3 Ways to Take the Fear Out of Employee Evaluations

New techniques in reviewing employees are eliminating the stigma surrounding evaluations and creating a happier working environment.

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The popular comic strip Dilbert is famous for highlighting the multitude of ways employee evaluations squash the spirit of the worker. In one strip, the pointy-haired boss presents the intern Asok with an arbitrary poor rating with the explanation that it will leave a paper trail should he ever need to fire him. The look on Asok's face in the last frame says it all.

Employee reviews have become a mainstay of the corporate world. It’s hard to remember when evaluations didn’t strike fear into workers everywhere. The American workforce functioned without a formal evaluation process until the early 20th century when industries began making the correlation between happy workers and high productivity. It wasn’t until about 50 years later employees were routinely rated on their job performance. For all the emphasis placed on employee evaluations in corporate America over the last century, it’s surprising that, by the 1990s, only 5 percent of companies were happy with the traditional performance review process.

Removing the human element can ensure drudgery and burnout in the workplace, along with a negative impact to the customer experience. Yet, this is what many evaluation models do. Like the parent who values letter grades over student achievement, the manager who values an employee’s performance and rating systems over that person’s contributions to the organization, relegates that individual to a checklist. It’s no wonder turnover and the costs associated with it are common barriers to the growth of businesses in virtually every industry, the green industry included. By prioritizing job satisfaction, employers can reverse the stigma surrounding evaluations and create growth paths for their team members. This ensures long, profitable relationships with employees and improvement for the organization. Here are three ways to eliminate the fear of employee evaluations:

1. Hire Smart

Most employers want to see a healthy return on investment for every person they bring on the team and this begins with hiring the right people. Just as you wouldn’t work with an unprofitable customer, you should steer clear of potential employees that don’t fit with the vision, mission and culture of your business. There are recruiting tools to help you attract and hire the right people for the right roles, but at the end of the day, personality trumps experience. Hire for the long term, remembering that training opportunities can present themselves as the employee advances in your business, but it’s difficult to make a square peg fit in a round hole. When evaluation time rolls around, you and the right team members can rest assured their value is being realized, appreciated and used for the betterment of the organization.

2. Rely on the Data

Objectivity is key to assessing a team member’s contribution to the business. Data, being devoid of bias, opinion and personal prejudice, doesn’t distort the picture of how an employee benefits your business. This data should come to you as observable, measurable variables that directly show how the employee helps the business to realize its return on the investment of time, trust and resources. One way to compile the data is to encourage employees to keep a portfolio—hard copy or digital—that accurately represents their achievements and contributions. Emails from customers and other team members, report metrics, outlines of projects and initiatives, letters of reference and recommendation and pictures make meaningful additions to the portfolio providing data to present and discuss during the evaluation. No single form of data should speak louder than the others. Instead, all should be used together to provide a composite picture of employees and their contributions to the overall team.

3. Collaborate

Collaborative evaluation models encourage accountability and increase the likelihood of a team member’s buy-in to the success of the organization. While organizational charts are helpful for defining the responsibilities of individual roles, they are more of a hindrance during evaluation time. Leveling the playing field and assessing a team member’s value to the business ensures appropriate time and energy spent identifying strengths and areas of growth from different perspectives. Prior to the evaluation, both the facilitator and the team member should spend sufficient time thinking about both the on-stage (customer-facing) and off-stage (behind-the-scenes) contributions the team member brings to the picture. During the evaluation, both participants should compare notes, and take a holistic approach toward assessing strengths and growth areas, and formulating an action plan for future progress. At regular, pre-defined intervals after the evaluation, the facilitator and team member should meet to follow up on the action plan and adjust as needed.

Author Simon Sinek said, “Customers will never love a company until the employee loves it first.” You are in business to serve your customers and to be profitable. When you prioritize hiring the right employees, collaborate with team members to increase the value they bring to the organization and remove the element of fear from the employee evaluation process, your business will be rewarded with satisfied team members, happy customers and a boost to the bottom line.