DIY Performance Evaluations

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I often get requests from clients seeking a performance evaluation form so that they can start a new review process in their workplace.  My response, which always surprises them, is “Forget about the form—what are the goals?”

Performance management has very little to do with the evaluation form and almost everything to do with correct goal-setting and measurement. Here’s a dirty little secret: With the right goals, you can use a home-grown excel spreadsheet or even a plain piece of paper and have an amazing performance evaluation form that will suit all your needs. Conversely, you can also purchase an expensive personal management system and form that will do little to improve performance if you have the wrong goals (or no goals at all).

Bottom line:  Before you spend any money on performance management, here are five steps to developing a great review process that will cost you nothing.

Step 1: Set good goals. Set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. For example:

Customer Satisfaction —Customer service rep will reduce customer complaints from 30 registered customer complaints per quarter to less than 10 per quarter over the next 12 months.

As you can see from this sample goal, it is specific (it specifies the number of registered customer complaints).  It is measurable (reducing from 30 to less than 10 registered complaints).  It is achievable (presumably this employee has control over customer complaints and has the capability of influencing them). The goal is relevant (the issue of customer satisfaction ties in closely with this employee’s job function).  And it is time-bound (this goal must be completed within the next 12 months).

Let’s revisit the issue of measurable goals for a moment.  Often we set goals that are difficult to assess.  “I need you to be better organized,” or “You need to be more responsive.” To make these goals effective, make them measurable. For example, “By June you should have moved entirely into the new performance management system,” or “Starting tomorrow, you will respond to all inquiries within 12 hours.”  These goals can be measured and, importantly, agreed to.

It is also important to ensure that measuring the goal doesn’t create a complex administrative burden to the employee or the company. As best as possible, try to rely on analytics that are already in place. And don’t set a goal about number of calls if the number of calls can’t be tracked.

Step 2: Define success.  The more you can set clear examples of what excellent, satisfactory and unsatisfactory performance is, the better your employees will understand your expectations.  For example, if you have a goal about reducing registered customer complaints, you might set the following standards:

Exceeds ExpectationReduces customer complaints to seven or fewer complaints per quarter

Meets ExpectationReduces customer complaints to 10 per quarter

Fails to Meet ExpectationReduces customer complaints to 15 or more per quarter

By setting these expectations, the customer service rep will know what will exceed your expectations and what failure looks like.

Step 3:  Don’t wait a year to check in. A great deal can happen in a year. Often, when we look back on a performance goal set 12 months prior we discover that the goal is either no longer applicable or a new, more pressing or important goal would make more sense. We recommend that mangers have formal check-ins with their employees every three to six months to make sure the employee is well positioned to succeed.

Step 4:  Consider your incentives. Tying performance goals to merit pay or year-end bonuses is always a great idea because it creates a clear understanding of how performance relates to pay. However, during the recent economic downturn many companies have not been able to afford year-end bonuses or raises. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up on providing an incentive.  Instead, during the goal setting process, identify non-financial incentives that would encourage performance.

Step 5: Don’t forget feedback. All too often managers save conversations about performance for the annual performance review. Unfortunately, performance successes or failures that happened earlier in the year have usually long been forgotten. If you are truly motivated to improve performance, make it a practice to observe and comment on performance every week. And when doing so, make a habit of observing and commenting on all of the good behavior you see. Reinforcing good behavior and performance will ensure you see more of it.

When you really get down to it, managing performance is more about clear communication and open and ongoing feedback and less about process. The form is not important, but the clearly defined expectation of goals and measurements is. But, after considering all of the above, if you truly feel you need a form, give me a call and I’ll send you one.

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as PPAI and their member companies. To learn more, visit www.affinityHRgroup.com.


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