It’s that time of year again when many managers are doing employee evaluations. I don’t know anyone who really enjoys this exercise. Not that an annual evaluation isn’t important – it is. But the process is often artificial, contrived, and provides little in the way of honest, actionable feedback. More often, it is used as a way to promote people (or deny promotions); to set raises and determine bonus amounts. HR uses the evaluations to slot an employee into what is called a 9-Box https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatsa9boxgridandhowcananhrdepartmentuseit.aspx. This tool is used for lots of things: succession planning, raises, bonuses, promotions, additional training, etc. The 9-box results are generally kept secret from employees (ironic, isn’t it?).
As a manager, there are a few things to remember about evaluations in general and feedback in particular:
Feedback should always be timely. Don’t wait several months to tell an employee they made a mistake (or, conversely, that they did something great). Feedback should be provided at the point it will have the most impact.
If you think an employee has the potential to be promoted, have the conversation with them. Are they interested? Does the promotion you have in mind align with their interests and career goals? What responsibilities will the new role entail? What do they have to do to earn the promotion? How will you support their advancement? And how will you support them in a new role?
Nothing in an evaluation should ever be a surprise. The annual evaluation should be a recap of conversations you have had with your subordinates throughout the year. It is an affirmation and re-confirmation of prior discussions. If they are surprised by the feedback, then *you* have not done your job as a manager. The annual evaluation is not the time to play “Gotcha!” or the one time per year where you are forced to have a difficult conversation with an employee. If you can’t have periodic conversations with subordinates about their performance then you aren’t doing your job.
Some managers like to do positive evaluations over lunch or dinner. Negative ones are held in an office or conference room. Don’t do this. It smacks of favoritism. Treat all your employees evenly, otherwise, they will sense the disparity.
An evaluation needs to be informative and evenhanded. Cite specific examples when asking for a change in behavior or practice. Ideally, this should be a recap of conversations you have already had, so also point out where you have noticed positive changes, and also where things could still use improvement.
Never be angry or effusive. Sometimes your employees make you look bad. Sometimes you make your boss look bad. That is part of being a boss. You knew the job was dangerous when you accepted it. If you receive a less-than-positive evaluation do not take revenge out on your employees.
A team lunch is a generally good idea. It lets you all get together and enjoy a bit of camaraderie. Don’t use a birthday or other personal event as an excuse for the lunch, otherwise everyone will expect it. Just have lunch.
Don’t wait until the last minute to do an evaluation. Take notes throughout the year and keep them somewhere handy (like in the folder marked “evaluation info”). It is easy to forget that amazing thing someone did only 2 months after the last evaluation. And, since you provided timely feedback, that is the time to make a note of it and file it away.
Remember, at the end of the day, an evaluation is just one tool you are using to help your people on their career journey. See it from that perspective and use it effectively.