How do we evaluate our personnel? How can we ensure that our staff are never undervalued? Some organisations use a checklist filled with standard questions, other insist of a hand written report. The most common is a combination of the two with several variations. It really doesn’t matter which method you follow, the end result should be the same. There are various names for the same process; evaluations, assessments or appraisals, and they are all pretty much the same thing.

The goal is to have a good two-way, semi-formal, conversation during which both the interviewee and the interviewer are assessed. Pardon? Hold on a moment, what? Well yes, actually a good evaluation isn’t just about the performance and standards of the person being evaluated. It should also be the opportunity that every employee needs, to say what is on his or her mind without the fear and worry of consequences. Of course, they are expected to remain polite and professional at all time, no personal insults allowed, sorry.

If the manager has many of these evaluations to perform, they can all too easily become a routine with no added value to the person writing the evaluation or the person being evaluated. Are they important, I mean really, it’s just a perfunctory regular interview that we all have to go through? It doesn’t really mean anything, right? Unfortunately it can and is treated in this way, particularly if the sheer volume of evaluations has a serious impact on the managers’ daily responsibilities. If this happens then potential can be missed and a person’s talent can be under-valued and wasted.

No manager should ever be put into the position of being over-whelmed with evaluations. The point is to assess the performance and development potential of each and every person in the organisation, but for that to function properly some effort need to be put in.

A good rule of thumb is to limit the number of evaluations to four or five, maximum, at any one time, less if at all possible. Consider a hypothetical manager who is responsible for around twenty personnel. It is extremely unlikely that the manager will be able to effectively evaluate every single one of his team. How could anyone possibly get to know so many different people sufficiently to be able to produce an effective evaluation for each and every one?

A possible solution in this case would be to split the evaluations up into four or five parts spread over the year. However, this would only help to solve the problem of the number to be carried out at any one time. It would probably be ineffective in any case as the manager would still have the difficulty of actually getting to know each member of his staff.

Another solution could be to select four of the more senior team members and allocate the remainder between them. These seniors would be responsible for only four evaluations each, which would be discussed thoroughly before the manager himself carried out the interview. And of course, the manager would assess these four directly.

Why put so much effort into these routine appraisals, well because they are anything but routine for those being appraised. They are a valuable part of their professional life; it is here that they learn where they excel and what they still need to work on and why. It is also an opportunity for them to make suggestions, complain about inefficiencies or frustrations that they experience. If the manager is a good manager, see The moving target, they should already be aware of any potential problems within the team and, mostly, the manager will have an answer ready. But little surprises catch us all out occasionally.

These interviews should never be thought of with dread, as something to get through as quickly as possible. They offer an additional opportunity to connect, one on one, with your team and they with you. It should be a relaxed affair, thus absolutely not formal. Both sides need to be at ease and feel able to talk freely (again, within professional boundaries).

Normally, these evaluations are carried out yearly but that doesn’t stop a good manager from taking time to regularly have informal chats. A year is a long time and a lot can go wrong, also a lot can go right so don’t waste an opportunity for praise and to show your appreciation. It is best to keep track of your staff on a regular basis, and that doesn’t mean prying into their daily routines. It doesn’t have to be a formal invite to an appointment, call them in as they are passing for example, spontaneous conversations in a relaxed atmosphere works wonders for building the teams spirit. They are much more effective than formal team building days in my opinion

On the subject of team building days, should you have a budget for these activities then make the most of them. Involve your team from the start with suggestions flowing both ways. Take a vote on what to do and most of all make sure they are as relaxed and as informal as possible. After all, you already have a great team if you are doing your job right. Above all, avoid the events that involve a lot of learning or lectures. Your team just need to let their hair down with their colleagues. They most certainly will not appreciate being ‘forced’ into any activity.

There will always be some individuals that will not want to participate. It is important that this isn’t held against them in any way, but what it does show is that, perhaps, they may need some closer supervision, mentoring or coaching to come out of their shell. Or they could just be old dogs like myself who’ve been there and done that and would rather either stay at work or take the time off to go for a walk with the dog. Just don’t fall into the trap of judging them, ok?

Addendum: See here for a US Government PDF on 360-Degree Assessment.