Evaluating Staff Performance

It’s the end of Q1 and my clients are once more asking about staff performance evaluations.

For some, it’s the 2009 evaluation that’s late.  For others, it’s a quarterly review that’s on time.  And for others, it’s being triggered by a recent performance problem.

You’ll make your staff happier — and yourself — if your performance evaluations are:

  • Timely
  • Specific to Observable Behavior
  • Connected to their Role
  • Connected to the Mission

Here’s what you should do, and why you should do it. (continue reading)


Timely
The sooner you give someone feedback on their performance — good or bad — the more effective it is in helping them alter their behavior, both to do more of the good and less of the bad.  The perfect time is immediately — literally, as soon as you see them doing the behavior in question.  The longer you delay, the less effective your feedback.

So, within the limits of practicality (you don’t interrupt a good waiter to praise him when he’s taking a customer’s order, and you wait to get privacy before giving negative or corrective feedback) you should act quickly.  That means within a few minutes, or at least the same day.

Why do we delay?  Usually because “we’re busy” — which really translates into one of these:
a) we don’t know how to do it well, so we put it off
b) we don’t know how to do it quickly, so we put it off
c) we’re afraid it won’t be well received, so we flinch away and put it off

The key to being timely is:
a) practice a proven formula that works well reliably
b) use a system for capturing and delivering feedback so we can do it quickly
c) give all feedback in a context of trust and respect so we know it will be well received

Specific to Observable Behavior

Staff evaluations – feedback on performance – is dreaded when it’s vague or arbitrary.  Imagine being told you’re “not a team player” – first, what on Earth does that even mean, and second, who says so?

Feedback is vague when you can’t tell what specific, observable behaviors were involved.

Feedback seems arbitrary when the standard of right and wrong is unclear or not agreed in advance.

Get away from those two pitfalls by mentioning specific behavior — a loud tone of voice, a smile, eye contact, eye rolling, being on time with an assignment, being late to a meeting, etc.  You can then share how you interpreted that behavior, and continue the feedback from there.  This lets you help the other person see themselves through your eyes, and lets you both catch misunderstandings immediately.

Then, connect that observed behavior to a standard of conduct that is also defined in terms of behavior: that eye rolling can show disrespect, that being on time to meetings is expected, and so on.

Connected to their Role

Staff evaluations are even more powerful when the specific praise or correction is connected to a role — and that role has to be defined.

Good feedback would then involve connecting language, such as “because, as the receptionist, you’re responsible for making appointments…”  There’s nothing wrong and a lot right in making these connections.

I’m constantly amazed how many employees have no job or role descriptions, and how many others have written job descriptions, yet work jobs that have evolved away from that description.

What if you lack role descriptions?  It’s an easy quick fix:  give each staffer and manager a blank 3-by-5 card (or 4-by-6 if you’re feeling generous) and have them — separately — write down the 3 to 10 major outcomes they believe that role is responsible for.

For example, a receptionist at a medical clinic might write:

  • perfect appointments
  • friendly greetings and goodbyes to all visitors
  • perfect collection of copays
  • smooth distribution and collection of paperwork to/from patients
  • clear and timely communication among doctor, assistant, and patient

The clinic director might write similar things, yet also include

  • communicate with pharmacies and suppliers

Merge these lists to come up with the new, agreed role description.  Elsewhere (in the front office manual) you could document the meaning of “perfect appointment” and the rest.

Congratulations – in just 10 minutes you’ve created an agreed role description.  Repeat as needed for other roles until complete.

Connected to the Mission

Staff evaluations are even more powerful when the specific praise or correction is connected to the firm’s glorious mission.  You can praise (or correct) with introductory language that reminds you both of that mission.  For example, you could start with “We’re here to increase the health of our community.”  You could then use the role connection language:  “Your role as receptionist is vital to our mission.”  Then you deliver the performance evaluation:  “This morning I noticed three different occasions where you looked each visitor in the eye, smiled at each one, and said ‘Good morning!’ in an upbeat tone of voice.  That’s exactly the behavior that makes people glad they came here, and makes it easier for us to reach more people and improve their health.  Thank you for setting such an excellent example.”

Practice It

Follow these steps, and you’ll be giving rapid and effective feedback — you and your staff will be happier and perform better.
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