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Performance Evaluation Made Simple
by Wally Bock

Nobody much likes performance evaluation systems. Managers find them unworkable and uncomfortable. Workers dread them. And many experts think we should scrap them altogether.

But if you're a working manager you don't get much choice. You've got to do performance evaluations on your people using the system your organization has in place.

You can make lemons from this lemonade, though. Here's how.

Start by understanding that there are really two different things that go by the name, "performance evaluation." One of those things is your organization's formal performance appraisal process.

Do whatever you must to handle your organization's evaluation system. You have to work with whatever system your organization has devised. Someday you may be able to change it, but not now. Devote your time and energy to making the system deliver good results.

But the formal system is only part of the story. Usually the evaluation that happens there is like a report card. It's a summary judgment of performance that took place over a period of time.

The real evaluation happens in hundreds of encounters during everyday work. It's what bosses should do several times a day as a key part of their job. Do evaluation every day. Then, use he formal evaluation meeting as an occasion to review and plan with your subordinates.

There should be no surprises. When you sit down at that formal meeting your subordinate shouldn't be surprised by anything you have to say. You shouldn't be surprised by your subordinate's reactions. That will happen if you've already done the hard work in little steps every day.

Figure out what's most important. What are the critical things that your subordinate should be able to do? What level of performance should he or she strive for? What behavior is important to keep the team functioning at top level? Once you know the answers to those questions, you know what to monitor and measure and adjust.

Use every contact as occasion to improve performance. That means every contact, every day. Show up a lot so you learn about your people and they get to learn about you. And every time you show up take the opportunity to coach, encourage, counsel and correct.

Give notice if you have to start documenting behavior. Most of the time, your suggestion to change behavior or performance will be informal. That means you won't need to document. And most of the time your suggestion and coaching will result in improved behavior.

But sometimes you need to let folks know that they're not doing well enough. If they keep doing what they're doing, you'll have to start documenting their behavior. Let them know before your start.

Then, if you must document, do a few things. Keep good records of the performance or behavior that you're tracking. Be specific about what happened, when and where.

Keep good records of your counseling meetings with your subordinate. What did you say? What did he or she say? How did you agree that things would change?

Making small course corrections along the way has a couple of advantages. First, small corrections are far easier to make than big ones, so your odds of a successful outcome go up.

Second, by making small corrections and documenting your counsel and your subordinate's behavior, you've got the issue on the table. When the time arrives for formal performance evaluation, your subordinate will know where he or she has come up short. And you'll know what they've got to say about how they're doing. No surprises.

Take enough time in the formal session. In one organization where I did research we compared the time that top supervisors devoted to the annual performance appraisal meeting to the time that other supervisors took. The top supervisors spent almost twice as long in the formal session as their less-effective peers.

But, if there weren't any surprises, what did they spend time on? They talked about growth and the future. That's more enjoyable and more productive than going over what did and didn't happen since the last review.

Make agreements on what will happen next. Be sure you leave the formal performance evaluation session with a clear plan for how your subordinate will develop during the next period and what you're going to do to help.

Set milestones for your agreements. Determine who will do what and what the deadlines are. Determine how performance should change.

Here's what to remember. The performance evaluation that makes a difference takes place every day, every time you encounter someone who works for you. If you take every opportunity to coach, counsel, encourage and correct your people, and if you document where you must, there will be no surprises at evaluation time. Then you can use the evaluation time to help people grow and develop.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock is an author, speaker and consultant who helps businesses improve morale and productivity. His latest book is "Performance Talk: The One-on-One Part of Leadership."



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