A question about evaluations?

Subject: A question about evaluations?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Keith Hood <klhra -at- yahoo -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2006 09:30:18 -0400

Keith Hood wondered: <<What are your thoughts about the frequency and uses of employee performance evaluations? At my current job I have to endure this every year, and I was wondering how common such evaluations are.>>

I'm a huge fan of evaluations, both informal and formal, but possibly because I don't understand the process. My somewhat heretical take on this:

Informal evaluations (aka. feedback) should be ongoing, at intervals determined by necessity: at the end of a task, for example, or as soon as a problem arises. The goal is this somewhat <g> important thing known as "communication": managers and the people they manage must remain sufficiently in contact that the employee understands what is expected of them and the manager has a chance to point out (or hear about) and correct problems before they grow serious enough to require drastic intervention. On the flip side, this feedback must also provide an opportunity for appropriate compliments and encouragement. Praise must never be pro forma or false: if it's not real, the employee loses all respect for the employee. At a minimum, it should be "no problems... keep on doing exactly what you've been doing".

Note that this is very distinct from micromanaging, which can seriously screw up the employer-employee relationship. Informal feedback is designed to ensure that there's no ambiguity, and that everyone understands the same thing and problems can be solved before they become critical. Micromanaging is a symptom of ineffective management and insecurity, not to say "control freakdom". <g>

Formal evaluations typically occur at least annually, but sometimes more often: for example, before an unexpected promotion opportunity, for new employees who have a short "test" or "probation" period during which they're still proving their worthiness to remain employees, or to recognize a significant accomplishment. The goal is to force managers to critically and objectively evaluate the work of their employees. On the dark side, this is done to determine what corrections to the employee's behavior are necessary; on the bright side, this is done to ensure that those who deserve a reward will receive it, even if their manager might be tempted to hide in their office and play Solitaire rather than pay attention to their staff. Don't forget that most managers hate evaluations even more than you do, usually because they haven't invested enough time in feedback and thus, have to "lower the boom" all at once at the end of the year.

If informal evaluation (feedback) has been effective, employees have always had a chance to learn of and correct any problems, or to report problems to their manager and ask the manager to correct them. By the end of the year, there should be no remaining reason to have to "correct" an employee because any problems were identified and fixed earlier. Contrast this with the traditional approach to employee evaluation, in which you walk into the manager's office for the first time all year and are suddenly confronted by a long list of your flaws, and are summarily beheaded because you didn't somehow intuit their existence and fix them.

<<Are they more common in software companies than others? Do they seem to be more common at higher-paying jobs or does the pay rate not matter? Are they more common among companies in some parts of the country than other?>>

I suspect that evaluations are pervasive. I doubt they're much different among industries or professions because management buzz- speak spreads like kudzu or mold: once a plausible-sounding management guru espouses a particular process, it spreads throughout the environment and becomes irremovably intrenched. In some professions, such as psychiatry (and presumably high-security government work), there's ongoing monitoring to ensure that you're still safe to do your job. But even if you're self-employed, evaluations are an ongoing phenomenon: clients who like your work will tell you so, or will at least come back for more, whereas those who aren't satisfied won't hesitate in the least to tell you so, or will quietly drop you from their contractor list.

The key thing to remember is that if you're clever, you can help define the purpose and practice of evaluations: a sudden sharp shock that comes only once at the end of the year, like the jolt at the end of the hangman's rope, or an ongoing form of communication that ensures everyone has the same understanding and uses that understanding to stay happy and efficient at work.
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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca

(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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A question about evaluations: From: Keith Hood

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