Five Reasons Why Your Performance Evaluation System Doesn’t Work


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One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is this: “Do you have any sample performance evaluation forms you can send me?” To be honest, I do have samples, but I never send them.

Why don’t I send them? Well let me ask you. Have you ever seen a traditional performance evaluation system that actually improves performance? Probably not. To my knowledge, no such form exists. You don’t need a sample form. Instead, you need to lead well.

There’s a perpetuating myth in leadership circles that every good leader does annual performance reviews. That’s not true. You can be a great leader without going through the agony of filling out your annual HR evaluation forms.

From my previous conversations, it seems performance evaluations are started because leaders know there are one or two poor performers on the team. Rather than confront those employees, they’re looking for documentation to get rid of them. They fabricate an elaborate performance rating system to try to weed out the bad apples. In the process, they create a system that both supervisors and the employees they lead detest.

(As a side note, if you’re dealing with poor performers, do yourself and the team you lead a favor and read Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Then take action.)

5 Reasons Why Your Performance Evaluation System Doesn’t Work

Here are five reasons why your performance evaluation system doesn’t work and how to fix it:

  1. You’re delaying the tough conversations. Waiting until the end of the year just makes it harder. Instead, you need to address the situation as it happens. Both celebration and coaching need to happen immediately to help reinforce or redirect the behavior. Here’s a secret — it needs to be a two-way conversation. Ask questions. Get feedback from your employee. Have them help drive the conversation about what’s working and what’s wrong.
  2. You’re being too nice. (You’re afraid to tell the truth.) Everyone needs healthy accountability. Your organization needs it. Your employees actually want it as well. (At least the good ones do.) They want to hear how they’re doing and how they can improve. Think of yourself as the batting coach. You wouldn’t just let your player continue to strikeout. Instead, you would give them batting instruction and practice to help them improve their swing.
  3. You’re trying to access the past rather than focus on the future. In other words, you need to establish action plans before you move forward. Those action plans need to be aligned with organizations mission and vision. Individual performance becomes more about that the organization accomplishes. Instead of arbitrarily trying to circle the right number from 1 to 5, it becomes a straight forward yes or no question: Did we accomplish our goals?
  4. You think performance reviews are a waste of time, but you have to do them. No! You don’t have to do performance reviews to be a healthy organization, but you do have to have the right scoreboard. Rather than an individual scoreboard, it’s a scoreboard that the whole team monitors together. What are you trying to accomplish in the next six months? What are the core numbers that drive success and health? That needs to be the focus. And, when you find someone who isn’t carrying their weight to accomplish these team goals, you need to have the tough conversations immediately.
  5. Your leadership doesn’t model it. Everything in an organization’s culture flows from the top down. If the senior leadership team doesn’t embrace and model it, it’ll never work in the rest of the organization. Leadership shapes culture. Healthy systems reinforce culture. No amount of training in the world can fix a poor performance evaluation system that the senior leaders don’t even embrace.

Of course, I firmly believe the organization has to establish clear mission, vision, values and strategy in order for employees to have a framework for great performance. Without that clarity, the team is left guessing what they’re supposed to do. They gravitate to what they’ve always done. That’s the comfort zone.

If you’d like to break the cycle and move in a healthier direction, let’s talk about how we can help you complete a strategic plan to create the right structure and accountability to realize it through prioritized action initiatives.

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