One of the most important ways management can communicate with employees is through official employee evaluations.
It’s easy to give employees kudos on a job well done after they’ve turned in a big project or casually bring up an area you’d like to see improvement in. It’s easy to feel like you have a grasp on the day-to-day actions of your employees if you’re an involved manager.
But a formal employee evaluation is a great way to pause and take in a birds-eye view. It also helps everyone get on the same page with expectations.
How are they doing overall within their position? What were some of their largest achievements over the past few months? What are the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the company? Basically, how are things really going?
As we approach the midyear point of 2023, you may be preparing for a round of employee evaluations. While these conversations may seem simple, they’re actually an artform, and there’s a way to have them effectively.
Here are four mistakes to avoid to ensure the conversations you have with your employees go smoothly and are truly productive.
Mistake #1: Not Creating a Plan
An employee evaluation should have a formal structure and requires forethought. Make sure to let your employees know well in advance that you’d like to schedule an evaluation so they have time to gather their thoughts and look back over their job performance.
Meanwhile, you should do the same thing. Employee evaluations are led by management, not the other way around, and directing the conversation takes a solid amount of planning.
Brush up on your own script and what you’re hoping to get across, and give the evaluation plenty of time on your calendar. If you think everything’s going fine—I should be able to just wing it, the conversation won’t be nearly as helpful as it could be.
Remember, the point of evaluations isn’t to just check them off your to-do list. They’re supposed to have a point. You can always go down a rabbit hole with employees if something unexpected is introduced to the conversation, but having some type of plan to refer to and keep you on track doesn’t hurt.
By having a formal plan, you’ll also make sure all of your evaluations are fair. Going into one evaluation casually singing an employee’s praises while going into another one with a formal list of things the employee needs to work on will sow seeds of resentment among your team, and that’s the last thing you want.
Mistake #2: Having a Speech Instead of a Conversation
Employee evaluations are manager-led, and you should come to the table with concrete thoughts you want to get across. That being said, an evaluation needs to be a two-way street in order to be effective.
Make sure to ask your employees questions about how they think things are going. They may bring valuable insights to the table you hadn’t even thought of.
For instance, maybe they’ve really been interested in leaning into one aspect of their job that you hadn’t considered before, or maybe they’re struggling on an issue and a colleague has been helping them a ton without your knowledge. By getting employees’ perspectives, you’ll have a more holistic understanding of on-the-ground operations and show employees you’re interested in what they have to say.
Although employee evaluations aren’t meant to be feedback to the company (there should be separate avenues for that), what your employees have to say in your evaluations can really help you manage and function better as a business.
Mistake #3: Providing Overly Vague Feedback
Feedback should be as pointed as possible, even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable. If you’re trying to cushion the sting of critique, you may be tempted to cushion it with filler words or broad goals.
But feedback is only useful—and therefore only worth your time—if it’s clear. Instead of saying something like “I’m hoping to see a bit more commitment from you the next couple of months,” just get to the point and say, “I noticed you’ve been clocking in 15 minutes late nearly every day. Is there a way we could rework your schedule or problem-solve to make sure you’re able to start on time?” Getting a bit more commitment could mean any number of things, and the employee could interpret it differently than you intended!
The opposite is true, as well—the best positive feedback is crystal clear. By giving direct, straightforward encouragement on specific details, you’ll encourage a repeat performance in the future. If you’re vaguely saying “yeah, good job,” employees might not understand what exactly they’re doing that you approve of and want to see more of.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to Document What Was Discussed
Lastly, it’s essential to document your employee evaluations.
First, you want to have something to refer to at their next evaluation. Did employees implement the changes you discussed? Did they work on the goals you set forth? Did they actually take the conversation to heart?
Second, if something negative were to happen and an employee was let go, it’s important to have documentation to show the issues had been previously discussed and weren’t just sprung on the employee suddenly. Or, if an employee requests a raise, the person’s evaluation may be helpful to confirm or deny the account of the worker’s job performance.
Even if the discussion went perfectly, having some documentation to show when you spoke, how long you spoke for, and what was covered is a good idea.
Even better, consider taking things a step further by creating a recap document to send to employees, which can include what you discussed and concrete action steps they could take.
Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.