How to Make Performance Evaluations Meaningful

Not  So Fast!



Just because there are challenges, doesn’t mean you should stop doing it.

As a fan of professional cycling, I am appalled at the suggestion that the Tour de France is irrelevant because of recent doping scandals. Just because there have been struggles in the past doesn’t mean you have to discount the intent of the effort. My reaction to such a suggestion is the same as the reaction I had to the popular Wall Street Journal article titled “Get Rid of the Performance Review.” When a reader recently reminded me of the article, I read it again and once again thought: “What a bunch of nonsense!” In the article, the author, UCLA professor Dr. Samuel Culbert, offers seven reasons for abolishing performance reviews. I’ve got eight reasons they are critical to the performance of your organization.

1. Performance evaluations facilitate important conversations. The reason performance reviews are met with angst is because managers are not having the conversations they need to have throughout the year. When managers set clear and measurable expectations up front and provide feedback frequently, the evaluation is a productive summary of the employee’s contribution.

2. Performance evaluations reinforce an employee’s value. When there is no formal process to document and recognize an employee’s work, it is unlikely the employee will get the acknowledgement he/she deserves. One way employees interpret their perceived value is based on how seriously the manager approaches the feedback process. The quickest way to say, “you are valued,” is to put thoughtful effort into the annual review.

3. Performance evaluations encourage dialogue. While many organizations struggle to foster high levels of communication in the workplace, the annual review provides at least one opportunity for a focused conversation on performance. Eliminate the annual review and the incentive to communicate about performance vanishes.

4. Performance evaluations lead managers to give feedback. When an organization does not have a systematic approach for providing feedback to employees, managers have no incentive to do so. The best performance management systems hold managers accountable for providing feedback, maintaining performance documentation, and carrying out the performance evaluation. Without a performance evaluation system, it’s unlikely managers will embrace their role as performance coaches.

5. Performance evaluations create a valuable record. Without regular performance evaluations, both the organization and the employee lack a record of performance. Accurate and honest performance evaluations provide a sound defense if the organization is ever challenged on an employment decision. Likewise, employees benefit from having a written summary of their performance. The evaluation document provides a history of the employee’s accomplishments and offers proof of the employee’s performance to future managers both inside and outside of the organization. Without performance evaluations, there is no formal, official record of the employee’s work.

6. Performance evaluations provide the feedback for which employees hunger. Study after study has shown that employees want more, not less feedback from their managers. Without a performance management system, employees will not likely get the direction they are seeking.

7. Performance evaluations foster collaboration. Managers need a mechanism to facilitate work with employees, rather than against them. As said in a reader response to Culbert’s article on, “partnership trumps paternalism.” Used appropriately, the performance evaluation process can provide an opportunity to set goals and targets that drive higher levels of performance, while engaging employees in a conversation about the future.

8. Performance evaluations contribute to better business results. When the performance evaluation process is aligned with the organization’s strategic goals, the outcomes can lead to higher levels of employee engagement, increased productivity, and improved outcomes.

Are performance evaluations the perfect solution? Of course not. Performance evaluations should be designed to support the organization’s objectives while positively driving employee performance. This takes foresight and discipline to implement. However, throwing out the performance evaluation just because it’s been misused in the past is like eliminating the Tour de France because Lance Armstrong and other riders doped in the past. Instead, we must look for ways to redeem the system so that others can benefit from it in the future.



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