bxp34349Regarding Employee Evaluations

If you employ people, you know that  they are replying on you for feedback. You don’t want to let them down.  You want to be the best boss you know how to be. You day dream about saying exactly the right motivational words that inspire everyone who works for you to greatness.

Your new hires ask how often they will get reviewed.  Some employees hope to death that you don’t  “call them into your office”. Others complain at the water cooler that they have yet to ever get a review on this job.  When was the last time you talked to your employees or better yet, evaluated or “reviewed” them? You may think…. oh sure, I talk to them all the time. But in the back of your head you know that you haven’t, really.  You’d love to be the perfect communicator, but you think that you’re not. You may even have a business coach who recommends to you that you give regular feedback. “If you want great performance you gotta talk about it. You’ve got to set performance goals, set the bar, let people know how they are doing. Listen to their needs.”  But haven’t taken any steps to do it.

” I do. I will. I’ll try,” you think. The day comes when  you sit down to put it in writing. “I’m going to write an official employee evaluation.”, you say.  Your pen hovers over the page like some bad Steven King – style writer’s block. You know what  you want to say. You don’t have a clue where to start.  You don’t know the fair and clever words that will open the door to communication rather than slam it fast. Your pen hovers. It doesn’t hit the paper. Crap, you think. I’ve done so far so good without this stuff. Who needs it!

Of the 20 employers that I currently coach, not a single one does formal employee evaluations with any regularity.  They may “call people into their office for a talk”  if expectations aren’t being met. But  most don’t give any type of ongoing feedback. In fact, when things are going poorly with an employee, they are not really sure what procedure if any they can use to communicate their dismay. By the time I am listening to this lack of performance story, for many employees, it is too late. They can’t redeem themselves and they and their boss don’t understand why.

This is a very real situation for a lot of employers.  And it is not a good for anyone.

Years ago, while in this same situation, I had managers who told me without mincing words that people want feedback and I needed to regularly give it. They told me to “Man Up” as it were. And I sat many times a month, with my notes about good qualities and those that needed improvement in front of me. Sweat dripped down my face as I reconciled not doing it at all with knowing that if I didn’t do it, I was letting everyone down. And then I found a software package that neatly gave me human resource language on every performance measure and a scale of bad to great . It allowed me to cut, paste, edit and personalize. The honest truth is that it made me look like an HR genius. I was Ms. Diplomacy.  (A very new development.) I developed some rules about how I went about humanizing this procedure; 1) One page limit. 2) I sandwiched  improvement qualities with good qualities- no matter how difficult either was to find. 3) I verbalized everything I wrote. Nothing on paper was a surprise. 4)  I always asked them to review the job, the company’s  performance and if it lived up to their expectations.

It took a while but I did get told on a number of occasions that people looked forward to these conversations. I too, started to like them.

I know so much more now. I know that the younger the employee the more frequent they want feedback. I know that understanding authority levels, having real company  information, key performance measurements, and transparency adds greater depth of understanding. I understand how to create commitment on the part of the employee and the power  of that commitment. I understand better than ever that it is a two way conversation that is on going. And lastly, if someone isn’t working out,  the conversation which has been ongoing, takes no one by surprise.

However, I can jump up and down about how great this is, but that doesn’t motivate my clients. They still sit sweating with their pens or keyboards hovering. They know that they will see the beauty of communication once they get going but it is a gigantic leap of faith.   I can  encourage them to  try, experiment.  And then I thought that possibly a tool,  some newer software solutions  to help them find their voice.

I Googled.  There are hundreds of HR solutions. It is a multi-million dollar business. And many of them cost some serious money. I thought, maybe I should partner or affiliate myself with one, vet the best and offer it up. But I didn’t know which to chose. My clients were happy to let me do this work. They also liked the idea of a tool. But there is a huge range of prices and systems. I decided that a small, inexpensive but poetic solution would work. Like that software of years ago. Then, like any good researcher, I took it  to Linked In.

This was only the second time that I had asked a question on Linked In. The first question had vetted some helpful advice. Feeling optimistic, I asked the question ” What is the best off the shelf, inexpensive employee performance software for small business?” This question brought an avalanche of criticism. I was told that a brain was all that was needed to write reviews. I was chastised for sinking to the use of software tools. Didn’t I know that an automated solution was demoralizing? Did I realize that annual reviews where a hateful procedure that nobody wants. I was told to go back and read Deming. I received Harvard Business Review style analysis of developmental systems.

There was an assumption that using software was one size fits all and that reviews would only be used annually. There was another assumption that there would be no coaching or agreement on performance goals and measurements. In fact, there was so much assumption that I left that string each day wondering if those people answering had ever had to deliver an evaluation in their lifetimes. If they ever owned a business that required this skill -the skill that makes strong people weak and smart  people sweat, they may not have been so judgmental. I can also guarantee that  if I showed this string to my clients, they’d never , ever do an employee evaluation.

Three people actually gave me the names of evaluation systems that were helpful.  Two of three were  highly enlightened. All three are being researched.To those people, I say  thank you. You shortened my search and took me to places that google didn’t. And the real winner in this story is the employers that I work with. They are not unusual. They crave a tool that will jump start their path to great communication with their employees at whatever interval and with any key goals and measurements that they see fit.

To all of you that are sweating this process, you are allowed to use tools. It doesn’t make you a cheater. The fact is, the people you work with crave feedback and you  will soon know that  it will get easier and even fun to do it.

Ruth Schwartz

Ruth Schwartz is the author of "The Key to the Golden Handcuffs". She is a high performance business consultant and leadership coach. Connect with Ruth to participate in the conversation. Google+, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube .