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A New Look at Staff Performance Evaluations

Some commonly think of a performance appraisal as a supervisor unilaterally assessing an employee’s performance. The question here is whether a direct supervisor is the only, or the best, person to evaluate an employee. In an age of flat organizational structures, empowerment, and self-directed work teams, many supervisors spend less time directly observing their employees, so other sources of feedback should be considered. Additional potential evaluators include:

  • the employee (critical for negotiated appraisals)
  • peers
  • subordinates
  • customers

Normally, alternative evaluators would be used to supplement, or aid in, a supervisor’s evaluation as opposed to replacing it. It should also be noted that training may be required, in some instances, to obtain useful information, e.g. peers may require a course or training session on evaluation processes so they can contribute meaningfully.

Employee Self Evaluations

In a self-evaluation process, employees are asked to complete the evaluation form themselves prior to the appraisal meeting and it is used as a basis of discussion. The final ratings are decided by the supervisor or mutually agreed upon. Self-assessment can have significant benefits. Often no one knows better than employees themselves how well they are performing their job. Most employees are quite honest about it as they will want to avoid the potentially uncomfortable situation of rating themselves significantly higher than their supervisor rates them. Self-assessment provides a sense of inclusion in the process and, therefore, employees are much more likely to respect the process and take it seriously. It also encourages employees to consider why they may be weak in some aspects of their work and what they can do about it. 

The potential disadvantage of self evaluations is that some employees will be overly critical of themselves and some will inflate their evaluations. In cases where employees are too hard on themselves, it is relatively easy for a supervisor to boost ratings. More difficult are employees who believe they are much better performers than they actually are. The supervisor must recognize these situations and ensure that the final recorded  ratings are not unduly influenced by these tendencies; a fine balancing approach is needed to avoid damaging the morale of these employees and the future relationships they have with the evaluator(s). 

Peer Evaluations

The people best able to evaluate employees are often those that work side by side with them. Several independent evaluations also tend to provide a more accurate and credible assessment than an evaluation from a single supervisor. An added benefit is that it encourages employees to be a part of the team effort and perform even when the boss isn’t watching. 

Peer evaluations do have some potential drawbacks. It can be difficult to avoid personal biases. It is natural for people to develop closer personal relationships with some of their co-workers than with others and those feelings are bound to influence evaluations. There is also natural opportunity and incentive for employees to agree to give each other favorable evaluations.  A carefully planned program may minimize such problems, but the perception of the potential for bias may erode employee confidence in the process. The appraisal process should be positive and motivating. If employees don’t trust it, the opposite is likely to occur. Due to these potential drawbacks, peer evaluations are most commonly used only for supervisory and management positions.

To ensure complete honesty, it is sometimes wise, when possible, to have peer to peer evaluations be anonymous to the person being evaluated. Specifically, peer comments and observations can be merged so as to be communicated as a compilation, and not as the perspective of a single person.  

Subordinate Evaluations

In subordinate evaluative processes, supervisors/managers are evaluated by their employees. Subordinate evaluations usually focus on a supervisor’s leadership qualities. Who better to assess a supervisor’s leadership skills than the people they lead? Managers are often insulated from the perspectives of employees. Poor supervision is a leading cause of turnover, thus it is important for senior management to know how employees feel about their supervisors and managers. 

Subordinate evaluations should be anonymous, otherwise  employees’ fear of retribution for being critical of their direct supervisor may affect the accuracy of results. Even when evaluations are anonymous, employees may feel that the supervisor will “know it was me who rated them low.”  Supervisors who are genuinely interested in improving their leadership skills are normally very receptive to subordinate evaluations and find them extremely valuable in identifying how they can improve.

Customer Evaluations

Incorporating customer evaluations into an appraisal process is not practical for many positions, but for those positions in which building and maintaining relationships with customers is essential to success, the customer may be the best source of feedback.  Group and corporate sales and catering are natural positions to use this form of evaluation. Any position that tends to generate customer comment cards can use the results of those cards.

360 Degree Review

The 360 degree appraisal uses all or most of the foregoing sources of feedback. The concept is simple. The more perspectives from which an employee is evaluated, the more accurate the evaluation will be. Sophisticated 360 degree appraisal systems often use computer-generated reports to compare results from various sources. A supervisor or manager can see how ratings from bosses, peers, customers and subordinates compare to each other and to their evaluation of themselves. This can be powerful information for development as a manager and leader.

Organizations can apply the 360 degree concept without hiring expensive HR consulting firms to develop a customized program. Simply adding peer and subordinate evaluations to the standard top-down evaluation can have impressive results.

The most important part of the appraisal process is what happens when the employee and supervisor sit down together. All of the discussion to this point has been aimed at developing an effective system and tools, but they are irrelevant if the meeting is not well-executed. Conduct the review as an exchange of information between people with a common objective, not as a report card. The following are key objectives of the appraisal interview:

  • Clearly communicate the current performance
  • Clearly communicate the expected performance
  • Motivate the employee towards improved performance

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