How to Gather and Use Input from Others in Performance Evaluations

As we’ve preached elsewhere, performance evaluations should first and foremost be grounded in what a staff member achieved (her results), as well as how she achieved them (alignment with the organization’s values and the skills required for the role).

Especially as you consider the “how” portion of that formula, getting input from others who work closely with your staff member can help you flesh out your understanding of her work. Others may have different perspectives than you, and you might learn great things you wouldn’t have otherwise known or hear about areas the staff member could work on improving in (or both!).

Wondering how to do this? We’ve got answers!

1. Who should I reach out to for input?

You generally don’t need to get input from everyone; it’s okay to strive for a representative sampling of the people who the staff member works with most closely. That probably includes members of her own team, but might also include colleagues from other departments and/or people outside the organization.

If the person you’re evaluating manages a team of her own, it may be especially important to talk with those team members to learn more about their experience with the staff member.

For example, you might send an email saying something like this ahead of time: “I’m starting to think about Aiesha’s year-end evaluation and wanted to check in with you about your work for her, what ways she’s effective as a manager, and what ways she could be more effective. Would you be up for grabbing coffee with me later this week to share your thoughts, either in confidence or otherwise?”

(In emailing someone who doesn’t work for the person you’re evaluating, you could change that language to something like, “Since you work closely with her, I’d love to get your thoughts on the ways in which she’s effective at her work and ways in which should could be more effective.”)

2. What’s the best way to gather input from others?

Be transparent with both the person being evaluated and the people whose input you’re seeking about what you’re doing and how you’ll use the insights you gain. In framing the request, you might explain that your objective is to better understand the staff member’s work. In talking about how you’ll use the input, you might explain that you’ll be presenting general takeaways and broad themes, but that nothing you hear will be attributed to specific people (and explaining that will often help you get more candid input).

For example, part of an evaluation might say something like, “I spoke to a number of folks in other departments with whom you work. The general view was that you’re incredibly helpful when they get time with you, but that you’re sometimes not as responsive as they wished. Several people mentioned that it’s always worth the effort to follow up with you because your guidance is so useful, but they wished they didn’t have to pursue you quite so much.”

3. What if someone raises something that I feel is important to address but I can’t include it in the evaluation without compromising the source’s anonymity?

If you realize afterwards that important feedback will be hard to raise without naming the source, go back to that person, explain that you can’t resolve the issue they raised without making it clear that they talked with you about it, and ask their permission to address it. Usually when someone wants to share information in confidence, what they really want is for you to ensure that there won’t be any fall-out as a result of having talked with you. So it can help to assure the person that you’ll personally ensure that there won’t be any negative consequences to them for having spoken with you – and then, of course, really work to make sure that’s the case.

4. What about using 360s?

Organizations sometimes turn to 360s when it would actually be easier for a manager to gather input more informally and then incorporate that feedback in whatever way she determines makes sense for the context.

In our experience, 360s require an enormous amount of energy, particularly if you’re doing them across the board or for a broad set of people. It’s not clear that the return beyond a traditional evaluation is worth it, unless it’s informing an important decision (for instance, elevating a state director to a key national role) or providing input you might not otherwise have to inform an evaluation of a key staff member (for instance, soliciting input about a director who works with many constituents in the organization, or for a board to get input about an ED who they don’t see in action much). So one option to consider is doing them only in cases where getting that kind of broad feedback is particularly important, rather than doing them across the board.

5. What if someone’s input is very different from my own experience with the staff member?

With any input you receive, consider the source: Is it someone whose judgment you trust? What do you know about what might be informing their perspective? It’s reasonable to give more weight to someone whose opinion you or the recipient will value more than others or even simply to someone who you’ve had more interaction with.

Your goal here is to use the input thoughtfully and judiciously, not simply to relay it without any filter.

In a case where you want to pass something along but not weight it heavily yourself, you might say something like, “I heard a little bit of a theme around X – which I pass on in case it strikes a chord – but frankly what I found more resonant as I think about your work was Y.”