Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

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Best practices for performance evaluations

Employees have a right to know where they stand. Simply taking the time to meet one-on-one with an employee says, “You matter to me.” Although business literature is full of stories about how people hate performance appraisals, the employee surveys my colleagues and I have conducted at 200 natural food stores paint a different picture.


It appears that most of these workers value performance reviews – when they finally receive them. Unfortunately, many reviews tended to be later than scheduled.

 Are you one of those supervisors who fall behind on performance reviews? What gets in the way? Maybe you need to set up a system of timely reminders. Maybe you have a lot of employee anniversary dates at the busiest time of the year. One solution is to adopt “common date evaluations,” where reviews are all held in the same month every year.

 Maybe you are putting off evaluations because they seem intimidating and uncomfortable. If so, here are suggestions that might help:

• Ask the employee to fill out a self-evaluation in advance so you’ll know where you and she differ in your perceptions of her performance. The process of self-evaluation also empowers employees to take responsibility for the quality of their work. 

• Start the review meeting with appreciation for the employee’s strengths and contributions. Be specific and detailed in enumerating accomplishments, and illustrate your praise with examples. Take at least as much time for discussion of positives as of negatives. This takes preparation.

• On areas of improvement, note where you and the employee agree and ask him for ideas on how to make the needed corrections.  Again, be specific and detailed; describe the behaviours you’ve observed.

• Review progress made toward goals from the last evaluation. One of the greatest benefits of performance evaluations is goal-setting. But before you can set new goals for the future, demonstrate that these goals are meaningful by looking them up in the documentation from the previous evaluation and asking the employee to address them in her self-evaluation.

• Goals don’t all have to be remedial. They might include taking a class to increase skills, cross-training in other departments, or researching new systems for the department.

• Don’t overload the employee with goals. By limiting the number to three or four, you encourage him to focus on the highest priorities, and create a higher probability that he’ll actually accomplish them. This limit is particularly important when you are asking someone to change ingrained habits.

• At the conclusion of the review meeting, ask the employee to state in her own words what she’s agreed to. This process is more powerful than you reciting the goals and the employee merely nodding in agreement. It also will help ensure that the employee understands your intent.

• If you don’t work closely with someone you evaluate, consider getting input from co-workers who regularly work the same shifts. Ask them to fill out a form with rating scales and/or collect free-form comments. These comments should not be passed on to the employee, especially those you don’t agree with. Instead, use them as a guide when filling out your own form. Provide only ratings and comments for which you are willing to take ownership.

If you are anticipating a difficult review meeting, remember that you can still be a caring, competent manager even if the employee cries or blows up at you.  The success of the evaluation lies not in whether the employee is happy but in whether she improves her own performance.  Only honest feedback can make that possible. 


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