How to Document for the “Dreaded” Performance Evaluation

by Michael Haberman on March 22, 2012 · 5 comments


My experience has been that both managers and employees hate the “dreaded” performance evaluation. Employees hate it because they are often blindsided by something they did not even know was important. Managers typically hate it because they have to make a public judgment about an employee and often DO NOT have the documentation necessary to make an evaluation effective. Well I am going to give you, Ms. Manager, some guidance on how to document for the “dreaded” event.

First a couple of ground rules are important. Number Uno is performance evaluation is NOT a once a year event. If you have been doing it that way you have been doing it wrong. EFFECTIVE performance evaluation is an ONGOING PROCESS. Secondly, there MUST NEVER BE any surprises. NEVER!

So the question becomes how is that done? The answer is through effective documentation ALL YEAR ROUND. I am a fan of the “critical incident method” but I am not sure that is necessarily a good way to describe it. I prefer to refer to it as the “performance note” method. It is the practice of keeping notes on employees actions, behaviors and results on a ROUTINE basis. (I can hear some of you whining now, “I don’t have time to do that, I have to do my work.” To which I say “bunk”, which is short for bunkum, which means nonsense. Don’t say I never taught you anything.) Technology, e.g. smart phones and notes apps, makes keeping this kind of brief performance note easy to do.

The next question is “What goes in these performance notes?” Here is that guidance:

  • Note both good and bad job performance and behaviors. Many managers just note the bad things thinking that the good things are just standard and don’t really need to be noted. If someone solves a problem, pleases a customer, turns something in on time or ahead of time, etc. make a performance note of it.
  • Describe the job related performance or behavior. Don’t judge it or try to explain it. As an example “Bill turned in his work week summary five hours before the deadline” as opposed to “Bill did an outstanding job on his report.” This last statement tells you nothing when you look at 6 months later. On the negative side “Bill was one day late in turning in the contract document. This caused Ed to be late in turning in his report as well.” As opposed to “Bill was his same old crappy self in handing in his report.” How do you explain to Bill, or his attorney, what you meant by “his same old crappy self.”
  • If you are noting incorrect performance or behavior DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT at the time you note it. Save yourself, the employee and the company some grief by correcting problems as they occur. When you do that make that part of the note.
  • DATE IT. Knowing when these things occur is important to establishing a time line of performance or behavior. This will be very important down the road.

Paying attention to your performance notes will help you identify whether the employee’s work is trending to improved performance or poor performance. It helps you make corrections as needed before sitting down with the employee for the “official” event. By noting victories and correcting less than ideal circumstances there will be no surprises when you are face to face with your employee. You can now focus on the future which is what is really important in that meeting.

Although this may sound like more work, it really isn’t. And even if it is, aren’t you being paid to be a manager? It helps you avoid problems in your own performance, such as ‘recency’, which is not being able to remember what happened earlier in the year.

So if performance evaluation time is always a “dreaded event” consider my performance notes method and see if it doesn’t improve the experience for both you and your employee.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell Thomas March 23, 2012 at 11:00 am

Performance reviews are useless! They are usually never done correctly; they set a trap for employers when discharging employees; design a system where an employee’s performance is judged against measurable goals.

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Michael Haberman March 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Agreed. But that is still a performance evaluation. It is a matter of how you define it.

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cindy March 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Wast stopped short in your first paragraph with the comment “Ms. Manager” – is this advice for female HR managers only?

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Michael Haberman March 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

No, it was meant to recognize that not all managers are male. The advice is meant for managers of all varieties.

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