When I teach people about becoming a supervisor, I always tell them that they should not do formal evaluations of their staff. I am often met with surprise and concern. Some people believe that evaluations are so necessary that they believe they are required by law.
However, formal evaluations are a great demotivator to staff members. Sure, before the evaluation a staff member will often tell you, “I look forward to an evaluation, it will help me grow.” But they are only saying that because they cannot fathom a situation where someone would find a problem with their work. When someone points out your failings, your first reaction is to be defensive. This creates a difficult situation that has little chance of coming out well. The supervisor is sitting in judgment of the employee and the employee is on the defensive. This is hardly a situation that will end with improved performance.
Using prepared evaluation forms doesn’t help because these forms are just some other person’s idea of what is important, and may not parallel the job that is being evaluated. A few years ago I saw a City of Sandusky, Ohio, evaluation form and started to laugh. It looked like my kindergarten report card, without the stick figures. I checked the bottom of the City form, and sure enough, it was copyrighted the year I was in kindergarten. It had a space to evaluate how neat the employee kept their desk. At least it didn’t seek to evaluate the neatness of their handwriting. Hopefully, the City has updated their form since then.
Decreased productivity through evaluations
I mentioned above that evaluations are demotivators; this is because most employees’ productivity goes down for about two weeks after an evaluation. They become upset with what their supervisor tells them, and it takes a while before they want to work hard again. The most extreme that I have experienced was with a person who was high up in a Fortune 500 corporation, who simply didn’t work for six months after their evaluation.
An alternative to formal evaluation
So, If I don’t like evaluations, but a client company insists that they be done, what do I suggest?
It is easy; most people know what their faults are. It is much easier to admit your own failings than to have someone point them out to you. The supervisor simply has to meet with the employee in a quiet location where they will not be disturbed, and ask the employee, “So how is your work going, any areas that you need to improve?” 99 percent of the employees will tell the supervisor exactly what the supervisor has already seen as a problem, and then the meeting will turn into a true mentoring session, where the supervisor can help by suggesting solutions to the employee’s problems.
Really, talking with an employee once a year is not enough to guarantee a good job product. This would be akin to seeing a toddler hit another toddler and the parent deciding that they will take the issue up with them next year. A supervisor should be around all of the time, and always ready to help if there are problems. The supervisor should tell employees when they have done things well, and when they have done things poorly, within the same week that the good or bad event took place. Continuous little adjustments in performance are what is needed. If something has to be documented, these continuous adjustments can be written down and put in the employee file.
Evaluating employees who are not working well enough
Supervisors who discover that an employee is not working as hard or as well as is desired won’t be able to solve it with an evaluation. These supervisors need to first make sure that they have done everything a good supervisor needs to do. They should ask themselves the following two questions:
1. What did they tell the employee were the requirements of their job?
An auditor for unemployment told me a funny story once. She said she was in a hearing with an employee who had been fired for not coming to work on time. The employee said no one had ever told him that he had to be on time. She asked the supervisor what he had said to the employee the first time he was late. The supervisor said he had said to the employee, “Late night last night?” Somehow the supervisor decided that this conveyed to the employee that they would be fired if they came to work late again.
2. Is someone else giving the employee different instructions?
This problem happens when the employee is supervised by a board or council. Everyone on the board has to agree on the job requirements or the employee will be unable to successfully work.
Once it is clear what the requirements are and what is not getting done, the supervisor should sit down with the employee and discuss what they are looking for. They should then give the employee a time schedule to change their work performance.
Clear job requirements and continuous adjustments; it’s often not that hard. Next week: What to do if an employee simply does not want to work.
For the commentators:
Have you ever had a positive evaluation experience?