February 10, 2017
Performance evaluations. Who doesn’t remember moments when these didn’t go so well? Many people view them as a waste of time. However, I think performance evaluations can be great and energizing. To explore how, I distilled the key elements for great evaluations and created an abstract of them for the real world—in this case, a cake.
Delivering good evaluations has a lot to do with creating the right framework and culture, so I’ve put together specific strategies and used the cake analogy to illustrate them. What does a great cake have? It has a strong base, a creamy middle part, and some icing, toppings, and cherries on it. I believe the same is true for creating a framework for a positive performance evaluation.
The base of a cake is what holds it together. The base is nothing fancy, but without it the cake would fall apart. This is also true for the base of your evaluation system.
To build the base of your evaluation structure, review previous performance evaluations against past career path conversations and goals, then ascertain if the target goals were met or not. Without a baseline, there cannot be a true and engaging evaluation.
During the review, give an overview of where the person shines and balance strong points and opportunity areas, ideally in a ratio of 2:1—two strong points and one point for further improvement.
Next, we need to add the really “juicy” stuff to the cake. This is the core of every cake, and it requires special attention.
Be ultraspecific. Evaluations often are fluffy and remain on a meta level. Take, for instance, the statements “You could be more strategic,” “You were not engaged enough,” or “This was good.” These leave a lot of room for interpretation, and the employee doesn’t know what was done right or how to improve. For instance, you could say, “In this meeting, you could have developed a concrete vision on one page.”
By being very specific, you move away from the meta level and focus on facts. As the saying goes, “Facts are friendly.” Drop all assumptions, drop all fluffy statements, and you will have a concrete and enriching discussion.
When you use the strategies detailed above, evaluations can stand on their own. However, if you want to further master the art of evaluation, you can put more toppings on your evaluation cake with the following strategies:
Give analogies and examples. In addition to giving advice, you can use examples and individuals from inside and outside the organization to illustrate your points.
Use metrics. One powerful way to do performance evaluations is to define, track, and discuss agreed-upon leadership metrics. Examples of such metrics are percentage of meeting versus non-meeting time and number of emails per day. By getting (semi)quantitative in evaluations, you can create a strong way forward for individuals, especially if they are data oriented.
Show that skills are already present. It can help to show employees that they already have all the skills needed to “fix” the performance issues you’ve highlighted. These discussions typically are very positive and actionable, and they bring great energy to a performance review. What it requires from the leader, of course, is to be very observant and focused on the growth and positive side of employees.