how to make performance evaluations useful to your team

There’s a reason so many people have come to dread performance evaluations: They’re often handled as an obligatory bureaucratic exercise that takes up far more time than they’re worth – if they have any value at all.

But done right, performance evaluations can be truly useful for you and your team. Here’s how.

1. Make it a discussion. If you think the meat of a performance evaluation is the written form you fill out, you’re doing it wrong! Use the form to help you structure your thinking and reflect on how the year has gone, as well as to document your assessment, but the form itself should be a jumping off point for a dialogue between you and the staff member.

2. Think about what the fundamental message is that you want the employee to take away from the evaluation. Imagine that you had to sum up your take on the employee’s performance and what you’d like to see happening going forward in just one or two sentences. What would you say? Being able to distill your core message like that can help you ensure that it comes across – because otherwise it’s easy for the most important takeaway can get lost. For instance, your overall theme might be, “You’re doing a good job on the basics, but I’d like to see you doing more to drive the work forward without relying on me,” or “You’re operating at an outstanding level; keep it up!”

3. Don’t lose sight of what the employee actually achieved. Often in performance evaluations, managers focus so much on soft skills (how the person gets along with others, communication style, etc.) that they neglect to evaluate what results the person delivered. Make sure to keep a significant focus on what your staff member set out to achieve and what they did achieve.

4. Be specific and use examples to illustrate your points, both when praising and when identifying areas for improvement. Managers will often write in generalities, like, “You did a great job revamping the website.” You’ll deliver a lot more information if you instead say something like, “You were incredibly thoughtful about getting buy-in from other teams about the website, and I’ve heard multiple team leads comment on how much easier it is to get information up quickly now.” The same goes when you’re talking about areas for improvement. Don’t just say “work faster” when you could say “I’d like you to all data requests within three days and respond to customer emails within two days.”

5. Talk about the future. A significant part of your evaluation meeting should be spent looking toward the future. What should the employee be working toward in the coming year? What are the benchmarks for success? If you identified areas for improvement in the assessment portion of the evaluation, what concrete steps or improvements do you need to see, and on what timeline?

6. Look at performance evaluations as part of a conversation you’re having on an ongoing basis – not just once a year. Evaluations are an opportunity to step back and reflect in a structured way, but they should be an (admittedly more formal) part of a conversation that you’re having regularly anyway. If you normalize feedback by providing it throughout the year, you’ll likely get better results from your staff members and feel more aligned about where they’re spending their energy, and your staff members will have a clearer understanding of your expectations and feel more supported from you in meeting those expectations.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate Teapot*

    My company does interim reviews, so, during the course of the year, we all have a chance to see whether the targets we set in January are still on track. This also means some targets may need to be amended (e.g. a particular project has been shelved or duties have been changed).

  2. Sharon*

    I think the article was aimed at managers, but I think the number one biggest FAIL for performance reviews come from HR. No offense aimed at HR professionals here. But the reason I say this is the popular trend of forcing large population statistics onto small population departments. Research has shown that in any large group of people, (fake numbers off the top of my head for discussion) 10% will be poor performers, 10% will be top performers, and 80% will be in the middle somewhere. My beef is how so many HR departments force managers to rank their people with this distribution. In reality, it’s perfectly possible for a department of 10 people to have 1 rock star and 10 middle people with no slackers. Or 2 slackers, 2 rock stars and 6 middle people. Forcing managers ding a middle person as a low performer simply to meet the statistical distribution of the larger population is an extremely good way to demoralize good workers.

    No, I haven’t been there. ;-) I once had a (perhaps too) honest manager who told me that since I’d gotten “exceeds expectations” two years in a row, this year he had to rank me as “meets” and let someone else get the prize because he wasn’t allowed to have two people ranked as “exceeds”. Was I motivated to work harder after that? … ummm

    1. Jamie*

      I agree with this – statistical observations for large groups are critical and give us interesting information, but that doesn’t mean it holds true across the macro level. Especially in small teams like you’re describing, because the cost of the slackers is too great to the whole and it’s easier to hand select and nurture a smaller team your odds of having above average people is much greater.

      Disingenuous rankings to been some prescribed categorization would bother me to such a degree I’m not sure it wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Even if I was fine and it didn’t affect my job or promotability, the principle of it is so illogical and galling that might be the hill I’d die on.

      And I do not like grading on a curve.

      1. Kelly L.*

        The same type of statistical mistake used to be used against us in my telemarketing job, long ago. “It’s a numbers game!” they’d tell us. “X percent of people will say yes!” With the corollary that if they didn’t, you were DOIN IT WRONG. Well, maybe, across thousands of people that statistic works, but it was being used to berate us for how many people said no to one caller in, say, one hour.

      2. cuppa*

        Absolutely. And, as a manager, I would hate for my boss to look at my team and say, “well, for every great employee she has, she has one crappy employee, so she’s right on track”. WTF?

        1. Jessa*

          Especially since she should get rid of that one crappy employee. Those bottom feeders should not last long, then what? She has to get rid of a decent employee because OMG she has to have one bad one? NO.

    2. cuppa*

      Yes! Many evaluations require you to compensate for every four with a two, etc. It just frustrates me so much.

    3. HR Manager*

      I’ve never been a fan of the curve either when it is forced on managers, but I do find it a useful exercise in viewing how we trend. So many managers struggle with being honest and quite frankly taking an objective stance on employees (e.g., everyone on my team is superstar, said one director of 8 to me….and no, they were not). Our management team is just as eager to fight review inflation, and it can be great way to see who may have a tendency to do so. If there are too many ‘outstanding’ employees, the executive on the team is very likely to have a conversation to the manager. If the executive is in support of the reviews, there is no pressure to change the rating. If the manager cannot justify it, the executive has a hard long talk about the manager’s expectations. Now not all executives were so thoughtful, but we were surprised how many of them bought into this.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Yes. This problem (demanding a certain percentage be ranked low) probably came about as a way to prevent the opposite problem of everyone being great. It’s possible but not probable once you get to teams larger than 5 that someone has to at least be average ie not everyone can be a superstar.

        Both sides are a problem.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Then you need to do it in the aggregate, not the specific. Anyone that works with statistics knows that you can’t get a Gaussian distribution with a sample size less than 30. That’s the absolute minimum, and even then it can be shifted. Let the numbers drive your analysis, not your expectations drive the numbers.
        While you are at it, do an aggregate analysis based on sex, age, race. Compare aggregate women against aggregate men. The median performance ranking should be the same for a large group. If it isn’t, there are biases at your company. It’s indicative that people are skewing the rankings to favor certain groups of people for success.

        1. Tax Nerd*

          +30 to all of this.

          (Bonus points included for teaching me the term Gaussian distribution and the minimum sample size. My statistics professor wasn’t that useful.)

    4. Artemesia*

      This is a great point. I have worked in settings with a lot of deadwood and in others where there was literally none. In one group of about a dozen, we had 3 or 4 who would be easily seen as ‘the top performer’, real rockstars and then the rest all hard working and competent. Ranking or forcing out the bottom 10% would have been a real moral smasher. Of course another real morale smasher is NOT forcing out the incompetent slackers which I suspect is more commonplace.

    5. Dan*

      My company uses (I should say used) an 10/85/5 distribution. I was shocked to find out about that when I got here. Had I known that, it may very well have been enough to make me take a somewhat inferior alternate offer. (The whole package was too good to pass up.)

      I was thrilled to learn that this week the CEO decided to scrap that particular part of the evals. I work for a non-profit, and during our “employee feedback” sessions, management was taking a lot of flack for low collaboration and the staff not working together as well as we should.

      We told them with performance reviews being competitive, and not all that transparent, it’s against our self-interest to help other people do their jobs better, because it could make them look like stronger performers than we are. Since collaboration isn’t a skill measured at review time, we’d be nuts to actually do it.

      Management got the message and scrapped it. They told us our overall compensation strategy isn’t changing (I get that) but it’s nice to know my department won’t have a sacrificial lamb for the sake of it.

    6. Dan*

      Separate thought, but yeah. The minute you start ranking employees like that, it’s the minute employees see the reviews as a political tool, and they stop caring about them. While that may seem like sour grapes, if you *do* have a system where you rank employees that way, then management starts tailoring the review to fit the ranking they had to give the employee. When you do that, you destroy the value and the morale. (Management will put down the dumbest crap to justify a bad ranking.)

      1. Joey*

        Why? Average is the average and above average is above the average. How can you tell me that average performance is above average?

        What people don’t get (or don’t want to get) is that their performance is relative. If everyone excels that becomes average. It’s not that hard to understand really. It’s an incentive to out perform everyone else, not just outperform the written expectations. That’s where managers go wrong. They don’t realize or explain that if everyone’s an all star that becomes average.

        1. Judy*

          An incentive to outperform everyone else tends to lead to lack of collaboration between people and groups.

          Also, if you are forced to place 10% of your employees on PIPs, and enforce it on groups as small as 4 people, that’s an issue to me. Unless you are deliberately hiring cannon fodder to sacrifice.

        2. Kelly L.*

          So don’t call it average and above average, call it meets and exceeds expectations or whatever. The point is, people are doing satisfactory work that meets the needs of the business and that their immediate supervisors are happy with, and they’re getting reprimanded or fired because someone higher up doesn’t understand how statistics work.

    7. Jenna*

      We had a ranking on sections, and the numbers went from 1 to 5, except that 5s had to be extensively justified to management, and limited in number. Pretty much no one got a 5 on any section ever. 4s were rationed carefully as well.
      And probably I only know this because my manager was more honest with me than the bosses wanted.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That turns in to a boss who is more concerned about where to put his allotment of 4s than a boss that is concerned about doing a proactive evaluation.

        A friend worked for a company that used this method. This combined with other problems led the work group to believe the company was a joke. Evaluation time was very stressful. An employee could work 70 to 80 hours per week, be a go-to person and the eval said that they were an average worker.

    8. Lefty*

      I had the same experience. My review contained a criticism of work on a project that I did not work on. I pointed out that it belonged in my co-worker’s review since that was her project and the action cited was something everyone knew she had done. He told me he had to put something in mine to bring it down a few points because I had gotten the highest ranking the last 2 years in a row and it was someone else’s turn this year.

      I went from being a full on rockstar to an average employee that same day. I decided that if they were going to pay me for being average the next 2 years, I would give them an average performance so that they could see the difference. I started looking to leave that same week and was gone a year later – after nearly 20 years at the company. Revenge is sweet though. I went back to visit and got to meet the 3 (count ’em – 3) people they replaced me with.

      That whole system is idiotic and will run off your high performers faster than anything.

    9. JBArtistic*

      AMEN! After spending two weeks carefully completing evaluations for our team of shared resources our boss came to us (the managers) and said that corporate had rejected our submission because it didn’t match the stacked ranking.

      We’re consultants, we fire poor performers because our clients would fire us if we kept them.

      We all felt so dejected about how meaningless the whole thing was.

    10. Bea W*

      Everyone at my work gets put in the middle square on the grid. I’m not sure if it’s possible to exceed expectations or if the expectation is that everyone just work their tails off as the default behavior. It’s really not motivating, and i say that as a person who is mostly self-motivated.

    11. Chris*

      Yes, yes, yes! I was really excited to get the highest rating of “outstanding” this year, but during my review my manager told me that I had basically zero chance of getting it again next year because it just isn’t given to the same person two years in a row. Geez, how inspiring.

  3. Dasha*

    Kind of a random thought… I once worked for a company that did performance evaluations and they had a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being excellent) but during my evaluation they said they never under any circumstances gave out 5’s. It always rubbed me the wrong way, I guess I always took it as no matter how great you did you were never excellent in their eyes? What was the point of doing a stellar job if you were always going to get an average review? Maybe I was over thinking it.

    1. Melly*

      My last company did this too. It wasn’t a “never under any circumstances” thing but it was a “most people are average” thing. Which is true. Granted, it was a union situation where true poor performers were safe, and we had a limited salary step program so no one, good or bad, would get a raise after a certain ceiling, so there were bigger issues related to performance than that policy on the evals. Sigggh, glad I’m out of there.

    2. Kai*

      I wonder if it was supposed to be a motivational technique, like trying to get everyone to strive for #5 (even if it was unrealistic that they could ever achieve it). But yeah, I agree that that’s lame. If someone is doing an amazing job that should be reflected.

      1. Dan*

        The problem is, most of the time, management can’t really articulate what you have to do to get a five. A lot of times, it’s “I know when I see it, but I won’t know it until I see it either.”

      2. Bea W*

        It’s a terrible motivation technique. If you’re told it’s impossible to get a 5 and that you’ll always be scored in the middle, there’s no incentive to try for 5.

    3. Meg Murry*

      I worked for a company that almost never gave out 5s in our division, but that was also because they had a laddered title system, so if someone was a straight 4 performer, they were put on the track to be promoted from Chocolate Teapot Researcher II to Researcher III. According to our HR, 5s were really only common in positions that had maxed out their promotion potential, like our top level technicians that couldn’t go up to the next level without a degree.

    4. Mike B.*

      At my company they replaced the scale of 1-5 with 1-3 a few years ago because they didn’t see the point in providing that range. Few people were ever considered deserving of 5’s, and by the time someone had earned a 1 they had usually been shown the door.

  4. Melly*

    I don’t know if people will hate this, but my last boss had us do self-evaluations. We filled out the form for ourselves and sent to her a few days before the meeting. She also filled out the form “formally”. I found it a really good opportunity to remind her of what I had accomplished and what things were high on my radar, but perhaps not hers. Granted, I had a good working relationship with her and we sort of had a similar style of management. When I tried this with my 2 employees it sort of failed for different reasons.

    1. cuppa*

      We require this, too. I like it because I think it creates buy-in and helps you remind your manager of all of your accomplishments for the year. It also gives you a good scope of how seriously they are taking the review process/their job. It never fails that the low performers make passive-aggressive comments or write “yes, I do that” under every responsibility.

    2. CTO*

      Most, if not all, of my jobs have included some kind of self-evaluation in the performance review. I really enjoy the opportunity to look back over the year, both for my own reflection as well as to remind my boss of my accomplishments. It’s also a good opportunity to think about growth areas and goals that I can ask for my boss’ support with.

    3. Jamie*

      I think this makes a lot of sense. It’s helpful to know if you and your boss are on the same page.

      My first eval I did this and I only focused on everything I had needed to improve and mistakes, etc. My bosses was highly positive and he had a talk with me about unrealistic expectations and not taking personal responsibility for things that were out of my control. (e.g. I had on there that I was always late publishing a certain report and on my list of things to improve. He said I was never late to my issues, I was always late because Jane never got me the numbers I needed until after the report was due. That was on her needs to improve, not mine.)

      He also told me that if I want to take the blame for everything other people screw up the world is full of people happy to let me do that. And to knock it off right now.

      He had me redo with “100% less hairshirt” because he refused to turn my version into corporate where it would hurt my reputation.

      Best boss anyone could have for a first job ever – seriously – without him I don’t know where my career would have gone, but not where it is now that’s for sure.

      Now I always write up my own – we don’t have forms – and my boss and I go through it. He’s never had anything that needs improving that I didn’t already have on mine – and he usually exes off a bunch of mine saying it’s not a priority and I’m performing fine and improvement in X won’t help as much as focusing on Y.

      (He always has the same needs improvement for me, but its the same as everyone on his team and he admits he’s just as guilty. He hires people who are very similar to himself in work style and is then surprised that we all have the same weaknesses.)

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Navigating the cultural differences between employers can be really hard – I’ve worked somewhere where they expected “hairshirt” (love that!) self-evaluations like your first version, then moved somewhere where they wanted you to focus on the positives. Luckily my manager in the second place let me re-do my initial self-eval so I didn’t mark myself so harshly! (e.g. she said that putting “most of the time” for one item because I didn’t do it that one time in March was ridiculous and I should put “all of the time” because I’d done it dozens of other times that year. I still disagree with that one on a semantic level!)

    4. Hooptie*

      Agree completely. A former boss told me a long time ago that the review should be a 50/50 responsibility split between him and me. It was my job to keep him updated on my accomplishments and where I need help, his job to go to bat for me. He said to look at my self-review as an opportunity to document why I deserved a raise that year, or whether I should be considered for a title change or a promotion. I always send my self-review to my boss well ahead of my actual review to ‘remind’ him of what I’ve done during the year.

    5. Cath in Canada*

      We do that too – we rank ourselves on various metrics, then our manager ranks us, then we sit down together and look at where the discrepancies are. It’s actually one of the more immediately useful parts of the process.

    6. Windchime*

      We have to do self-evals too. Our boss takes our self-evals, combines it with evals of team members and other people that we work with, and the boss’ own feedback and that stuff all combined becomes the annual review. Like Melly says, I use it as a way to remind my boss of all the cool stuff I’ve done over the year. Hey, this is the time to blow my own horn because it may affect how big a raise I get.

  5. Jenny*

    Great list. I’d also add that supervisors should figure out some really good questions that can figure out any problems or issues. My current boss likes to constantly ask a self-deprecating “What do you hate about me? Ha ha ha” question at the end of the reviews. Or “Do you have any problems with me? Am I the worst boss you’ve ever had? Ha ha ha ha ha.”

    He’s not the worst boss I’ve ever had but he’s not the best and there are some things I need from him and I wish he’d take it more seriously and ask things like “What can I do to help you be successful?” or “Is there anything you’d like to adjust in our regular communications?”

    Just take it seriously.

    1. Sascha*

      Oh yes, those types of questions are awful. I would be too nervous to respond honestly, because it sounds like he’s really just fishing for compliments, and would get upset if I said anything negative.

  6. Jamie*

    Out of curiosity do most companies do these end of year, or on anniversary? Almost everywhere I’ve worked does them end of year, which means managers are rushing to get through everyone in a short period of time – anniversary makes much more sense to me as they are spread out over the course of the year.

    1. cuppa*

      We do ours at the end of the year, and it is tough for me. I want to write thoughtful comments for everyone, but it gets so hard to say original things after writing the tenth evaluation. Sometimes, the poor performers are easier to write because there’s more original things to say and the goals are easier to articulate, which I hate.

    2. Jake*

      We don’t do them at my current employer, but at last job with large company our evaluation was based on the last digit of your employee id number. 84206 was mine, so June was my evaluation month.

      It kept the system from being bogged down with everybody doing it at the same time.

    3. The Wall of Creativity*

      Spereading reviews throughout the year is barking if pay rises are linked to them. Either pay rises have to be scattered throughout the year or some people will be waiiting a long time between review and pay rise.

      Obviously not an issue if nobody ever gets a pay rise.

      1. AcademicAnon*

        Same here, and since I work for a university it’s often the only time of the year some people can take vacation.

    4. Apple22over7*

      Ours does it yearly in a cascading fashion. The organisation’s yearly review takes place in August with a final copy distributed to board members in early September. From there, the CEO has his review with the board, the Deputy CEO has her review with the CEO, the senior managers then have their reviews with the deputy, the senior managers then hold reviews for their staff, and so it cascades down. It apparently works really well, because it means everyone’s review is focussed & measured on the organisation’s goals – how has the organisation performed in the past 12 months and how you as an employee have contributed to that, as well as where the organisation is headed and how you can continue to contribute.

      I say apparently works well – I’m having my first such review coming up soon (oddly it will also be around my hiring anniversary, but this is coincidental) and I’ll see how well it works in practise, but I like the idea.

    5. Natalie*

      Ours are done in the summer, because they are used to determine raises and bonuses which are paid in early fall.

      1. Ali*

        I have one every 3-6 weeks. I’m a website editor and we do a high volume of work so we do check ins where our boss just says what was good, what wasn’t and what to work on.

        However, we do a self evaluation which goes in our manager’s notes at the end of the year.

        I honestly hate having reviews so often. It feels too bitpicky and my last one wasn’t great, so I was my own worst enemy for a day or so.

    6. Bluberry*

      We get our goals in March and are evaluated in Oct. This is considered a full year review…and no, the goals are not adjusted to make up for the shortened time frame.

    7. Jennifer*

      We do end of fiscal/academic year, partly because they factor into bonuses, partly because for a majority of departments, goals and projects are defined on a FY/AY basis. Also, when we discussed possibly moving to anniversary date, there were a lot of objections from managers who felt it was much easier to be consistent in evaluating performance of employees in same/similar jobs if they were doing the whole group at once.

    8. Bend & Snap*

      My large, global companies does all employee evaluations within the same 2 week period. I’ve never worked at a place that does this before.

    9. Jillociraptor*

      We have a six-month period where you can do them whenever you’re ready. Basically all the materials are available in January and have to be submitted by the end of the fiscal (which is June 1). Of course most people do them in May, but you have plenty of runway should you decide to plan ahead!

    10. Hooptie*

      Our are done at end of year as well, which I hate because the labor budget is started in October but not finalized until January. So you can’t pair a review with a true wage evaluation, which makes it hard to tie in why someone did or did not get a raise or even the percentage they were expecting.

    11. KC*

      Both companies I worked at where they did anniversaries ultimately switched to annual reviews. I preferred the anniversary model as an employee–it assured that my first year was actually a year of my work, that my manager wasn’t so overwhelmed with other reviews that there wasn’t much care put into mine, etc. The reason the company changed it to annual was to help HR and Managers manage their load. A lot of times, HR and Managers lost track of when reviews were coming up for individuals, and when it came to increases, harder to budget for (this is what they claimed). The switch from anniversary to standard annual review also coincided with the time when the companies increased from ~300 to ~400 employees rapidly over the course of a year or so.

      My current company is about 12,000 employees and they follow an annual review cycle and a twice a year promotion cycle. During promotions, candidates put forward for promotion are ranked against other people up for promotion in their discipline across the entire company (not just one’s home office). The top-ranked are given the promotions. So, if there’s only budget for one increase in a particular discipline, only that top-ranked employee will get a promotion and increase (even if there are 10 well-deserving candidates).

    12. Karowen*

      These replies are so weird to me – it never occurred to me that there were companies that did them at the end of the year! Ours are done on our anniversary date. How you do on your review does affect your raise (including whether you get one), but raises are done twice a year – so if your review is in the first half of the year and you get a raise, it goes into effect in like September, if your review is the second half of the year it goes into effect in March. Something like that.

      1. Laura*

        As far as I understand it (and I am _not_ in finance or at the level where I’d see it directly), our company sets budget $X for raises. Then at the start of the fiscal year, everyone gets evaluated in a one-month period. Then they get raises out of the $X pool, evaluating relative merit/market value/promotional issues. If they weren’t all evaluated at once – if it were hire date – then there might be issues with the pool being empty when someone got a really stellar review near the end of the year.

      2. Windchime*

        Ours are done on (or around) our anniversary date. If the boss is late with the review and there is a raise, it is retroactive to the employee’s anniversary date.

    13. Anonymously Anony*

      Ours are done at the end of the fiscal year and raises(usually only COLA) are tied to them but we can get step raises that can happen throughout the year if we complete certain certifications.

    14. Bea W*

      Annual at the end of the year usually with the employee self eval coming due beginning of Dec. Last year with late Thanksgiving, that really borked up my schedule. I would normally have a full week left in Nov after the holiday, but that time (this year also). Mid-year reviews start July. The whole process is pretty thorough and takes weeks-full month to complete.

      And for all that trouble we all get rated as “meets expectations” and get what some people jokingly refer to as “pay cuts” because raises under the new regime don’t keep pace with cost of living. I wish it were all a bit less painful.

  7. KerryOwl*

    I’ve been at this job for seven years and have had two (2) evaluations, the last one probably 4 or 5 years ago. They don’t have money to give out raises, so they don’t prioritize finding the time to do evaluations. And there’s otherwise very little feedback given at all. (And when it is, it’s negative. I haven’t had an “attaboy” from an actual supervisor in . . . ever?)

    I am tempted to forward a link to this article to my bosses, but I’m not sure how they’d take it.

  8. Totally Anon*

    My current organization’s review system is such a time-suck. We do self-evaluations in January, supervisors review their staff in February and March, and formal performance goals are set at the end of March. You’re supposed to have two meetings with every employee, one for the evaluation and one for the goals. Then in June-July we have to do a mid-year review.

    I have a staff of about 30, so with all that I’m sending in about 300 – 600 pages of evaluation paperwork each year! Not to mention all the meeting time.

    I’m all for honest conversations with staff, and I don’t think all of the steps are worthless — but it would be so much easier if I could use my discretion as a manager to shortcut the paperwork. It’s basically all I do for 4 months of the year so I can’t do my actual job!

  9. Jamie*

    One thing I don’t like is when companies tie them to raises. I know a lot of companies where you only get a review when you’re getting a raise, so it’s Pavlovian, they know this and then don’t do them if that person isn’t getting a raise.

    Reviews are important regardless, and I would say especially if the reasons someone isn’t getting a raise is based on merit all the more reason to sit down and go over performance and expectations.

    But once they get into the “review ends with raise amount” pattern it’s hard to break out of it without people getting weird and pissy.

  10. C Average*

    I’m not even a manager, and I hate evaluations SO much. Such a pointless time suck.

    I wish they were like report cards. One page, front and back, tops. Lots of white space. A clear grade in each area. A GPA based on those grades.

    “C Average gets an A in composition, a B in mathematics, an A- in computer science, a C in citizenship, a C in P.E., an A in science. She needs to participate more in class discussions. Her reading and writing skills are quite advanced, but her social skills suggest developmental delays.”

    Then you’d have the equivalent of a parent/teacher conference. Half an hour tops.

    “C Average is a great kid! I really enjoy having her in my class. But I worry that she spends too much time gazing out the window at the squirrels and not enough time engaged in her schoolwork. She also has expressed that she dislikes art class. I’d like to work with her on more constructive ways to express herself about the aspects of school that don’t appeal to her. Also, she plays by herself at recess, which I suppose is fine, but I’d like to see her make some friends.”

    1. Jamie*

      I would SO vote for the report card format.

      And if that’s a sample of report card comments your teachers liked you a whole lot more than mine did me.

      If they had macros back then would have saved them a ton of time: “She is not working up to her potential.”

      Rinse and repeat K-8.

        1. Bea W*

          Always “not working to potential” while not being given the oppurtunities and environment that would have allowed that. Lose-Lose. This is on the short list of “Reasons I’m a High School Drop Out”.

      1. C Average*

        Haha, no, it’s what I imagine my boss would say about me now!

        In grade school, it was pretty much all kittens and rainbows. I was a good kid, I did all my work, I got good grades, I pretty much played well with others. My only downfall was my class-clown tendencies (which I usually saved for recess and the bus) and my tragic clumsiness (which was only a problem in PE).

        I started getting the “she’s not working up to potential” in junior high and high school math and science classes. PE continued to be a character-building experience devoid of successful outcomes. My English and history teachers pretty much ran out of superlatives for me. My poor sister, seven years my junior, said they were STILL talking about me when she was in school.

        I was and remain a creature of distinctive but very narrow talents.

    2. Totally Anon*

      Man, I really wish I could get away with that! For part-time customer service staff, that’s really all they need!

  11. Rebecca*

    I haven’t had an evaluation since 2010, before our company was purchased by another company. Now, I find out I’m doing something wrong when I get a gotcha email from a manager someplace. With no evaluations, and only negative feedback, I’m just not motivated any longer. Now, evaluations are tied to merit increases. No evaluations = no merit increases. No COLA increases either. And sorry, “you should be glad to have a job in this economy” isn’t really encouraging.

    I want to add prior to this new procedure, I worked really hard to make improvements, streamlined processes, and could show measurable cost savings and invoice deduction recovery, and was awarded merit increases regularly to reward my hard work. Now, my pay goes down each year as insurance copays go up. For the life of me, I don’t understand how this company expects people to work here long term.

  12. Student*

    Alison, if you get an opportunity, I would find an article on “How to GIVE good feedback for a performance review” focused on peon (as opposed to manager) input , to management, on the peon’s co-workers.

    My company asks for input from co-workers as part of our formal, yearly evaluations. They have us give names of people we work with (and management selects additional people), the co-workers goes to a form on a website and fills out their review of us, and then management takes that into account for reviews.

    I’m always stumped as to what king of feedback is actually useful to managers in that form when I fill it out for my co-workers. I know they like hearing about major positive accomplishments. I don’t know what other kind of feedback is appropriate or useful to management in that context, though.

    1. Hooptie*

      If it helps, I tell my staff I’m looking for their perspective of overall performance combined with the Three C’s – Cooperation, Collaboration, and Communication. Examples are extremely helpful too.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Try to be specific as opposed to general. “OK” means different things to different people.
      Distinguish between trends Vs single incidents. People may have one bad incident but that usually doesn’t make it into the eval unless it is egregious. If you mention a bad day, the supervisor will think it is every day.
      Stick to the facts. “Sam usually waits 3 days to turn around my request” is fact based. “Sam dilly-dallies” is not.
      There should be both positives and negatives unless the person is a basket case.

  13. Jenny Next*

    Re #3: Our organization has gone to evaluating us on so-called “Core Competencies”, which are about communicating well, playing well with others, promoting diversity, etc. Our raises are based solely on how well we are rated on these items.

    I don’t deny that people have to have these soft skills, but I’m not even bothering to turn in a self-evaluation this year, because it’s so demotivating not to be rated — and rewarded — on what I contribute to our group. It’s quite clear that no one involved in creating this evaluation system has any idea of what people in my job title actually do. In fact, all the descriptions of what constitutes “excellent” seem to apply to supervisors only.

    (This is the last of many straws revolving around raises having nothing to do with performance, and I have already given notice that I’m leaving.)

  14. Cath in Canada*

    “If you think the meat of a performance evaluation is the written form you fill out, you’re doing it wrong!”

    This is especially true when the standard form doesn’t match your job description. I work for a research unit within a massive healthcare delivery organisation, and every single non-union employee who works for the umbrella organisation has to fill in the same evaluation form. Parts of it are relevant to any job, but there are whole sections related to how the employee interacts with patients, how well they adhere to patient safety regulations, and other stuff that doesn’t affect me at all (I occasionally have a meeting in our clinical building, and I sometimes hold the elevator for patients, so I guess I exceed expectations?). In my former research department the performance evaluation just followed the form; in my current department the form is definitely secondary to the actual conversation with your manager. It makes a big difference to how useful the exercise feels.

    1. Anonymously Anony*

      It also makes a big difference if they try to use the information against you. My performance evaluation was similar except we didn’t have to fill in parts that didn’t pertain to our job duties. Then they tried to switch the forms and eval system — to hold us lower levels employee responsible for what is clearly management duties because we are a “team”. I spoke up quickly and said if they are in charge in planning and writing and I’m in charge of carrying it out– i do not want to get penalized for their failure. Esp if i not getting paid to have that title of a planner. Anyway we lower levels have kept our same forms without the extra stuff.

  15. Jake*

    My first job’s was useless because I got so much feedback so regularly, that an actual review period was just 30-45 minutes of hearing exactly what I heard on a regular basis. My new job is the opposite, no regular feedback and no performance review.

    I greatly preferred the first system.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    If I ever meet a manager who was doing any of these things, I would fall over in shock.
    Two jobs ago, we were supposed to have frequent reviews once a month or so. I had two in a three year period. Why? Because I would not chase the boss around and BEG for a review. He would talk about something that I had done wrong eons ago and he had already mentioned numerous times, then launch into all the new plans the company had in the pipeline.
    This current job there is absolutely no time for reviews. My boss just tells me “do it this way” or “don’t ever do it that way again”. Point taken, we move on.

    1. Chris80*

      It’s the same at my current company. We’re supposed to get yearly performance reviews, but don’t get them unless we beg for it…and even then it often doesn’t happen. I haven’t had one in over 3 years, and have pretty much given up on *ever* getting another one at this point.

  17. RecruiterM*

    At one company I worked a number of old-timers, who basically created the company’s flagship product, just flat out refused to participate in those evaluations. They were OK with not getting bonuses and getting just a minimal raise – it was so not worth it for them to waste time on the process that made no sense whatsoever.

  18. Anonymously Anony*

    This might be a little off topic but has anyone experienced their company trying to give everyone the same evaluation despite being a manager or low level worker? Last year, my company tried to “even” the playing field amongst employees and switch our evaluation to this stupid number ranking. I spoke up against it because I do not have the same job duties as a manager.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I had that happen on one program I worked on. Everyone was rated on value to the group, from the lowest new hire to the director and VP. Obviously the VP and managers scored higher in value and performance rating. It didn’t matter if you did a great job at your own job category.
      Except…. our companies performance rating guidelines were online and they specifically said you would be ranked by job class. So junior engineers were supposed to be compared against other junior engineers, senior against senior, etc. I made screen shots of the policy and emailed corporate. That was the last year for “most important” rankings. The next year several managers received low rankings (as they should have) when they didn’t perform. They were pretty shook up by it.
      And I got a target put on me by our division’s HR. They were not happy even though I had talked to them previously about following written policy.

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