Effective Performance Evaluations

When performance evaluations are done effectively, they can become more than a dreaded once-annual discussion that glosses over the years’ activities and produces a standardized memo in each employee’s file. Done well, these sessions can go beyond cookie-cutter forms and instead yield productive results in alignment with city strategic goals.

Motivating and coaching employees, as well as setting expectations, moves everyone in a positive direction. Though there are many components to an effective evaluation process, it is paramount that they occur in the first place, and that they are expected and scheduled regularly. If a regular review structure is expected employees may be more apt to share new ideas or suggest improvements if they are comfortable with the process and feel that their ideas will be heard and considered, even if not implemented. In most cases and with regular communication, the tone and direction of the evaluation should not be surprising to the employee.

The author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, Dick Grote, wrote that “what a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable.” However he goes on to say that the performance evaluation process should be considered a process, and one that comes as no surprise. As employees come to expect candid, professional conversations that occur regularly throughout the year there may be fewer unexpected suggestions for improvement, and in turn may carry a more positive tone.

The State Library of Iowa suggests that the performance evaluation process be viewed as a “cycle” instead of a yearly event. This way it provides an opportunity for reinforcing positive performance, while also addressing and identifying areas for improvement. Employees can be encouraged to discuss barriers to performance not only during their evaluation meetings, but informally as well. At the conclusion of the evaluation meeting, both the manager’s and the employee’s goal is to understand and solidify a plan for progress.​

Harvard Business Review suggests the following tips to delivering an effective performance evaluation: set expectations early; lay the groundwork; set a tone; constructively coach; hold your ground. The International City Managers Association (ICMA) suggests a similar process, and adds its top 10 tips, citing some specific suggestions and topics to stress and/or avoid during the conversation.​​​​

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