Eight Warning Signs Performance Evaluations Are Working Against You

This article was recently featured by the  Alliance for Innovation.

If your city is like many others, your employees have assumed a portion of the budget-balancing burden in recent years. Little or no pay increases and, in some cases pay reductions have led to slumping morale. Employees may be compliant, going through the motions, but are certainly not inspired. The challenges of recent years have taken their toll on the psyche of the municipal workforce. At the same time, your annual performance evaluation has likely been in place for years, and it is a struggle to get supervisors to turn evaluations in on time. Clearly the evaluation system is not helping you inspire higher levels of performance.

The traditional approach to employee performance evaluation, which includes annual ratings, is being replaced in many organizations, 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 traditional ‘document and rate model.’

Now is the time to rethink the impact your performance management practices have on your organization’s culture. There is a strong link between how your organization approaches the management of employee performance and your organization’s ability to reach its goals. Here are eight signs that your performance evaluation system is working against you and a few solutions for shifting your work culture to one that is performance-driven.

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

Solution: Equip managers to confidently and skillfully raise concerns with employees about performance. Employees will only improve when the expectations are clear, and they have feedback to help them track their progress.

The performance management process may not be the problem. The real problem is likely the manager’s effectiveness as a coach.

2. Poor performers get satisfactory ratings:  No work group is perfect and some employees will struggle, even in the highest performing groups. But, when there is a history of performance challenges, and the employee is rated as satisfactory or above, something is wrong. And, your strong performers know it.

Solution: Let poor performers know they need to improve and do it immediately. Then, if the performance doesn’t improve, use the lower ends of the rating scale when rating the performance. Especially in public agencies, where historically it has been the norm to give everyone a ‘pass,’ it is important to accurately rate performance in order to shift culture.

3. Evaluation results are disconnected from key organizational priorities:
It’s common to see factors like ‘dependability’ or ‘interpersonal relations’ on performance evaluation forms. These terms are often poorly defined and may not 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 and meaningless.

Solution: Spend time defining what is important to your organization. Be it a compelling mission, meaningful values, strategic goals, or a behavioral competency model, when you name what’s important and reinforce it through a feedback system, you are more likely to get a result that supports your organization’s focus.

4. No one can get a ‘˜5’:  Crazy, preconceived ideas develop over time in all organizations. If your performance management system calls for ratings on a five-point scale, for example, and managers never give fives, they’ve created two outcomes. 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: When 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. There really isn’t one best scale, but one that is not used to differentiate performance is useless. If you are going to use a scale, define what it means to earn each rating level on the scale and then apply it consistently.

5. Everybody is a ‘˜5’:  See #4 above

6. Managers are too busy to do annual performance evaluations:  When managers are too busy to find time to give employee’s feedback, it’s time to reevaluate how you are spending your time. The manager’s job is to enable employees in every way possible so the organization can respond to the community’s needs. If managers are too busy to talk with employees about performance, they are probably in the weeds.

Solution: Assess how you are spending your time every day and every week. The best performance 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 with my employees?’

7. Human Resources is always chasing down incomplete evaluations:  When managers complain about doing performance evaluations, and the Human Resources Department is always on evaluation patrol, something is wrong. Traditional, annual performance evaluations, when driven by Human Resources, will always be an administrative chore and not as highly valued as other tasks.

Solution: Performance management is a strategy for achieving organizational goals. Establishing performance expectations and giving feedback is not the job of the Human Resources department. It is the job of every manager. When the performance management process is fully embraced and driven by your city’s leadership team, it has a greater chance of success.

8. Top leaders don’t model the way:  When the top leaders of the organization view themselves as immune to the performance management 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. The study found that organizations experience improved results when senior leaders hold their direct reports accountable for coaching their employees.

Solution: If you are an executive, 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 fill out a performance evaluation form when you don’t use the tool as well, you can bet that the process will backfire.

Cities across the country are using new approaches to performance management to fully engage employees while becoming performance-driven. A culture change can be driven by major systemic shifts. Revising your performance management process so that it is aligned with your organization’s values and strategic plan may be the solution to re-engaging employees in the important work of public service.
You can read also find “Eight Warning Signs Performance Evaluations Are Working Against You” on the Alliance for Innovation  website.  There you can also find other great resources and ideas for transforming local government.

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