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Having served in a supervisory or management position for nearly 20 years at a wide spectrum of companies ranging from small to gargantuan, I believe I have experienced just about every employee performance evaluation method imaginable. Improvements have been made over the years to the tools and methodology of measuring and documenting employee performance. One thing has remained constant however—the awkward and tension-filled one-on-one performance appraisal meeting.
So what have I learned over the past two decades and through countless performance evaluation interviews? Below is a list of 12 performance evaluation meeting do’s and don’ts that will help performance appraisal meetings be productive and effective. The overriding theme is that your ongoing involvement, as a manager, is the most critical success factor—not the process, tools, or technology used to document and measure performance.
- Do make sure the employee is aware how, and on what criteria they are being evaluated. Employees should understand and have documentation available to them during the evaluation period that states what defines a successful performance. They should understand when and how they will be evaluated. Meet with employees early in the evaluation period to agree on performance objectives and development goals for the year. It is important to make sure goals are written to be measurable. Review goals with the employee a few months prior to the evaluation and modify as necessary to reflect shifting priorities during the year.
- Do keep performance notes on your staff. Save emails or other correspondence that document good or bad performance. Solicit input from other employees that interact on a regular basis with the employee being evaluated. Keep notes on when activities were completed, circumstances of absences or disciplinary actions. Keeping notes allows you to include dates, names, and project details in your performance documentation that demonstrates awareness and involvement.
- Do allow employees to evaluate their own performance. Provide blank review documentation to employees and ask them to rate their performance using the same criteria you will be using. Most employees appreciate being involved in the process. This will provide a first hand source of factual input relevant to the employee’s performance and also alert you to any perception gaps in performance ratings.
- Do show respect to the employee by being prepared. Send a clear signal to each of your staff that this meeting is important. Know when each employee’s appraisal is scheduled to occur. Start documentation several weeks in advance. Schedule the meeting at least a week in advance at a time convenient for the employee. If you don’t have a private office in which to conduct the meeting, reserve a private conference room. Have all documentation completed with a copy for the employee. Most importantly, don’t postpone or reschedule the meeting because of your schedule unless it is ABSOLUTELY unavoidable.
- Do treat the meeting as a focused business meeting. Small talk is fine to break the ice but do not bring up topics that can divert the focus of the meeting. Do not mix in a social element such as going offsite to lunch, or an after work happy hour to conduct an evaluation. If you want to show appreciation to an employee for their performance, invite them to go to lunch with you at a future time. Finally do not gossip, or talk negatively about other employees. If you talk this way about other employees what is the message you are sending to this employee?
- Don’t seat yourself in a position to be between the employee and the door. This may seem trivial, but this is advice I received from an HR mentor many years ago and it has served me well to create a relaxed, non threatening environment.
- Don’t wait until, or use the appraisal meeting to inform an employee of unsatisfactory performance requiring disciplinary action. While there may be differences of opinion between a manager and an employee related to performance ratings, there should not be any surprises during the meeting. Performance issues requiring oral reprimand, written warnings or disciplinary action must be addressed and documented in a timely manner relative to their occurrence. If you are concerned about how the meeting will go when a particularly thorny issue is brought up, invite a representative from HR to attend the meeting as a calming agent and witness.
- Don’t wait until the end of the meeting to inform an employee of their merit increase. Communicating merit increase information about midway through in the meeting helps ease tensions and create a more collaborative atmosphere for open communication. If you hold this information until the end as some sort of grand finale, the employee is less engaged and just wants to ‘get it over with’ to find out how much of a raise they are getting. Always let the employee know the date their new pay rate will be effective. If the rating warrants a low or no increase, build your case to point out unsatisfactory performance and justify the decision.
- Do be careful what you write. A performance evaluation is an important document that can, and often is, used as evidence in employment related grievances or legal proceedings. It is important that you include only relevant performance related objective information. Do not include humorous anecdotes, personal information or judgmental statements. Above all avoid offensive or discriminatory language. Do not omit information because it may be uncomfortable to discuss or potentially contentious.
- Don’t debate. Keep control of the meeting and reign in discussion. As the manager you have the final word and if you have been fair in your assessment you must stand by your rating. If the employee presents new information, thank them for bringing it to your attention, request documentation, and inform him/her that you will consider this information, and if warranted, make an adjustment. Do not commit to making any adjustments to the evaluation rating.
- Don’t do the majority of the talking. The best way to receive no productive feedback from an employee is to read the evaluation word for word. You want to ask questions, encourage discussion, and get employees talking. Typically, I provide a copy of the evaluation to the employee prior to the meeting and ask them to read it over. I start the meeting by paraphrasing overall performance in a positive and supportive manner and explain that the remainder of the meeting will focus on accomplishments, areas of concern, and setting future goals. Encourage employees to share their thoughts and suggestions. Be open-minded and look for opportunities for improvement. Always keep conversations confidential.
- Do require that the employee sign and return the evaluation by a specific date. Understand that an employee has the right to disagree with your assessment. If this has not happened to you yet, it will. When this happens, handle the situation professionally. Do not allow employees to write or comment on the appraisal document (unless there is space specifically for this purpose). Ask them to write their comments on a separate piece of paper and in the signature area (they are still required to sign the document) include a notation regarding the disagreement and attachment.