Improve Your Employee Evaluations

Dec. 1, 2011
Employee evaluations can strategically strengthen your performance conversation at review time.

Good communication is the lifeblood of a healthy business. Management and employee interactions need constant attention to ensure everyone is on the same page and in good working order.

Regular employee performance evaluations create a framework for in-depth, detailed, one-on-one conversations. Employees need that level of connection with managers, especially in shops that strive for constant improvement. Everybody wants to know how they’re doing—from their supervisor’s perspective—and whether there are issues that need to be addressed so poor work habits don’t continue.

And while business owners and managers generally know that performance evaluations serve a purpose, the process is not exactly something they enjoy, says Jim Webber, an employment law attorney and human resources expert. Shop managers are busy with other work, they hate giving bad news, and useful performance evaluations require time, effort and thought to write.

In addition, many shop operators wait until the end of the year to conduct employee evaluations. They have trouble remembering exactly how their people performed, which makes it difficult to discuss specifics with employees. As a result, the evaluation process becomes more of a formality and less of a valuable human resources tool, Webber says.

Performance evaluations, Webber says, should be a year-round activity rather than an annual occasion. Sound painful? The following six tips make it easy to improve your evaluation techniques. You’ll end up with an easier pathway to providing honest and detailed feedback, fixing problems and assessing goals so your technicians can achieve greater success.

TIP #1  The Proof Is In the Details

The more specific and detailed that managers can get with employee performance feedback, the more helpful and valuable the conversations become, Webber says. Employees need to be told specifically why you’ve ranked them in certain ways, with two or three concrete examples to back it up.

It’s boring to employees when managers simply run through a list of questions and convey rankings in each category. Put down the questionnaire or document you used to develop the evaluation and focus on having an open conversation. Quickly let employees know how they were ranked within each evaluation category and follow it up with details and dialogue.

TIP #2  Record Ongoing Observations

It’s not easy to sit down and recall specific anecdotes to help explain your feedback. Webber suggests conducting weekly, informal feedback sessions with every employee. It doesn’t have to be a scheduled meeting, and can be a quick chat in the hallway. Just make sure to regularly let employees know when they’ve done something well, or when you notice an issue that needs to be fixed.

Create a performance evaluation file for each employee, Webber says. Document the details discussed during those informal feedback sessions within the file, along with any other work behaviors you notice throughout the evaluation period.

That’s information that can be used for your formal evaluation meetings. You will have a long, running list of feedback that has already been conveyed to each employee. That allows you to offer a more specific and detailed evaluation, which elevates the value of doing it, Webber says.

TIP #3  No New News

None of the information conveyed to employees during a performance evaluation should be news to them. Managers should never hold all of their feedback for the day of the formal evaluation.

“Everything discussed during the evaluation should be something that has been brought up before,” Webber says. “The evaluation should be nothing more than a summary of what you’ve been working on and discussing with employees since the previous evaluation.”

TIP #4  Focus on Yesterday, Not Just Today

Shop owners need to remember to evaluate employees on performance over the entire time period since their previous evaluation. Owners have a tendency to only discuss things that happened recently, and forget about things that happened months ago.

“Performance evaluations are like a mural, not a snapshot,” Webber says. “You want to highlight everything that happened within the entire review period, not just where employees stand today.”

For example, say you have a six-month period between performance evaluations that runs January through June. A technician may have had repair quality issues in January that required corrective action.

Managers cannot give that technician an “outstanding” quality score on their evaluation, even if the problem was fixed and the technician actually was outstanding for a majority of the evaluation period. The technician had to be counseled during that time, and it’s important for them to know you remember every aspect of their work habits and behaviors.

“Employees won’t understand that poor behaviors were actually a problem if you choose to ignore issues from earlier in the year,” Webber says.

Make sure to discuss how you noticed the technician correct the problem, and explain that they will score higher on the next evaluation—as long as they retain the good work habits that they currently have, Webber says.

TIP #5  Honesty is Key

Grade inflation is a common misstep when it comes to performance evaluations, Webber says. Employers aren’t always honest about an employee’s true level of performance, and often try to bolster employee confidence by writing evaluations that make them sound better than they really are.

“A lot of employers do that because they feel like their honest feedback will demoralize the employee,” Webber says. “But you’re not being honest when you do that, which doesn’t provide value to you, the employee or your business.”

In the same vein, make sure you’re using the term “satisfactory” appropriately. Webber says business owners often use the “satisfactory” ranking on performance evaluations to mean they want the employee to improve. But in reality, that term means the employee is actually doing OK, and the work they’re performing is acceptable to the supervisor.

“If an employee’s performance is not up to par, you need to say so,” Webber says, without hiding behind the “satisfactory” term.

TIP #6  Separate Performance from Pay

Performance evaluations should be an open dialogue that strictly revolves around how the employee is doing. Keep discussions regarding pay raises separate from the evaluation conversation.

Potential pay raises do tie in with good work performance. But if you discuss both of those topics during the same meeting, employees will be too preoccupied with the salary portion of the discussion to focus on absorbing the feedback you’re conveying to them, Webber says. That compromises the communication value of the evaluation.

Be sure to let your employees know in advance whether the performance evaluation process is also a salary review process. That way, they won’t have any false expectations, Webber says.

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