How to Make a Habit of Evaluating

Word Nerd Alert! As I like to say, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” According to Webster’s Online Dictionary, “Evaluate” means    1. To determine or fix the value of
2. To determine the significance, worth, or condition of, usually by careful appraisal or study.

I want to drill in a little bit more. One of the definitions of “Value” as a verb is “to rate or scale in usefulness, importance, or general worth.”

Putting these definitions together gives a pretty clear understanding of what most organizations mean by an annual evaluation. The boss, it is understood, has done an appraisal of the significance, importance, and general worth of the employee’s work and has rated it. S/he then shares that information with the employee. There are usually goals involved and often annual raises are tied to the evaluation.

If that’s all you do with your team you’ve missed a huge opportunity to engage them. That approach to evaluating turns the annual evaluation into something you have to sit through to find out if you’re getting a raise. There’s no engagement there.

Putting it to Work

Check out the Engager Dynamic called Evaluate where I talk about some specifics on how to conduct an evaluation. For this post I want to summarize a few key points.

  1. More Frequent than Annual – Remember when you were in High School and you received a Progress Report before the final Report Card came out? That Progress Report let you know how you were doing and gave you a chance to either continue your present habits or course correct before the grades that counted came out. Do the same for your employees. Give them at least quarterly progress reports.
  2. Connect to Purpose – the value of anyone’s work is measured in how it helps the team and/or organization achieve its purpose. Be sure you always connect the employee’s work to the value it brings to the organization.
  3. Focus on Improvement – In the Leadership Matrix, Evaluate is a Challenge Dynamic. This is a chance to tap the employee’s Drive to Mastery by giving them some coaching tips on how to improve their performance.

Making it a Habit

Try thinking of yourself as a coach. Coaches give players instructions and tips on how to improve their performance. Here are a couple ideas to help make Coaching (Evaluation) a habit.

  1. Daily – Put it in your calendar to walk around and observe people at work for the express purpose of catching them doing something right. When you do, let them know it. Stop them and privately tell them specifically what they did, how it helps the team/organization purpose and then thank them. After you’ve established the daily habit you can start to use this time to help people improve as well. If you notice something that doesn’t align with the purpose, privately remind them of the purpose and give them a tip on how to do that task in a way that is better aligned with it.
  2. Weekly – Let your team know that you will be observing them from time to time. Once a week put it on your calendar to observe a team member perform an entire process of their work. Afterward, ask them what went well. Then ask them what they would do differently next time. Affirm what you observed and add your own pointers. Remember, always tie coaching to purpose.
  3. Monthly – Once per month, invite a team member in for a brief coaching chat. Remind them of the purpose and expectations of the organization. Use this time to reinforce your best people in their behavior or to help realign those who are struggling.

Tip – If you take notes on all these conversations you will have created a great tool for doing your quarterly progress reports and the annual evaluation. Not only that, but you will have engaged your team by keeping them focused on the purpose and on continuously getting better at what they do.

Evaluate – Engager Dynamic #9

Do you like traveling? I do. I like road trips and I like flying. When you go on a trip, do you track your progress? I hope I’m not the only one who does. I check mile markers along the highway and mentally calculate what time I think we’ll arrive at the next stopping point. And I love those trip tracker maps on planes where you can watch the little airplane move along the route. No, I don’t literally watch it the whole trip, but I like to check on it from time to time to see our progress.

Think of work like a trip. You begin on your first day and you travel along until you reach a destination. That may be retirement, or it may be a promotion, or a job change. Your trip may be a non-stop or you may have several stops along the way. In any event, you want to know about your progress. In most organizations that progress check is received in the form of a performance evaluation.

It’s Your Job

As the boss, it is your job to evaluate your people. This is the 9th Engager Dynamic. When done well, evaluations can increase Employee Engagement. Like the other Dynamics, though, it can be a real dis-engager if done poorly.

Built into the word “Evaluate/Evaluation” is the word “Value.” When you do a performance evaluation with an employee, you’re letting them know your idea of the value they bring to your team and organization and how they can increase that value. That will look very different depending on the type of job the employee performs. Regardless of the job, though, evaluating your employees is a great opportunity you don’t want to miss. Here are some tips for getting it right:

1. Know their goals – Its easier to tell someone about their progress on a trip if you know where they’re going. The best way to find out what their goals are is to ask. Have a discussion long before any evaluation meeting. At a minimum, you can pull their resume to see what they said was their objective when they applied for the job. Help them understand the career path within the organization and business unit that is appropriate for their goals. There is often mutual growth that occurs in this process. When you both understand the goal you can have meaningful dialog around progress.

2. Meet one-on-one – I’ve seen bosses who thought of the evaluation process as busywork for them. They locked themselves away to finish the “paperwork” and then handed them out to their employees. Wrong! To get the most out of this opportunity you have to put something into it. You need to make it meaningful to your employee. Meet with them at a pre-scheduled time, one-on-one.

3. Give Meaningful Feedback – Many organizations have structured forms they want you to use when giving performance evaluations. The forms usually have categories of behaviors or characteristics with some form of rubric to use for scoring the employee. When going through this process with your employee, give specific examples of times when they exhibited the specific behavior/characteristic or when they didn’t. This lets them know you’re paying attention and they will value the feedback.

4. Evaluate Frequently – The annual performance evaluation is not enough by itself. Most bosses will only draw on the last 30 – 90 days of work when putting together an annual evaluation. It’s usually all they can remember unless they’ve taken copious notes throughout the year (which, by the way, is a great idea). Why not have a “formal” evaluation with your employees every quarter? It would be a gift to the employee because it would give them encouragement to build on what they’ve been doing or time to course correct much sooner. It would also help you, the boss, improve overall performance along the way and give you great documents to draw on when doing the annual evaluation that gets turned in to HR.

A Little Less Formal

In addition to formal evaluations, there are many opportunities to give informal feedback. Informal feedback can be in the form of stand-up conversations that happen in the moment. When you observe an employee doing something right, why not stop and say so? Let them know what you observed and how it positively impacts the organization’s vision or goals. Of course, if you observe something that needs improvement let them know specifically what it was and remind them of the organization vision and goals. Do this privately, away from others.

You can give informal feedback through periodic scheduled check-ins. You can approach feedback like a mentor, or a coach. The point of this dynamic is that people want to know how they’re doing in their job. Most people, of course, love to hear they’re doing a great job. But, most people will also appreciate feedback that helps them improve their performance and, therefore, make progress toward their goals. Well delivered evaluations, formal and informal, are a gift to your employees and will help engage them.

An Example

The most meaningful performance evaluation I ever had was a walk on the beach . . . literally . . . My boss at the time lived near Newport Beach, CA. He brought me there and we discussed my performance while walking along the beach to a specific restaurant where we ended the conversation over dinner. The setting was certainly memorable but that wasn’t what made the experience meaningful. He had thought through what he wanted to talk about with me. He had specific examples of how certain characteristics and actions of mine had brought value to the organization. When he wanted to point out some opportunities for me to improve, he asked about my thought process around a certain example and then asked me how I would handle the situation now. Once I answered that, he gave his affirmation of what I’d do differently and offered additional insight that would help me grow.

We can’t all do performance evaluations on the beach or even over dinner. But, we would all benefit by learning from his approach to the content.