So, the day has
come! Youve put it off as long as possible. Ill do it next week.
Maybe after I return from vacation
Right after the holidays
fretted about it and whined about it and deferred and delayed it. Am
I speaking about the upcoming dental appointment? About doing your
taxes? About beginning the exercise program? No, the HR Doctor is
talking about preparing the performance evaluations, which are now
overdue for those employees who report to you.
performance evaluation regarded as such an ominous or frustrating
chore? Why do we spend more time thinking of ways to avoid it than
we would have actually spent preparing the evaluations? Why do we
regard doing this as just about as much fun as being the guest of
honor at a training program for IRS agents?
In reality, the
performance evaluation can be among the most important activities
for any public administrator. As you read this article, imagine that
listening in through the door to your office, or the opening to your
cubicle, are all the subordinates who look to you for leadership,
guidance and counseling.
being from our beautiful HR daughters, Elyse and Rachel, to our
aging parents and all of us in between ask some fundamental
questions regularly throughout our lives. How am I doing? Am I
OK? The questions themselves are very important and basic to our
humanity. However, even more important is providing feedback and
feedback should be regarded as the primary purpose of performance
evaluations. Think of the evaluation form as a global positioning
system (GPS) device given to a lost hiker in the wilderness. The GPS
helps you know where you are, helps you measure the progress of your
journey, and establishes way points that can guide you to the goal
you wish to reach. It also helps you to avoid quicksand, minefields
or other hazards.
Yes, some of
Americas 600,000 or 700,000 attorneys will also point out that
performance evaluations represent the agencys defensive
documentation of behavior and performance, creating the public
records upon which human resources actions, such as suspensions or
terminations, are based. They are of course, absolutely right.
However, if the only objective in an agencys evaluation system is
to create the document itself, the system is very flawed and may
actually do a disservice to the organization.
On a great many
occasions, the HR Doctor has been visited by some director or
elected official, such as the sheriff or clerk of the courts, who
comes in frustrated and annoyed about the terrible performance and
bad attitude of Godzilla the employee. Godzilla must be
terminated! He is making his supervisor and his coworkers crazy.
Its been going on for years!
After the HR
Doctor serves his guest some Earl Grey tea with honey as a calming
device, he takes a history and learns about how miserable Godzilla
is behaving, and the effects of that behavior on others. The next
thing that happens is a call to the wonderful people in charge of
the personnel files to bring Godzillas file into the office for
review. What follows happens all too often.
The file clerk
carefully brings the file to the head of HR. The clerk is wearing a
back brace because the file is so thick that a hernia could result
if staff members violate the training guidance provided by risk
management in lifting heavy objects. A quick perusal of the file
reflects page after page of check-the-boxes evaluations with little
or no comments and an overall rating of satisfactory each year for
many years. By the way, guess who signed most of Godzillas
evaluations? The answer is of course the frustrated manager sitting
with the HR Doctor.
If Godzilla has
really been acting out, and if the evaluations had been used
properly, the manager would not be frustrated now. The very late
corrective action would not be nearly as difficult as it now is.
evaluations that lack ethical honesty in describing behavior and
performance create problems for the agency, the employee, and the
supervisor. A poorly performing employee who receives an acceptable
or better-than-acceptable evaluation, with no corrective action or
coaching noted, is enabled to do even worse in the coming year.
delivered to the employee is that this kind of behavior is tolerated
and, in fact, encouraged by agency inaction or inertia. This is the
breeding ground for workplace violence, sexual harassment, race and
gender discrimination and more.
This is the
breeding ground for failed performances of the whole work unit and
poor morale. Allowing this to happen is the marker of a supervisor
who should be encouraged to learn how to supervise effectively or be
demoted to the more comfortable world of less responsibility and
another point that is critical but often neglected in viewing the
value of a performance evaluation. It represents the great chance to
recognize, appreciate and praise! In our lives, at home and at work,
we do not spend enough time using phrases like thank you, I
appreciate your help or your work makes a big difference here!
employees work hard and effectively, often under trying
circumstances. As an old country song says, they make the best of a
bad situation. The evaluation is an opportunity for management to
provide these strong performing employees with a document they can
take home and show to their children and spouses, or significant
others with pride.
We often lose
sight of that opportunity by our check the box silence in the
documents, and by the minimum amount of time we spend thinking about
how valuable our colleagues are to our own success.
If the HR
Doctor could deliver one message to supervisors about evaluations,
it would be the importance of using this tool to recognize and
encourage instead of inducing clinical depression in the readers.
The design of
the form and the process itself often provide ample excuses for why
evaluations may be chronically late and done in the most superficial
evaluations methodologies are either trait-based or behavioral.
Trait-based evaluations generally use some form of checklist in
which constructs such as honesty, initiative, and dependability are
rated on a scale, such as 15. The points are added up and masked by
the science of mathematics. The person is given a numerical rating.
The same form and same characteristics or traits may be used for an
entry-level clerical employee, a skilled trade carpenter or plumber,
as well as a professional planner, physician, nurse or librarian. In
theory, this kind of form is faster and it takes up less space in a
model looks at functions that occur at work, such as how well the
employee interacts with members of the public, how well the person
handles emergency calls, or whether the computer glitches are
quickly resolved by the information technology employee. Behavioral
evaluations take more time and more space in the file. However, they
are also more directly job related and defensible.
is that the longer the form and the more complex the process, the
more annoyed and passive-aggressive managers get about fulfilling
their evaluation responsibilities. They spend only a few minutes a
year on the process.
begrudge every one of those minutes instead of seizing the
opportunity for a frank and collegial discussion with the people who
depend on them for supervision and guidance. Then the completed form
orbits around various offices through interoffice mail waiting to be
initialed, signed, or stamped by other people, such as the
supervisors manager, the department head, human resources and
When the whole
process begins very late, the rest of these activities add further
tardiness and great frustration for the employee and the struggling
payroll staff, which is now embroiled in annoying retroactive
that most employees perform effectively, the HR Doctor asserts that
it is nothing short of professional malpractice to be
chronologically and seriously late with evaluations, and then to not
spend much time at all doing them. Otherwise spectacular managers,
in terms of their personal experience and knowledge, can create and
provoke frustration and anger among the people they rely on for
support by simply appearing to be disinterested in this core
interpersonal need for effective evaluations.
is very difficult to make judgments about other human beings. Even
if that is a prime responsibility in our own job descriptions.
Nonetheless, late or poorly done evaluations are fundamentally
disrespectful to people. It need not be this way! Evaluations can
and should be a very meaningful, timely, and valuable part of being
a great public administrator.
The HR Doctor
hopes all of your boxes are checked!