Eight Signs Your Performance Evaluation System is Broken

If your performance evaluation system calls for you to assign a rating to employees, it may be time to rethink your process.

The traditional approach to employee performance management, which scores employee performance, is being replaced with an increased focus on coaching and development. According to Bersin and Associate’s High Impact Performance Management Report, seventy percent of organizations say they are already using a coaching and development model, while thirty percent are still using the “document and rate” model.

The solution, simply enough, lies in your hands as a supervisor or manager. You are charged with defining performance expectations and supporting employees so that they can meet or exceed your expectations. While an overhaul of your organization’s entire performance management system may be in order, successful culture change will sit squarely with you.

Here are eight signs that your performance evaluation system is out of date and a few solutions for shifting your work culture to one that is performance-driven and inspiring.

1. Employees are surprised
If your employees receive their annual performance evaluation and are surprised by what they learn, it’s usually an indication that you did not give timely feedback throughout the year. Surprised employees quickly become disengaged employees. The Bersin study found that manager’s ability to coach is the number one performance management challenge.

Solution: Raise your concerns with employees about their performance immediately when issues crop up. Employees are only able to improve performance when they know your expectations, and they have feedback to help them track their progress.

2. Everyone gets a satisfactory rating
No organization is perfect and there will always be performance-challenged employees even in the highest performing groups. But, when you complain about an employee’s performance, yet rate them as satisfactory or above, you are not being honest. And, you’re not being fair to your strong performers.

Solution: Call out poor performance when the employee has not met expectations. Especially in public agencies, where for years it’s been easy to give everyone a “pass,” it’s important to accurately assess performance. At the same time, star performers deserve to be recognized for their service.

3. Rating factors are meaningless
It’s common to see factors like “dependability” or “interpersonal relations” on evaluation forms. These factors are often poorly defined and don’t reflect what is truly important to your organization. When the performance evaluation focuses attention on random factors that are not aligned with something significant to the organization, they are truly random.

Solution: Spend time to define what is important in your organization. A compelling mission, meaningful values, strategic goals, or a behavioral competency model all help define what’s important. Your feedback system should reinforce what’s important.  Without a common focus, there is no basis for victory.

4. No one can get a ‘5.’
Crazy, preconceived ideas develop over time in all organizations. In the long-run, these beliefs begin to work against you. If your performance management system calls for ratings on a five point scale, for example, and managers believe employees have to “walk on water” to earn a five, two outcomes result. First, top performers are frustrated because they are being judged on an unfair standard. Second, the scale is now essentially a four-level scale when the top level is not used.

Solution: If your organization supports the idea that no one can earn the highest rating on your performance evaluation scale, then it’s time to redefine the scale or get rid of it altogether. If you are going to continue to rate performance on a scale, define what it means to earn each rating level and apply it consistently.

5. Everybody is a ‘5.’
See #4 above

6. You’re too busy to manage performance
When you are so busy that you can’t find time to give employees feedback about their progress, it’s time to reevaluate how you are spending your time. Your staff exists as a tool for you to use to achieve the organization’s objectives. If you are too busy to talk with them about their performance, you are not leveraging your employee resources and you are probably too much in the weeds.

Solution: Assess how you are spending your time every day and every week. The best managers spend at least 20% of their time coaching and guiding employees to achieve the big picture goals. Ask yourself, “what meetings, tasks, or projects should I delegate or just stop doing so that I have time to spend supporting my employees?”

7. You struggle to get evaluations completed on time
Do you feel a mounting stress around evaluation time because it feels like such a burden to get them done? Does the Human Resources Department bug you about late evaluations? It can be overwhelming to sit down to a blank computer screen and just start typing. There will always be something else to do.
Solution: Keep notes on a regular basis about your employee’s performance. Note the successes, the challenges, and the everyday outcomes. One note per week in a log or file is sufficient. Managers who are diligent about their note-taking report that the performance evaluation is easier to tackle. The contents of the file become the content of the evaluation.

8. Top leaders don’t model the way
When top leaders view themselves as immune to performance evaluation duties, it sends a strong and clear message to the rest of the team that feedback is not important. Everyone is watching….the higher you sit in the organization, the more important it is to model the behaviors you expect of others. Four of the top five most critical performance management challenges, as documented by Bersin and Associates, are related to poor executive engagement. Bersin found that organizations experience improved results when senior leaders held direct reports accountable for coaching their employees.

Solution: If you are a top-level leader, think about how you approach employee performance. You can expect that the managers and supervisors who are on your team will follow your lead. And if you are expecting them to give regular feedback and complete an annual evaluation, you can bet that your process will backfire.

Leading practice organizations are moving from “rate them” to “coach them.”  Even if your organization hasn’t made the shift, you can use the tools you have to motivate and inspire employees.  It’s not all about the form, the process, or the system.  It’s about how you use them.

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