Performance evaluations sometimes get a bad rap. Many of us have experienced evaluations that are time-consuming, anxiety-inducing, procedural nightmares—but they don’t have to be! Performance evaluations can be an opportunity for relationship-building and alignment. Done well, they provide a container for managers and staff members to step back from the day-to-day grind, summarize feedback given throughout the year, and reflect on the big picture. They can be a key tool in staff retention and development, and they also give managers a chance to receive feedback.
For managers who want to build alignment, strengthen relationships, and reinforce staff development, here’s your eight-step guide for conducting performance evaluations!
First, ask: Are we ready? 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 need to start with defined roles and goals for your staff—and ensure you are both aligned on expectations. 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. If you’re just starting out, establish a culture of regular feedback and get clear on expectations moving forward. For more tips on how to conduct fair performance evaluations, read our article on mitigating bias in 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 Performance Evaluation Form if it’s their first time using it, and solicit clarifying questions. You can also use this time to add key deadlines to your calendars and schedule your evaluation meeting. The staff member can begin working on their self-evaluation while you work on your assessment, separately.
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 (mindset, values, approach), at the expense of what they’ve achieved (goals and results). Meanwhile, other managers only look at results without considering the mindset, skills, or values their staff applies to their work. The most helpful evaluations look at both—offering 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.
Ask yourself—is there anything I might share in the evaluation that could come as a surprise to my staff? There should be no or very few surprises in the evaluation if you have been sharing feedback along the way. If there’s a piece of feedback you’re sharing for the first time, it may be best to save it for a check-in rather than the formal performance evaluation. If you do need to include it, make sure you explicitly acknowledge that you should have shared it sooner, and own where you could have been more direct and timely with your feedback during the year.
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 lines of race and gender (or any other identities that make sense given your context). Find tips and scripts on how to gather and use input from others in your 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 specific written examples to illustrate strengths and opportunities for improvement. You might also include (anonymized) quotes from the input you solicited. You can also share themes from the input. Remember, unless something really new but important came up when you sought input from others, this is not the time for surprises.
5. Review the staff member’s self-evaluation.
Once you have completed your evaluation, review the staff member’s self-evaluation. 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. Did the person have different ideas about expectations and the most important results 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, and reflect on where you could have been more clear about expectations.
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, discuss 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 then finalize the evaluation.
If you received input during the evaluation meeting that influenced your assessment, revise the evaluation form. Then, follow your organization’s procedure for filing it (typically, you’ll put it in their personnel file directly, get final approval from a senior manager, or send it to your HR person).