As HR professionals, we know the importance of performance evaluation systems in developing employees, but this may not always be apparent to the managers we work with on a daily basis. It is our job to educate managers and employees on the standards for completing performance evaluation forms as well as train them on how to complete the necessary documents (criteria and ratings), how to develop improvement plans when necessary, and how to deliver the performance appraisal interview.
First, after you have developed the new performance appraisal system (or adjusted an old one), consider offering training on how to effectively use it. The training, if required, can save time later and make the process more valuable. What we want to avoid is making it seem as if the performance appraisal process is “just one more thing” for managers to do. Show the value of the system in your training or, better yet, involve managers in developing the process to begin with.
Set standards should be developed for managers filling out the performance ratings and criteria. The advantage of this is accuracy of data and limiting possible bias. Consider these “ground rules” to ensure that information is similar no matter which manager is writing the evaluation:
- Use only factual information and avoid opinion or perception.
- For each section, comments should be at least two sentences in length, and examples of employee behavior should be provided.
- Reviews must be complete and shared with the employee before the deadline.
- Make messages clear and direct.
- Focus on observable behaviors.
Once your managers are trained, understand how to fill out the forms, and are comfortable with the ground rules associated with the process, we can coach them on how to prepare for performance evaluations. For example, here are the steps you may want to discuss with your managers who provide performance evaluations:
- Review the employee’s last performance evaluation. Note goals from the previous evaluation period.
- Review the employee’s file and speak with other managers who interface with this person. In other words, gather data about performance.
- Fill out the necessary forms for this employee’s appraisal. Note which areas you want to address in the appraisal interview with the employee.
- If your organization bases pay increases on the performance evaluation, know the pay increase you are able to offer the employee.
- Write any improvement plans as necessary.
- Schedule a time and date with the employee.
Most people feel nervous about giving and receiving performance evaluations. One way to limit this is to show the employee the written evaluation before the interview, so the employee knows what to expect. To keep it a two-way conversation, many organizations have the employee fill out the same evaluation, and answers from the employee and manager are compared and discussed in the interview. When the manager meets with the employee to discuss the performance evaluation, the manager should be clear, direct, and to the point about positives and weaknesses. The manager should also discuss goals for the upcoming period, as well as any pay increases or improvement plans as a result of the evaluation. The manager should also be prepared for questions, concerns, and reasons for an employee’s not being able to meet performance standards.
Improvement plans should not be punitive, but the goal of an improvement plan should be to help the employee succeed. Improvement plans are discussed in Retention and Motivation. Coaching and development should occur throughout the employee’s tenure, and he or she should know before the performance evaluation whether expectations are not being met. This way, the introduction of an improvement plan is not a surprise. There are six main components to an employee improvement plan:
- Define the problem.
- Discuss the behaviors that should be modified, based on the problem.
- List specific strategies to modify the behavior.
- Develop long- and short-term goals.
- Define a reasonable time line for improvements.
- Schedule “check-in” dates to discuss the improvement plan.
An employee improvement plan works best if it is written with the employee, to obtain maximum buy-in. Once you have developed the process and your managers are comfortable with it, the process must be managed. This is addressed in Organizing the Performance Appraisal Process.