Rethinking Employee Performance Evaluations

By Ken Paetzold

Whether monthly, quarterly, or annually, many companies are beginning to reassess how they perform employee performance evaluations. Some are even throwing traditional review systems completely out the window.

Why? These methods have lost their efficacy as they become a must-do checklist item instead of a tool to identify strengths and improve employee performance.

Job performance evaluations, feedback, and assessments should be ongoing activities, not just point-in-time tasks. A fresh approach is needed for employee reviews to improve the experience for managers and employees while simultaneously delivering the results companies desire; putting employees in the best position to improve and contribute.

A New Approach to Having Difficult Conversations

One of the reasons why employee performance evaluations are losing their effectiveness is because managers struggle with their approach to difficult conversations. When it is time to discuss concerns, the focus is on past behavior – which means that the feedback is offered at the expense of current performance.

The labor market is picking up, and concerns about employee retention are increasing. Companies can see that quality feedback and employee development is critical for long-term results. But, it can be a challenge to cover the gap to create an environment where difficult conversations can be held. Feedback in employee reviews must be constant so that employees are never taken by surprise far down the road. With advanced feedback, the weakness could have been already remedied or the strength better utilized.

In fact, these ongoing conversations provide the foundation that is needed so that employees can develop the necessary skills to grow. Employees are more malleable than you might think, and the leadership needs to come from management. Building a performance review process that fuels real conversations will boost personal growth, which in turn increases job satisfaction and maximizes retention.

Questions to Initiate the Difficult Conversations

Asking the right questions during the performance evaluation can break down barriers to have authentic discussions about the current situation and future possibilities. Here are a few questions that you might use in your employee reviews:

  • What is our current situation?
  • Where are we trying to go?
  • How can we implement a plan to get there?

These questions change the focus from employee-centric metrics to a teamwork environment that supports personal responsibility for results.

Employee evaluations should be part of an ongoing process that supports the development of your employees.

Supporting the Development of Employees

These conversations provide the foundation to support true development in a workforce. Instead of holding employees accountable with annual appraisals, the ongoing employee evaluation conversation is focused on a growth process that highlights potential and strengths in each person.

Then, the conversations lead to the skill development to ensure that the employee is thriving in the workplace. The next step is to help each person use the results of their performance evaluation to develop the strengths that will move them forward in their career.

How to Develop Employee Strengths

It is essential that managers can initiate difficult conversations, helping to shed light on potential problems or gaps in the employee’s performance. As you maintain these conversations, it is natural to find areas where the employee needs to strengthen their skill set. So, the next step to an effective employee performance evaluation is to focus on strengths-based employee development.

Employee engagement is dropping, leaving managers stuck if they are only focusing on standard annual reviews. Instead of waiting for a formal meeting between employee and manager, the business environment needs to shift to support the growth of both employees and managers.

Results of Strengths-Based Development

Gallup released research findings that highlighted the results of strengths-based management strategies. The results covered data from 45 countries, seven industries, and 1.2 million employees in 49,495 business units. The findings showed that developing employees with strengths-based strategies resulted in positive changes in six outcomes: employee engagement, turnover, customer engagement, profits, sales, and safety.

The companies that supported employees in growing their strengths experienced higher levels of success. This shift in performance evaluations shows that traditional annual reviews just might not be cutting it.

What is Strengths-Based Development?

Typically, employee reviews focus on a few things that are going well, as well as areas of improvement that need to be addressed. An annual review might be completed at the end of the year, looking back over the results that were achieved over the previous 12 months. Often, it is natural for these conversations to turn to the areas where the employee is coming up short. Then, new annual goals are set to help the employee overcome these gaps.

But strengths-based development takes a different approach. Instead of looking for the areas that need improvement, management is focusing on the strengths of the employee to look for development opportunities. Employees should be developed based on what is going right with them. As a result, the employee grows as the company supports and taps into the unique traits and skillset that the person brings to the table.

It is a win-win solution. Employees thrive in the workplace because they are satisfied and happy with their development. At the same time, important business goals and performance levels can be improved when employees are engaged in the bigger goals.

If you want to implement strengths-based development, the first step is to create an employee review program that supports these conversations. Performance management software can be catered to match your needs, making it easier than ever to stay consistent with these initiatives.