Performance Evals: Just Stop It!
Updated: Dec 6, 2018
Comedian Bob Newhart performed a skit in which he dispensed advice as a psychologist. Regardless of the issue afflicting his patient he offered two words of advice: Stop it! His advice is particularly applicable to one of the vexing tasks many managers face: performance evaluations. The routine is painful, time consuming, and generally useless and sometimes harmful. Stop it!
It may seem on the surface that this advice from a comedy routine is reckless and negligent. How can a leader manage people without a performance evaluation? Employees need to know where they stand. There needs to be a basis for compensation decisions. Finally, we need to have documentation in the event of a lawsuit. All these outcomes are truly essential but relying on performance evaluations to do this is where failure occurs. High driving business leaders see this intuitively and therefore, performance evaluations do not happen.
While working for a corporation with 16,000 employees, I was accountable for a goal to have 85% of a company’s performance evaluations completed on time. When assigned, about 35% were completed on time. Since “Personnel” required documentation to process a pay change, managers complied and completed meaningless forms to get their employees pay increases. Since they were late, we had to calculate back pay 10,000 times a year.
Knowing that the performance evaluation routine did not add value, and that I would not meet my performance goal, I proposed Bob Newhart’s advice to the senior management team: "Stop it!" .... It was heresy! I was an apostate in the Human Resources department and perceived as irresponsible by the senior leadership team.
I asked the team what was the ultimate purpose that was intended. The answer: improve performance! Instead the measure of success was timely completion of an outdated cumbersome and irrelevant form. We needed to manage performance and measure results. The focus shift was re-energizing.
A cycle of performance management replaced the performance evaluation task. There are three vital steps in this cycle.
Establish clear and aligned individual expectations and communicate clearly. The expectations document starts with properly crafted job descriptions and is updated on a regular basis with the current business plan and strategic priorities. The expectations need to be set with clear measures of success; X to Y by when. While this step sounds cumbersome, the document should be concise and to the point. This is where the seeds of success are carefully sown.
Provide focused, accurate and timely feedback. This second step is completely dependent on the first step being in place. Goals are essential to measure where the employee stands. Feedback needs to be timely, accurate and purposefully delivered. When the performance is off track, immediate feedback allows for easier correction. Remember, the goal is to improve not rate performance. Feedback must be informal and formal. Daily or weekly delivered feedback is constructive and corrective. It should be based on the metrics established in the first step. A leader delivers this in the spirit of making the employee successful. It is also essential to a periodically formal document where the employee stands and what is the plan for success. This step is where the hoeing, weeding and tending of the garden occurs.
Conduct the performance evaluation. Wait, we decided to stop doing evaluations? To clarify: stop starting with the evaluation. The outcome of this step is the documentation of the first two steps. This will satisfy the employees' need to know, conclusively, where they stand against expectations. Also, this serves as the basis for compensation decisions and creates the information needed in the event of a lawsuit. The first two steps in place make this step possible. This is the step of harvesting the fruits of improved performance.
This time of year managers are saddled with conducting year end performance evaluations. Countless hours are spent trying to create the first two steps with a looming deadline. The performance evaluation discussion is a painful argument and way too long taking two or more hours per employee. The manager is ill prepared and is swayed by unintentional biases. Too often the employee is surprised by the evaluation and feels pounced on. Frustration is universal.
When you shift the focus from the task of evaluation to the cycle of performance management, the two hour discussion is spread out across the performance period. The evaluation discussion is often 30 minutes or less. There are no surprises and conflict is eliminated. Most importantly, poor performance is identified and corrected sooner, and results are improved. Performance Evaluations: "Stop it!" Start improving results instead.
Russell Lookadoo is the HR Guy for small businesses. His firm, HRchitecture, specializes in helping business leaders accomplish their goals by effectively using their teams. Russell brings three decades of experience designing Human Resources solutions that achieve business strategies in varied organizations ranging from a small manufacturer to the nation’s second largest bank. Russell holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources designation from the Society of Human Resources Management and earned the Certified Compensation Professional designation from World at Work. Russell attended the University of North Carolina on the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Industrial Relations. Visit his website at www.theHRGuy.biz