HR Group, founded in Edmonton Alberta in 1993, is a partnership of highly experienced management consultants who specialize in organizational effectiveness and human resource management, and promote participative, lean, and cost-effective management practices. All partners are Certified Human Resource Practitioners with extensive senior level experience in both the private and public sectors.

Productive Performance Evaluation Requires Ongoing Performance Management

Reprinted from “Productive Workplaces” (Winter, 1999), the HR Group newsletter.

Performance Evaluation, in and of itself, is a useless and unfair practice unless it is part of an ongoing process of Performance Management.

What do we want to achieve when we evaluate someone’s performance? Traditionally, Performance Evaluation has been used to:

  • provide the employee with appropriate feedback regarding overall performance and identify strengths, weaknesses and plans for improvement.
  • document what goals have been achieved and which have not.
  • improve individual performance and organizational productivity.
  • document acceptable evidence of poor performance for successful dismissal for just cause.

None  of these points, however, can be successfully achieved through a periodic Performance Evaluation. Providing performance feedback regarding both strengths and weaknesses on an annual, or even semi-annual basis, is meaningless; feedback, both positive and negative, must be immediate in order to have any relevance and to be effective. Performance, in other words, must be managed as and when required. 

Letting performance problems remain unattended until the next evaluation is counterproductive; they must be dealt with immediately or else the behavior is, in effect, condoned. If nothing is said or done at the actual time, the presumption is that the performance problem wasn’t deemed to be serious enough to warrant any action. The evaluation should accurately reflect all aspects of performance; but specific constructive criticism or discipline must occur at the time of the actual problem.

Saving all feedback for the time of the evaluation makes the process disciplinary in nature rather than supportive and does nothing, therefore, to foster and sustain better performance and productivity. Noted author and consultant, Ken Blanchard, refers to it as the “Leave them alone and then ZAP” syndrome. An evaluation can only be productive if it is part of an ongoing process of Performance Management and there are, therefore, no surprises for either the employee or the supervisor.

A productive Performance Evaluation that is part of ongoing performance management provides a formal opportunity to mutually review individual performance in its entire context. Such an evaluation should allow both parties to:

  • discuss and agree on what organizational and performance goals have been accomplished, what are the future goals and what the priorities are.
  • discuss and agree on what training, including competencies and behaviors, would be beneficial to the employee and the organization.
  • discuss and agree on what organizational and supervisory changes would facilitate better employee performance.
  • obtain and discuss feedback from other interested parties such as subordinates, peers and internal and external customers.
  • discuss and plan career options.

As mentioned above, there are no surprises in this process; all performance “issues” have already been addressed as and when required. The evaluation, therefore, is not a disciplinary process although it must reflect the current level of performance. It is an opportunity for both parties to review all aspects of performance and to agree on what is mutually beneficial to both the organization and the employee.

The terms “discuss” and “agree” are used throughout this article as productive performance evaluation is a mutually agreed upon process, not something that is imposed on someone else. Many evaluation processes include a self-evaluation by the employee; it has been shown time and again that we’re tougher on ourselves than others are.

Productive performance evaluation, of course, requires that employees have a clear and ongoing understanding of what the desired organizational goals are. If they are not given a clear outline of what is expected, one cannot hold them accountable.

The same is true of the competencies and behaviors that we expect from our employees. If we expect them to provide excellent customer service and to treat the customer in a courteous manner at all times, for example, then these expectations must be made clear and appropriate coaching and training provided where required.

All too frequently, however, organizational goals and performance evaluation criteria have never been clearly, if at all, communicated to the employee. Have you clearly articulated them to your staff? Have you been clearly told what yours are?

Ongoing Performance Management is critical to any productive organization; performance evaluation is only one small part of this process. This approach necessitates time and commitment on the part of every manager or supervisor in communicating organizational goals and requirements, discussing performance requirements, providing relevant feedback, training and coaching and in every manner possible facilitating the optimum performance of all staff.

This process is ongoing, not periodic, and it is management’s primary function.