Surviving Employee Evaluations


By Odette Pollar,

There are very few managers or supervisors who enjoy conducting employee evaluations. The entire process is fraught with anxiety, and they are often delayed until the last minute. In fact, missing the scheduled review date entirely is not uncommon. Annual reviews need not be a heavy weight around your neck. The secret is to manage your interactions with the employee throughout the year. This will provide the foundation for your formal discussion.


Throughout the year, discuss performance issues as they occur. This helps the employee understand your concerns, and offers an opportunity to make changes. During these regular mini-reviews, take notes; you will then have a running track record of performance from which you can draw the necessary information for the formal review. The content of an evaluation should never come as a surprise to an employee. The conversation should be more of a summary discussion and never be perceived as a trap.

Reviews take a lot of focus, attention and emotional energy. Try to avoid scheduling more than two on the same day. You don't want to get burned out on the process. If the review is going to be uncomfortable or highly emotional—i.e. you are placing the employee on a probationary status, schedule the discussion for a Friday. That gives the person the weekend to really think about the situation.


Give yourself enough time to conduct the review without being rushed. Hold all your calls and do not allow interruptions. The review needs to be thorough. Avoid superficial or tangential issues because that will cause two problems. One, you will not get to the underlying concerns and, two, you risk the employee's misunderstanding the significance of the review process. Hone in on the important and avoid being sidetracked by transient or less critical issues.

Unless you are discussing a pattern of behavior with the view to making recommendations for change, do not dwell on past mistakes. Try to determine the reasons behind a series of misjudgments so that the underlying problem can be identified and addressed. A conversation outlining every date that the person was late to work is less useful than a review of the policy about tardiness, a discussion about the cause, and an agreement reached about what will happen in the future to prevent the tardiness.

People like to feel good about themselves and hear about what they do well. Although evaluations are opportunities to discuss difficulties, problems, or poor performance, they should be balanced with the positives so that the employee has a well-rounded view of his or her performance.

Be cautious about comparing one person to your star performer. That can backfire. Comparisons can set up internal rivalries. Asking a high performer to train another on a specific task is different from a "why can't you be more like her" comparison.

Reviews are not debates or arguments. If you have made a judgment and it is well-reasoned, stick by it and do not let the conversation degenerate. Resist the tendency to be defensive about your judgments. Back up your statements with research and documentation. If the two of you cannot come to agreement, then there are other steps you can take, including referring that employee to human resources.

Your goal in a review is to solve problems, coach development, and provide support and encouragement to enable the person to excel. During the problem-solving phase, it is not your job to come up with all of the possible solutions. Involve the employee in identifying options so that he or she takes ownership for the strategies. This not only saves you time and energy, but it reduces the likelihood of that person coming back saying, "Well, I never thought that idea would work anyway." In the same vain, avoid like the plague any discussions that start with, "If I were you..."


Transfer pertinent information from your notes. Note any commitment dates on your calendar. Write up a summary of the discussion for later reference. It never hurts to review the interaction to determine what, if anything, you would do differently the next time. If you view performance evaluations as more of a summary of a series of interactions that have taken place throughout the year, they need not be onerous. Remember, the end result should not be simply checking a task off your to-do list but rather, improved performance from someone you work closely with and depend upon.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: Visit us at: call: 1-800-599-8463.

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