The Number One Secret to Effective Job Performance Evaluations

If you could highlight one thing that you think would be the key to designing or giving an effective job performance evaluation, what would that one key be? Would you say

•    Asking the right questions
•    Designing the right evaluation process
•    Getting feedback from others
•    Metrics
•    Using a standardized form
•    Doing them in person
•    Having clear goals and standards established before the evaluation period
•    Etc.

If given the choice, which one key would you choose?

Well, having worked with a ton of leaders over the past few decades, if you asked me, my answer would be … be the first evaluatee.

I. You’re Already Being Evaluated Anyway

Now, when I suggest this to leaders, they often balk and avoid it. After all, in their mind, they’re the leader—and it’s their job to evaluate, not be be evaluated (or so they think).

But the reality is, you’re already being evaluated … EVERY DAY! Every day your employees/team members are evaluating your performance. Everything you say. Everything you do. Every order you give. Every outburst you make. Every deadline you miss. They’re watching and evaluating and … remembering.

To not make what they’re already thinking explicit is just foolish. Fantasy is for fools. As a leader, you and I should always want to deal with reality and facts. If the people we’re leading are frustrated with us (or don’t trust us, or think we’re duplicitous, or ineffective) because of X,Y,Z, we ought to get them to put that to pen and paper. Avoiding these “facts” or “perceptions” doesn’t serve us or our businesses well.

But, as important as that reason is for being the first evaluatee, there are two more important ones.

II. Nothing Teaches Like Modeling

The second reason why I think you should be the first evaluatee is because of modeling. Nothing teaches like modeling. As you know, “People do what people see!”

If all you do is give evaluations, then they never see how to take evaluations. In other words, one of the common comments leaders make about evaluations is that their people get defensive and argue with them. In general, this happens because most people haven’t seen someone take constructive criticism well.

So, when you become the first evaluatee, and you get the feedback from your people and you model how to respond well and make changes based on that feedback, you’ve set the standard, the model, for them to replicate. In other words, if you model an open to feedback leadership style that doesn’t get defensive and actual acts on the feedback given, you can radically change your entire workforce.

III. Being Evaluated Gives You Empathy

But, as good as reason two is, the third reason is the single most important reason why you should be the first evaluatee if you want to construct and give effective job performance evaluations. And what is reason number three?Empathy.

In other words, if you only give out evaluations and you’re not being evaluated the same way, you won’t understand what they’re thinking and feeling. But when you go through them yourself, you gain empathy—and that empathy will help you change the way you evaluate.

For example, when I used to lead a large church, the group of people who did my “evaluation” were my board members. In fifteen years of evaluations, I didn’t have one good experience—not one—even though I led that church from two families to two thousand people and from no money to $2.7M in revenue in my final full year of leading it.

Every year, the vast majority of my “evaluation” had nothing to do with my actual job description or with goal achievement. It usually had to do with pet issues and personal preferences (and the vast majority of it was negative). Even though the vast majority of church members, community leaders, fellow pastors, etc. all thought I was doing a rather stellar job, that never came across in any of my evaluations.

I can clearly state that the date of my annual “evaluation” was easily one of the worst dates of any calendar year for those fifteen years.

But, and this is key, that sense of empathy made me radically change the way I did job performance evaluations. I hated the experience so much I made a commitment to not do to others what was done to me. So, for example, here are three commitments I made based on my bad experiences with my board.

1. Never evaluate someone for something that hasn’t been agreed to beforehand (i.e. no more pet issues). No one should ever be evaluated on something that they didn’t know ahead of time that they’d be evaluated on.

2. No surprises! In my book, job performance evaluations should be summaries of conversations that have taken place over the time period of the evaluation (whether you’re evaluating every three, six or twelve months). No one should walk out of a performance evaluation thinking, “Where did that come from?” Good evaluators are good coaches. They don’t’ wait for an evaluation to surprise someone. They coach for performance all the way through the process. It’s only bad coaches who play the “gotcha” game.

3. No blasting! As leaders, our job is produce results through other people. No one gets the best out of their people by blasting them. Instead, effective job performance evaluations should focus more on strengths than weaknesses. And then, they should have a positive tone to establish new goals and objectives for even high levels of performance over the next quarter/year. The goal is to build a better, more talented team—not to tear individuals down.

Now, whether you agree with those three thoughts or not is irrelevant to today’s post (though I hope you’ll employ all three). The point is, I changed how I evaluated because I wasn’t just evaluating others, I was an evaluatee as well. And being one of them, helped me be a better evaluator.

So, if you’d like to design and give more effective job performance evaluations, then my encouragement to you would be to be to employ the number one secret to effective job evaluations—be the first evaluatee.

Give your people the ability to openly evaluate you and your performance, model how a good evaluatee should respond to evaluation, and then use your own experiences as an evaluatee to improve the process you use with them.

Why? Because, at the end of the day, as a leader, you’re only as good as the people you have. The better they are, the better you are!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas about effective job evaluations, make sure you add them in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this in an RSS or email feed).

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