In the corporate world, the practice of giving annual performance reviews to employees has come under attack in recent years. Leading business magazines and newspapers have printed articles advocating for the elimination of performance evaluations. There are even books in the marketplace that teach companies how to get rid of performance reviews. Among the reasons for eliminating annual evaluations is that the process is a waste of time, bad for morale, and unnecessarily creates conflicts between employees and supervisors. So, if private employers are moving towards eliminating annual evaluations, should public employers also do away with them?
The short answer is “no.” The primary reason for this is the difference between private and public employment. Generally, private sector employees are “at-will” meaning they can be terminated at any time without notice and for any non-discriminatory reason or no reason at all. By contrast, public employees usually have a vested right to continued employment and this property right cannot be taken away without first being afforded certain procedural safeguards pre- and post-discipline. These due process protections place the burden on public employers to show there are factual grounds for the discipline and that the level of discipline is appropriate. One way public employers can satisfy this burden is by using performance evaluations. Therefore, it is critical that public employers continue the practice of giving annual performance reviews.
Now, in fairness to proponents of getting rid of annual evaluations, those proponents do not support giving no feedback at all on employee performance. They also recognize the employer’s need to motivate, direct and improve employee performance. Rather, they are encouraging employers to replace the annual review with “check-in” meetings that occur throughout the year where supervisors can regularly discuss the employees’ performance and what is needed from them. We agree with this approach and train employers that regular “check-ins” should be part of an on-going process of assessing employee performance throughout the entire year that culminates in the employee’s annual performance evaluation. In other words, the annual evaluation is the final chapter in a year-long review process.
Another fair criticism of annual evaluations from critics is that they are ineffective because they are usually poorly written. Some supervisors view annual performance evaluations with dread because they are time consuming or because the supervisors are uncomfortable with having to honestly assess employees. Consequently, it is no surprise that written evaluations can fall short. The following are a few tips for giving effective annual evaluations:
Observe Employees’ Performance During the Entire Evaluation Period
The evaluation should reflect performance over the entire evaluation period, not just the few weeks or months before the evaluation is given to the employee. This makes it important for supervisors to observe and assess the employee’s performance throughout the year and keep a record of it. As these observations are being made, supervisors should also make it a point to address performance issues with the employee as they arise. Not only is it important to raise performance deficiencies with the employee as they come up, but supervisors should also make a point of praising employees when they do a good job.
Use S-P-I-R-I-T When Writing the Evaluation
The comments in the evaluation should be written with S-P-I-R-I-T. This means that the comments should be Specific, have Purpose, and identify specific performance Incidents that the employee did well and where improvement is needed. Where misconduct has occurred, the comments should also reflect workplace Rules that were violated and the Impact the performance problems have caused to the employer, other employees and/or members of the public. Finally, the Timelines for giving evaluations in your agency’s rules should be followed.
Make Time to Meet with the Employee to Go Over the Evaluation
After the evaluation is written, supervisors should meet with each employee to discuss the evaluation. Too often, employees complain that their supervisors just give them their evaluations to review on their own. This is a poor practice. Successful personnel management requires effective communication. Therefore, supervisors should make time to meet with employees, provide honest and constructive feedback, recognize accomplishments, and develop a plan for improvement, if necessary.
For more tips on writing performance evaluations see our workbook on Evaluation and Discipline.