Designing a Performance Evaluation for the First Time

  • March 19, 2019

Performance Evaluations can be tough to create, especially for the first time. If building off of a process that’s already in place, it’s easy to identify holes and areas of improvement to continue working towards a performance evaluation process that works for your organization’s culture and goals. However, building one from scratch can be significantly harder. Other than the obvious suggestion to remember that this process is iterative and can continue to be improved upon, the closer that you can get to an end result the first time around will help to ensure consistency over the years when evaluating an employee that has been around for that whole time.

We’re going to outline a few things to consider when building out your Performance Evaluation process for the first time to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that other businesses commonly have to address.

Set Timelines

First things first, establishing timelines is important. For employees to better understand when they will be reviewed and what those reviews will have an impact over (raise, promotion, etc.), this can help ease a new or existing employee into the expectations set by the company. This should be introduced as soon as an employee is hired, and maybe in certain cases discussed during the interview process. Conversations surrounding timelines should highlight when a review will be taking place, what will be covered, and the impact that it will have on an employee. This will allow employees to put their best foot forward on Day 1 - not to mention help them understand the company’s priorities when it comes to performance and what is expected of each individual contributor.

Another important aspect to consider when setting timelines for reviews is how long will an employee go in between review cycles. Many companies choose to review employees more regularly in favor of correcting problematic behavior before it has outstanding negative repercussions, but also because documented, consistent, feedback can lead to better results and an easier conversation when money and promotions are involved.

An example of different frequencies for reviews that may be helpful to establish within your organization could look something like this:

  1. Quarterly: Review Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) with an employee to establish quarterly goals and review past performance against quarterly goals.

  2. Weekly: Check-In on how employees are doing in comparison to set goals.

  3. Immediate: Praise and quick constructive criticism that is timely and helps an employee feel validated in performance or nudges them back on the right path for continued work.

While there is no set time frame that has come out as most effective, developing a timeline like the one above can be helpful in setting an employee up for the greatest chance for success in their position. Not to mention combat the Recency Effect. The Recency Effect, in performance management, says that reviewers will over-compensate for recent performance over performance overall. For example, if Suzie is doing really well in the recent weeks leading up to her yearly review, it can be difficult for her manager to remember that for most of the year she was struggling and that may need to be pointed out.

Define Objectives

Depending on your organization’s structure, your industry, or plenty of other factors - defining the objectives for each employee can be a cumbersome process. One thing to keep top of mind is that what works in one situation, may not work in another. For example, measuring technical knowledge about software and development for a software engineer aligns well with their job description, whereas measuring the same objective for a marketing manager may not be.

There are two ways to approach this particular dilemma:

  1. Create general objectives and attributes to measure all employees against. Think of these like soft skills that you are interested in each one of your employees demonstrating competence in: time management, thought leadership, prioritization, completing projects on schedule, etc.

  2. Create specific attributes for the job. This would look like measuring competencies that are tailored to each position within the company against the employee’s job description when hired.

Of course, you can also create a hybrid approach that combines both the above into one evaluation form where all employees are measured against company desired attributes, as well as job-specific attributes that are valued. It’s up to your organization to decide what would be the best way forward for your specific situation.

Performance evaluation meeting between coworkers and manager

Evaluations from All Angles

Feedback from a manager to an individual contributor is important, but so is getting feedback from peers, giving feedback to managers, and indirect manager reviews. Creating a system where feedback is a two-way street, but also more encompassing of all the people that individual employee may interact with provides much more context to an employee’s performance and how it affects that team as a whole.

This allows employees to get a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses from different vantage points and also eliminates bias, as the more feedback that an employee receives - it is inherently more accurate.

Another great bonus of getting others involved in the review process for an individual is a sense of celebration. The more people that get involved in the process, the more likely there will be increased recognition. Managers tend to recognize overarching themes and success, whereas peers will celebrate small victories. Recognizing both is important.

While it may not make sense to have all these same reviews take place on a weekly, or even quarterly, basis - every six months conducting a 360-degree review process can increase the accountability across your organization, as well as increase accuracy of reviews and lead to greater performance improvement on various levels.

Train Supervisors

While training supervisors doesn’t exactly align with designing a Performance Evaluation system, supervisors have a direct effect on how performance evaluations are perceived and received by an individual contributor. Receiving feedback is emotionally charged and can have a direct impact on whether or not someone makes more money, or even finds themselves without a job. Training managers how to deliver constructive, direct feedback helps employees continue to better themselves and perform better in a role, while providing zero feedback, or only positive feedback, can set an employee up for stagnation.

Set Goals

I’m sure you’ve heard it time and time again, but creating S.M.A.R.T goals for employees allows individual contributors to take control of their own work and holds them accountable. When designing a performance evaluation system, including a discussion point on setting goals for the next evaluation time period not only establishes expectations, but then allows an employee to understand what he or she will be working on and measured against in the future.

Without going into too much detail about how to set goals, the important thing to remember is that employees feel more validated in their role when they understand the expectations - not to mention, head into a performance evaluation with a clear understanding of how they have performed, without receiving any feedback at all.

This allows for an easier conversation, because employees can take ownership, and also ensures that no one is blindsided by a goal or attribute that hasn’t ever been discussed before.

While these are not the only things to think about when creating your performance evaluation system for the first time, these are especially important to include from the beginning as it will set the tone for how future evaluations are going to go. Since performance appraisals are an iterative process, it makes sense to continue evaluating how the process is working and if there is a noticeable improvement in the way that work is being completed. Every evaluation process will continue to see improvements until all aspects of performance have been evaluated and measured against overarching company goals.

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