Eight-Step Guide to Performance Evaluations for Managers

Performance evaluations sometimes get a bad rep for being time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, procedural nightmares…but they don’t have to be! Performance evaluations can be a critical opportunity for relationship-building and alignment. They provide a container in which to pause, step back from the day-to-day grind, and reflect on the big picture of someone’s work. They also give managers a chance to receive feedback and hear about how their staff member is feeling about their work and trajectory at the organization.

Managers, here’s your eight-step guide for conducting performance evaluations!

1. Review the process with the staff member.

Set aside time at a check-in to talk through the process and timeline. Share what the process is meant to accomplish, go over the form (if it’s their first time seeing it), and give them the chance to ask clarifying questions. You can also use this time to add key deadlines to your calendars and schedule your evaluation meeting.

2. Reflect on the staff member’s progress, accomplishments, and performance overall.

As you’re doing this, make sure to evaluate the what and the how. Too often, we see managers prioritizing one over the other. Some focus on how a staff member does their work, at the expense of paying attention to what they’ve gotten done. Meanwhile, other managers only look at results without considering the mindset, skills, or values that their staff applies to their work. Don’t fall into this trap of either/or thinking. Evaluating the what and the how (assuming that you’ve already set explicit expectations on both) will give you a fuller picture of the staff person’s performance and how it’s serving your organization’s mission. Also, don’t forget to consider any extenuating circumstances that might have impacted their performance.

3. Collect (confidential) input from the staff member’s colleagues.

Be transparent with your staff that you’re seeking feedback from others and consider getting their opinion on whom to ask. Try to get input from a well-rounded mix of people, including colleagues from other teams, their direct reports (if they are a manager), and perhaps even people outside of the organization, if their work involves a lot of external stakeholders. As much as possible, make sure that your list is diverse along the lines of race and gender (or any other identities that make sense given your context). Check out this article for tips and scripts on how to gather and use input from others on performance evaluations.

4. Fill out the evaluation form.

Use the rubrics and rate the staff member based on how well they met expectations around their results, values, and competencies. Then, fill out the narrative section and provide written examples of areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. You might also include (anonymized) quotes from the input you solicited. You can also share themes from the input. As you’re filling it out, ask yourself—is there anything I’ve shared here that would come as a surprise to my staff? In an ideal world, there’d be no or very few surprises because you would have been sharing feedback along the way. If that’s not the case, this is an opportunity for you to reflect on where you could have been more direct and timely with your feedback. It’s also your chance to finally share that feedback (and acknowledge if you should have shared it sooner).

5. Review the staff member’s self-evaluation.

Ideally, you would review it only after you’ve gotten a chance to reflect and fill it out on your own. Then, if you receive new information that impacts your assessment, adjust your evaluation accordingly. If there’s a discrepancy in your evaluations, take the time to reflect on why. Have you not been clear about expectations? Did the person have different ideas than you did about what was most important to achieve in their job this year? Were there extenuating circumstances that got in the way of progress that you didn’t know about? Make sure to note the areas of misalignment for your evaluation meeting.

6. Send the completed evaluation form and evaluation agenda to the staff member.

Give them at least 24 hours to review before you meet to discuss.

7. Hold the evaluation meeting.

We recommend meeting in person or via video (for remote staff). Focus on the key takeaways for each section rather than going line by line. If there was misalignment in your evaluations, use this discussion to get realigned on the role expectations. The purpose of the meeting is to highlight bright spots and growth areas, share your sense of their trajectory, and decide how to move forward. If there are specific areas where improvement or development is needed, agree on a plan, and determine how you’ll assess progress in the coming weeks and months. Ask the staff member to summarize their key takeaways and raise clarifying questions. Lastly, make sure there’s time during your evaluation discussion to get curious and probe for specific feedback for you as the manager. Because it can be challenging to give feedback to your manager (especially if there are lines of difference), you might want to start with a self-reflection and then invite their thoughts. For example, you could say, “One thing I think I could have done better to help you succeed was check in more during busy periods. I was trying to give you space to do the work, but I wonder if that was the right call. What would have made you feel supported?”

Here are some questions you can ask to dig deeper:

  • What might I do differently to better support you?
  • Is there anything I could provide more clarity around?
  • Is there any feedback you’ve been hesitant to share with me?

8. Edit your form (if needed) and put it in their personnel file.

If you received input during the evaluation meeting that influenced your assessment, reflect that in the evaluation form. Then, follow your organization’s procedure for filing it away (typically, you’ll either put it in their personnel file directly or send it to your HR person).

A word of caution: If your organization has never done performance evaluations before, you’ll need to lay some groundwork. To get the most out of your performance evaluations (and to make sure they’re done fairly), you’ll need to have defined roles and goals for your staff that you are both aligned on. If these prerequisites have not been met, we recommend that you treat this process as more of a performance reflection and discussion (which is valuable for level-setting and getting aligned), rather than an evaluation. Remember: you cannot fairly evaluate someone based on expectations they didn’t know you had. What you can do is give feedback and get clear on expectations moving forward. For more tips on how to conduct fair performance evaluations, check out our article on mitigating bias in performance evaluations.