Why Are Performance Evaluations So Torturous?

There you are, minding your own business, and all of a sudden – blammo – it hits you: performance evaluation season. Ugh.

No one likes performance evaluation season. First, it often hits at the same time that the fiscal year starts; so, just as your budget gets approved and you are plunged into the fray of getting your projects launched, you are yanked into an administrative task destined to make everyone anxious and tie up your day. Second, the company, determined to create a level playing field, gives you some stupid form that cramps your style.

And then there’s the dreaded self-evaluation.

I honestly don’t mind writing and delivering performance evaluations. I like sitting down with my team members, holding up the magic mirror, helping them see what they did well; learning where they want to focus next and how they see themselves getting there. This is my favorite part of performance evaluations.

And I hate self-evaluations.

Possibly I am too hard on myself. I see “Communicates Effectively” and immediately remember all the times that I didn’t communicate effectively. All the times I got nervous in a meeting and stumbled; all the times that I thought I had explained something clearly and then been swamped by questions or push-back; all the effort and experiential knowledge that I invested in designing a meeting agenda for all stakeholders, only to have someone complain that it had obviously been designed only to please executive leadership. It’s hard to remember that, for each one of those times, I also spoke truth to power (even if power didn’t listen); I listened interminably to someone struggle to explain what exactly was bothering them until their emotions simmered down and I could ask questions to help us find a solution; all the times that recipients praised a memo or notes I had taken because it so perfectly captured what they needed to know. Or told me they loved my meetings because things got done.

Possibly I struggle with remembering the past, which surges up behind me like a rogue wave. There is so much water under the bridge. Quick come up with an example for: Consistently Goes Above and Beyond Assigned Duties. Behind you is a year of staying late, of volunteering, of being a sounding board, of pitching in on other people’s presentations, of letting yourself get sucked into projects that don’t fit within your scope of practice because someone needed help. But come up with one example. One out of a year of experience. Excuse me while I go back and reread my journal for the last year and find something impressive.

Look, I get it. Like I said, I like delivering performance evaluations. They serve an important purpose. But I’ve seen them done so poorly over the years and self-evaluations never get any easier.

Let’s try something different.

How about some questions like:

  • List three accomplishments that you’re proud of from the last year. Three things you did that made the company better, more profitable, or a better place to work. Describe, in four sentences or less how these things made a difference on one of the company’s goals.
  • What could you do to make the team stronger? What is one way that you could change your own behavior that would make the team stronger? What changes have you made in your personal behavior because of feedback you received from your teammates or because you noticed that your behavior was impacting others in a certain way?
  • What skills do you have or have you been working on developing that you’d like an opportunity to leverage? Where do you feel like these could be put to use at work? Describe how this will make the team stronger or the company more effective. What support do you need from us developing these skills?
  • What feedback that you received touched your heart in the last year? What did someone tell you or thank you for that made you feel good or made your day? Why? How could you get a chance to do more of this kind of thing?
  • Name one thing you could delegate, automate, simplify, or eliminate that would reduce non-value-added work, save money, or improve service for your colleagues or for customers. What are your ideas for getting rid of this thing? Why did you pick this thing? What’s standing in your way?

One of my sisters said yesterday that our dad always seemed to be measuring her up against what a daughter should be, and telling her where she failed, rather than finding out what was going on inside her and where she needed help. And, I suspect, appreciating what she did right.

We spend so much time focusing on what we can measure that we sometimes forget why we are measuring it.

Here’s my secret to surviving performance evaluation season: I fill out the stupid form – the same way that I fill out expense reports, with minimal effort – and, when I sit down with my employees, I deliver that part as quickly as possible. Then we spend the rest of the time talking about questions like those above.

I’ve never gotten anything but positive feedback from my team on this approach.

But you won’t see that on my self-evaluation.

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