A key aspect of managing people is monitoring and evaluating performance. When handled correctly, the employee performance evaluation can provide positive feedback for your employees that can assist them in fully developing in their roles. Improperly handled, evaluations can serve to demotivate employees, and affect morale. Infrequent or negative feedback can also affect employee morale. It is critical that companies implement a performance management system that allows for employee feedback, sets actionable goals, and clearly defines expectations.
A performance evaluation is a tool whereby an employee receives feedback regarding his or her performance during an evaluation period. Typically, the time frame is one year, but some employers may evaluate quarterly or semi-annually. Because evaluations are often tied to pay increases or other employee decisions, companies may feel that once is enough. However, Forbes Magazine reports that many companies are drifting towards more frequent reviews, and shifting away from end of year reviews to mid-year reviews. Regardless of when evaluations are performed, the key is to have a plan and mechanism in place to deliver candid feedback.
Experts at Duke University urge managers to provide feedback for the previous year, and strategically plan for the coming year. Prior year feedback should consist of a critical look at the employee’s role and responsibilities compared to the job description; behavior; attainment of goals; and an overall evaluation. The upcoming year’s planning should include a list of obtainable goals and a development plan. Forbes stresses that managers should spend time planning for evaluations by keeping a diary on all direct reports. The diary should include any accomplishments and behaviors observed.
Much of the current literature surrounding evaluations cite proper goal setting as the key to successful delivery of the evaluation. However, managers and employees often create vague or poorly written goals. Human resources (HR) personnel at Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology (MIT) suggest that managers use the SMART acronym when setting goals. SMART goals are Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant and Time bound. The difference in goals can be seen in the following example from MIT’s HR department.
Original Goal – “Keep the department's blog up-to-date”
SMART Goal – By the first Friday of every month, new material and updates will be solicited from all of the department’s managers; new material will be published by the following Friday. When new material is updated and published on the blog, the blog will be checked for out-of-date material.
The new goal meets the criteria of a SMART goal. At performance appraisal time, the manager can provide specific and candid feedback to the employee in regards to how well he or she performed the specific task. It is important that the manager keep notes so that they can address any deficiencies with the employee.
Finally, the best employee performance evaluations provide time and space for the individual to provide an honest assessment of his or her own performance. Ideally, the employee and manager have agreed upon a development plan in the prior period. The development plan, according to Duke HR professionals, will identify any skills or behaviors that an employee needs to address in order to perform in their current role. The employee should also have a list of goals that they expected to achieve. Armed with this information, the employee can assess their performance during the prior period.