the performance evaluation meeting, give a copy of the evaluation document to the employee so that he or she can come prepared to discuss its contents. To begin the meeting, ask the employee for feedback on the document. The employee should be encouraged to talk for at least three to five minutes. After the employee has shared his or her perspective, then you can begin to share your opinions about the employee's performance.

The typical outcome from this approach is that the employee will highlight all of the issues that you were planning to discuss anyway. Since the feedback came from the employee, he or she feels an increased sense of ownership for the issues. It opens the discussion to future possibilities, which is the third element of a painless performance evaluation.

Future-focused:

A performance evaluation is painless when the conversation is future-oriented and hopeful. Employees report that a performance evaluation is painful when they are told of issues they were already aware of — when the manager's concerns are brought up over and over again. Any problems with an employee's performance need to be addressed when the behavior arises, not during the performance evaluation.

It is acceptable to recap the highlights of an employee's performance, especially the positive parts, but the most valuable time is spent talking about the future. Use the evaluation meeting to plan future performance goals, to clarify expectations and to create a sense of excitement about what lies ahead.

Isn't it about time we found a more productive and less painful way to tackle the annual performance evaluation? The quality of your client's experience is defined by the performance of your individual employees. How you manage performance determines the success of your firm, so make it painless.

Marnie E. Green is the principal consultant at Management Education Group Inc. She is a speaker, author, consultant and trainer who develops performance-driven cultures in organizations. Her forthcoming book, “Painless Performance Conversations: A Practical Approach to Critical Day-to-Day Workplace Discussions” (Wiley) will be released in April 2013.

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