I have touched on this subject at various times in this blog. But I continue to have rather serious discussions with both managers and non-managers about how to evaluate somebody effectively and how to avoid creating a victim of ham-handedness at the end of the process. So at the risk of repeating myself somewhat, here are a few simple, time-tested rules for managers that should help you get it about right more often than wrong.
First, remember that evaluating the performance of another human being constitutes establishing a power relationship; the evaluator having most of the initial power. The best managers exercise that power very carefully and for mature and productive purposes, not for immature, vindictive, or selfish objectives.
Second, the best managers remember how uncomfortable most of us feel when we are the ones being evaluated. Although the evaluation process is vital to our personal growth, the emotions associated with being under the microscope and having our shortcomings — however small — potentially discussed, are unpleasant. The best managers are sensitive to this reality no matter how harsh and blunt their evaluation.
Third, everyone you will evaluate should know well in advance precisely: (1) what elements of their job you will evaluate; (2) the element’s relevance as evaluation criteria in your business or profession; and (3) the metrics you will use to distinguish between a satisfactory and a non-satisfactory performance. This is about establishing your expectations for a subordinate so they clearly understand the goals they need to meet. Successful grievances often come down to the absence of one or more of these elements.
Fourth, the best managers provide frequent verbal feedback to subordinates regarding their ongoing performance relative to critical performance criteria, so there will be no surprises if their organization requires a summary, formal, written evaluation at some point each year.
Fifth, if there are negative and unsatisfactory elements to a subordinate’s performance, he or she MUST be given sufficient warning and time for taking corrective action before formally documenting the deficiencies in a written review. Failure to provide sufficient time for taking corrective action is frequently sufficient grounds alone for a successful employee grievance.
Sixth, if you wish to gather input from an individual’s peers before rendering your evaluation — often a good idea — be careful to phrase your questions in objective, open-ended terms and to insist that any complaints you hear be accompanied with job-related, performance consequences. The personal quirks, idiosyncracies, and habits that may bother us in others only become relevant when they have clear work-related consequences.
Seventh, although a small point, if your evaluation contains negative and personally critical elements, I suggest you not deliver it on a Friday or before a holiday. It is never good management practice to send somebody away upset and stewing for an extended time, when the consequences of such emotions will usually be inflicted on the innocent people in their outside lives. Earlier in the week gives a person ready access to their evaluator and others at work who have the expertise to assist them.
Eighth, the best managers listen carefully to what they hear in response to a formal performance review and are willing to make changes when logic dictates. The best managers understand that it is wrong to believe that once rendered, their evaluation becomes unquestionably correct and that they need to defend it at all cost lest their authority be somehow diminished. Performance evaluations are inherently subjective and thus are always subject to errors.
Finally, the best managers understand that the true purpose of a performance evaluation is to foster the success of each individual they evaluate. Like everything else they do, they are constantly looking for ways to unlock the full — often hidden — potential of everyone entrusted to their management skill and thus see a formal evaluation as just another vehicle to that end. Done well, a subordinate should emerge from his or her evaluation process believing that their boss is committed to a partnership effort aimed at their continued success.
Evaluating your own performance as an evaluator, measured against the above nine criteria, is an excellent way to judge just how well you think you performed. If in doubt, ask the person you evaluated.