NextGen Know-How: How to Deliver a Meaningful Performance Evaluation

November 2017: Vol 40 No 11
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR
Four strategies to make it a positive experience

Glasses sitting on top of a performance rating formThere was only one time in my credit union career that I actually looked forward to receiving my performance appraisal: the year my CEO announced that anyone in a leadership position would no longer be rated on a Likert scale. Instead, executives and managers would receive a written evaluation of their performance. The focus would be on feedback, not ratings or scores. Not only was it a relief to receive a more streamlined evaluation, but it was also easier to give feedback without the distraction of and potential disagreement on the ratings. 

Most leaders hate the performance management process. Meetings, complicated evaluations and tough employee conversations are not how most leaders like to spend their time. So how do you turn a dreaded process into a meaningful, effective and successful approach that actually works?
 
First, remember the purpose of performance evaluations—to provide feedback to employees so they can use the information to improve and work at peak performance. Many organizations have made their evaluations so complex that the true meaning of the evaluation is lost in the process.

Below are four strategies for creating a more meaningful and positive performance evaluation experience.

Keep a log. Documenting performance throughout the year can make your life much easier when it’s time to write evaluations. Keep a running log for each employee to track performance issues, excellent performance and data like progress on goals. A short paragraph with the date will ensure you have a organized list of information you can easily insert into an evaluation. 

Focus on the process, not the event. You’ve heard it before: Nothing in an annual evaluation should ever be a surprise. The best opportunities for performance management are your everyday interactions with employees, so make sure you are scheduling regular coaching sessions and providing meaningful feedback throughout the year. The evaluation meeting should be a recap of what you’ve already discussed. The small actions you take throughout the year will make the process easier, more meaningful and much more effective.

Make it future-focused. One of the worst ways to conduct a performance evaluation meeting is to hand the employee the written evaluation and read it line by line, yet this is what many managers do. It’s ineffective and uncomfortable. Instead of a rehash, spend a short time discussing past accomplishments and any improvements that need to be made, and spend the rest of the time discussing the coming year. Create a dialogue. I recommend giving the employee the written evaluation a few hours before the meeting so she can gather her thoughts and come prepared for the discussion. If you give the employee the evaluation when she walks in the room, she will be focused on the ratings and too preoccupied with digesting the information to have a meaningful dialogue. 

On the written evaluation, include a short summary of those accomplishments and improvements that have been identified over the past year, and then focus most of the remarks on what you would like to see going forward. A helpful phrase is, “In the coming year…” For example, “In the coming year, I would like to see you focus on coaching your employees on a regular basis, so you can develop them to take on more responsibilities. This will allow you to delegate more daily tasks and focus your efforts on strategic projects like implementing the new lending platform.”

Focusing on the future gives the employee more tangible information for improving performance.

Ask questions. To create a meaningful dialogue, ask questions and listen instead of directing the entire meeting. Most evaluation meetings result in the manager talking the whole time and the employee saying very little. The best approach is to make the time interactive by engaging the employee. The questions below could be the framework for an entire evaluation discussion:

  • What do you think were your biggest accomplishments and contributions this past year? 
  • What are some areas you think you need improvement?
  • What types of things can you do next year to improve in these areas?
  • What goals would you like to focus on next year?
  • A year from now, what accomplishments would you like to have achieved?
  • What development opportunities do you want to focus on next year?
  • What can I do to support your efforts?

With proper planning and the right approach, the performance evaluation process can be less painful and more effective for both the manager and the employee. 

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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