rating employee performanceThe end of the year is performance evaluation time for many organizations.  If you are expected to assign a rating to the performance of your employees, consider five perspectives that can take the pain out of this often dreaded process.

All levels of the scale should be used.

When we tell employees that they have to “walk on water” to get the highest rating on the scale, we are really just avoiding our responsibility for clearly defining performance expectations.  If your scale has five levels, it’s important to define what behavior it takes to earn each of the rating levels.  Likewise, if an employee’s performance is not satisfactory, you are doing them a disservice by rating the performance acceptable.  Call it like it is.

Specific examples should be provided to support each rating.

Rating performance without explaining why the rating was assigned turns the performance evaluation into a popularity contest.  While there will always be a level of subjectivity in the rating of employee performance, you can make it a more objective process by providing examples of performance that justify the rating you’ve selected.  For example, if the employee is below standard, specific examples of how the employee performed that were not up to your expectations will validate the rating. Likewise, when performance is rated as exceptional, you can reinforce it and encourage the same level of performance in the future when you clearly describe what the employee did to earn the high praise.  It’s reinforcement, plain and simple.

There is no correlation between last year’s and this year’s ratings.

Rate this year’s performance only. Performance evaluations should be a summary of the previous year’s performance.  They are not a reflection of performance that has occurred over the employee’s career.  When you reach for previous year performance evaluations and use them as a baseline for rating the current year’s performance, you are considering performance that is outside the scope of the current evaluation.

Ratings should be discussed between managers and supervisors prior to the discussion with the employee.

When you present your evaluation, ratings and all, to the employee without getting your boss’s buy-in, you are setting yourself and the employee up for a potential train wreck.  Your boss is a key player in the successful performance management of your direct reports.  Without their support and input, you are a lone paddler in the middle of a big ocean. Before you “finalize” an evaluation for an employee, make sure you have the backing of your manager.  If anything goes awry with the evaluation, you will need your manager’s support.

How the rating scale is defined will vary based on the job.

Your Human Resources Department might offer generic definitions for each level of the rating scale.  However, only you can translate the generic definition into something that is meaningful to the employees you lead. For example, commendable performance for a Firefighter will be defined differently than commendable performance for an Attorney.  Because the jobs are so different, how the ratings are applied must also be different.  That’s why only you, the manager, can define the scale specifically. The more descriptive to the job, the clearer your expectations will be for the employee.

The rating of employee performance doesn’t have to be a hazy, nebulous proposition.  A little structure and some reminders of what we are trying to accomplish can turn a painful exercise into one that is painless.

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