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Evaluating the Performance Evaluation

The annual performance evaluation is one of the more controversial HR practices. It is an integral part of the performance management process. It assesses actual performance for the year for the goals and objectives set at the beginning of the year. It provides input for growth and improvement and it enables performance to be linked to the reward system (annual merit increases and bonus/incentive payouts).

The year-end evaluation has to happen and can be highly effective. A thoughtful appraisal takes time to prepare and deliver. Managers frequently have not given feedback, positive or negative, during the course of the year and dread coming to grips with issues they have studiously avoided. Employees also feel insecure, not knowing what unpleasant surprises are waiting for them.

The most fundamental principle of performance management is actually managing performance, which means ongoing reporting, coaching and feedback. It also means goals must be clear and mutually agreed on throughout the period. This eliminates much of the year-end angst. Factors that contribute to a more positive evaluation experience include a mutually convenient time, a comfortable place with privacy, sufficient time for an in-depth discussion and ensuring two-way communication.

On the controversial question of self-evaluations, our experience is that they create unnecessary adversarial situations. Simply put, it’s the manager’s responsibility to evaluate performance, not the direct report’s. Request employees to list their accomplishments in relation to the agreed objectives and what they consider to be areas for improvement. This eliminates the threat of “telling” them or “accusing” them of weaknesses. Most employees are quick to recognize where they need help and to respond constructively.

Important hint: Don’t wait until the evaluation process kicks off. Evaluate qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) objectives, which don’t require the year’s results, as well as core competencies, before year-end. Starting early removes much of the last-minute pressure, leaving time for thoughtful and objective evaluations. You may find our documentation and training programs for conducting performance evaluations helpful.

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