Performance Evaluations, Proper Metrics and Fairness

by Michael Haberman on February 15, 2010 · 0 comments


In my “home town” of Atlanta there is a big controversy regarding potential cheating on standardized tests in the Atlanta School System. The cheating does not involve the students. It involves teachers and administrators. Late last year a principal, and several others were convicted of erasing answers and “correcting” the tests in order to inflate the scores from their school. Now several other schools are showing similar patterns of erasures and answer changing. So an investigation is underway.

The underlying problem is not student cheating, but student performance. Principals and teachers are measured on the success, or lack thereof, of their students on standardized tests. Now there is alot that goes into a student being successful beyond just the teacher. These include parent involvement, home environment, peer pressure, cultural considerations, outside influences and more. I am not here to discuss these issues, rather I want to focus on the subject of performance evaluation.

The key to effective performance evaluation is having the right metrics. That is why an “off the shelf” evaluation form is not worth the paper it is printed on. To my way of thinking here are the key components:

  1. You have to understand the job,
  2. You have to know what needs to be measured,
  3. You have to explain it to the employee,
  4. You have to get their agreement that those measures are important,
  5. You have to course correct as appropriate through the evaluation period (after all, you can’t continue to measure sales of a product that is no longer made 6 months in),
  6. You have to define the behaviors that are important to the organization (such as NO cheating or erasures),
  7. You have to show the employee that they met the standard or did not,
  8. You have to administer the system with even handed fairness, and
  9. Finally, you have to take action based upon these results. Reward, or don’t. Correct or terminate.

In my 20 years of consulting with small business I have found few managers who are willing to put the time or effort into developing an evaluation system like this. I suspect the same may be true of bigger businesses as well. In the school system issue I am not sure if they have the right metrics or not, or the right measure of student success. I will leave that to “the” experts. But it is clear they have not reinforced the no cheating aspect of performance. The consequences of that remain to be seen.

Performance evaluation seems to be a hot topic today. Wally Bock, of Three Star Leadership, addresses this in terms of Presidents day in President’s Day and Performance and Tim Sackett of Fistful of Talent  discusses Forced Rankings Are for Winners. Both are excellent discussions of aspects of performance and are well worth the short time it will take to read them.

How have you address the issue of effective performance evaluation in your organization? Educate us with a comment.

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