And the Oscar goes to … tips for evaluating employee performance outside of Tinsel Town

Awards season is upon us and soon all of Hollywood will gather to celebrate its most talented actors and actresses, as determined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  Who will win the Oscar? shutterstock_236123857

While this question is being volleyed about and fiercely debated among Internet pundits and armchair critics, the nominees themselves wait anxiously, knowing that receiving the coveted Academy Award would most likely translate into significant and tangible benefits for them in the form of professional prestige, better opportunities, and increased compensation. Adding to the suspense is the fact that the decision about who will receive an Oscar is left entirely to the arbitrary whims and subjective interpretations of the Academy’s members, with only the representations of a couple of accountants donned in Armani tuxedos to authenticate the legitimacy of the process.

As is the case with so many things, Hollywood should not be mistakened for the “real world.” In La-La land, subjectivity reigns supreme, but at your business, you shouldn’t leave the weighty decision of evaluating an employee’s job performance to your personal proclivities, political leanings, or emotions.

Just think, if employee performance evaluations were written like movie reviews, they might look something like this:

Brad Fitt’s performance of the company’s strategic initiatives was lackluster at best. Though boyishly handsome, Brad lacks definitive gravitas, and his on-the-job chemistry with his co-workers fell flat. He is easy to like, but even easier to forget — a middle management cliché who fails to inspire and prefers mediocrity over innovation. I give him 2 out of 5 stars.

Or perhaps …

Angelina Zolie delivered a powerhouse performance during the third quarter. Her gracious yet sure-handed direction and intense commitment to rolling out the new payroll system were gripping, a veritable depiction of leadership in action. Startlingly clever and self-aware, Angelina sizzled at the mid-year meeting and exuded a confidence unlike those of her peers. In a word, Angelina was triumphant. I give her 4.5 out of 5 stars.

While such imperceptible fluff may be standard fare for movie reviews, your employee performance evaluations should rely on more objective, identifiable criteria, lest your business land the starring role in an employment lawsuit–as the defendant!

Here are four tips for ensuring fair and effective employee performance evaluations:

1.  Create a list of the criteria or expectations you are looking for in a position, and specify in the evaluation how the employee met, exceeded, or failed to meet those expectations during the performance period.

2.  Focus on tangible results, not subjective perceptions about an employee’s performance. Sales figures, timeliness, or other objective measures are easier to explain and defend than personal opinions. Undoubtedly, the list of Oscar-winning movies would change dramatically if they were judged on box-office performance rather than critical acclaim. Transformers IV, anyone?

3.  In most cases, an employee’s performance should be evaluated on a cumulative basis, over a sufficient length of time. So don’t judge an employee’s performance based on a single project or over a short time period, unless the employee’s job description demands it. After all, would it be fair to gauge George Clooney’s acting talent based solely on his performance in The Facts of Life or Batman and Robin?

4.  Set aside a time to talk to employees about their evaluations and give them concrete suggestions for improving their performance. Snarky insults and petty comparisons to an employee’s more-celebrated peers may work in Tinsel Town, but you should opt for delivering constructive criticism that will give your employees a road map for success and allow them to retain their dignity.

Of course, it’s inevitable that a manager’s personal feelings and opinions will creep into an employee’s performance evaluation, but if your business relegates the use of subjective criteria to a supporting role and focuses on objective measures of performance, you will go a long way toward ensuring fairness, maintaining employee morale, and avoiding liability.

See you at the movies!