Executive Excellence Series (4 of 50): Failing to Offer Constructive Input During Employee Evaluations

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For most executives, performing employee evaluations is a necessary evil — highly important but low on personal priority list. For employees they are usually stressful, filled with mixed messages (a bit of praise, a bit of criticism — neither of which are constructive input), and ultimately uninspiring, if not downright deflating. The most valuable use of an employee review is what’s typically missing: constructive input.

What you want your employees to take away from every review is: performance improvement, job satisfaction, employee retention and refreshed motivation. Those characteristics are not born of the praise/criticize cycle, but of collaborative goal setting, problem-solving, and encouragement for innovation. Here’s how to break out of the “pointless review” cycle and into the “let’s work even better” cycle.

A few weeks before the performance review, ask the employee to write down:

  • The top three achievements he made that year that he found fulfilling and the reasons why,
  • The top three disappointments, struggles, or failures she created or experienced and how the situation came about,
  • What the company’s goals were for the year and how he personally helped the company achieve them,
  • (this one is difficult for most but very important) When she felt management really supported her efforts, and when she felt management let her down, and
  • What his professional aspirations at the company are, if they have changed, and if so, why?

At about the same time, you should jot down:

  • How you want that employee to personally support and deliver results for achieving certain company goals in the following year,
  • Three things he did that had a positive impact the previous year, and how you think he achieved them,
  • Three things she was involved with that didn’t meet expectations and why you think that is, and
  • Incidents in which you believe management was very successful in positively impacting his achievements, and incidents in which you believe management failed to support him to effective outcomes.

At least a week out, chat with all the people who have been in a supervisory or project management position with the employee.

Keep this process relaxed and informal and focus on finding out:

  • What they perceive as the individual’s best core assets,
  • If they see any repetitive behaviors or actions that are detrimental to positive outcomes,
  • If they like supervising him or her, and why, and
  • If the person in question is a good fit in the company’s culture (or not), and why.

Now write the praise/criticize review armed with the information from these three sets of actions.

At every step, ask yourself:

  • Have I explained why the praise is given, and why I want to see more of that?
  • Have I explained how the lesser rated, more criticism aspects can be improved, and how?
  • Have I made sure that every rating and statement ends on a positive note (i.e. a shortcoming comes with a note of understanding, acceptance and a “we’ll fix this together” tone)?
  • Does this review read as an actionable plan for the next year?

If you can’t answer each of these with a resounding “yes”, keep working.

The day before the review, check in with the employee and ask if she has anything else she’d like to add to the discussion notes. Schedule the review for the following day, mid-morning or mid-afternoon — ask him which he prefers as some people think better at different times of the day.

An hour before the review, give the employee the written review. It’s important that they have time to digest it before you talk, but not enough time to discuss it with others, make misinterpretations without you present to deliver clarity, or stew about any rating or comment that falls under the criticism category.

At the beginning of the review meeting, ask him if he has any pressing questions, emotional reactions, confusion or surprise about what he just read. Give him a chance, even encouragement to react. Best to get anything that causes a reaction cleared up up-front.

As you go through the rating aspects of the review, encourage discussion of each — make sure she feels empowered even to disagree and state why. Chances are, she came to the review with one pressing issue on her mind: how much? The salary change issue — which hopefully you can deal with another day, but if not do that last. By encouraging engagement throughout the review, that question gets put aside and the process really can develop a plan of action for the following year. Don’t rush through the rated section, but make it known that the planning discussion is coming and really the best part of the meeting.

Now the good part, the collaborative discussion of all the information he gave you a few weeks earlier as they compare to your perception around the same issues. This is when you both really work together to:

  • First, have an open dialogue around the issues of disappointment (even sense of or actual failure). Chances are these came from expectations not being met, on either or both sides. In this conversation, craft collaboratively how to get out in front of these types of situations going forward so they can be prevented.
  • Second, discuss when she felt management really supported her efforts, and when she felt management let her down. This might naturally come out in the first part of the discussion, but if it doesn’t, make sure it occurs. The result of these two steps is that you achieve alignment with each other for improved communication of expectations, processes, and outcomes and that you are there to support her.
  • Third, compare and contrast his perceptions of his top achievements, and your perceptions of his top achievements, then define why the differences and similarities exist and how he can really maximize his positive impact going forward based on this knowledge.
  • Finally, make sure she understands that performance problems and your disappointment can be wholly eliminated if she is completely clear about the goals for the following year and how she can personally affect achievement. If she has an understanding of the goals but doesn’t know her role in bringing them to fruition, she’s more likely to fail than succeed. It is your job to help her connect these dots.

Finally, have a chat about his career objectives. You need to know what he wants and facilitate his achievement of this. Hopefully, this will give you the opportunity to open the salary discussion at another time. The outcome of the review, collaborative constructive input, and knowledge of his aspirations are what should guide you to your salary decisions. Now, that’s constructive.

Additional Reading

Examples of Constructive Criticism in the Workplace, Joseph Chris

Guest Blog by MetaExpert Richard Vales: Perception and Misconception and Operational Excellence

Guest Blog by MetaExpert Bob Forshay: Communication’s Essential Role in Achieving Operational Excellence

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