Is Bad Juju in your Employee Evaluation?

Employee Evaluations. Everyone employed by a company has either got to give them or receive them at one point or another. Unless, of course, you work for yourself…in which case, count your blessings, whisper a positive mantra and then share this with a friend who may find it useful.

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By definition, an evaluation is a “systematic determination of a subject’s merit, worth and significance, using criteria governed by a set of standards”. All of these terms – “merit”, “worth”, “significance”…hell, even “standards” are generally positive indicators. Why is it that the mere thought of being evaluated makes people nervous? In my humble opinion, I believe we all fear hearing the BAD news on how we don’t quite measure up. Some folks avoid these potentially awkward conversations altogether….but then, how will we ever know what to improve on, or where our potentials exist? If you’re the boss, how will your employee know what you expect of them and what tools they’ll be offered to meet your expectations?

Let’s break the myth that there is need for concern, whether giving or receiving an evaluation. Turn the bad juju into good.

Positive feedback is an essential part of any successful career or growth opportunity. It’s a way of staying on track with good behavior, and learning to redirect the not-so-good behavior. Without feedback, many people may not know that their work is sub-par, but more importantly, they may not know HOW to achieve a different outcome.

What are your Evaluation Communication Goals?emp-evaluation stick figure

  • To identify and record areas for improvement in performance & productivity
  • To uncover training and development needs
  • To provide corrective or constructive feedback
  • To set realistic and achievable goals
  • To rate or track the progress made (or lack thereof)


Watch out for these Evaluation Errors

  1. Bias: When your values, beliefs or prejudices distort the ratings you give or the opinion you have. It’s important to assess the performance, not the person.
  2. The Halo Effect: Halo error occurs when the employee is great at one area, but is rated similarly for all other areas, even when the other areas are not as strong.
  3. The Horn Effect: This means that you might focus on one area of weakness and assess other areas more harshly than if they stood alone. This error may throw off the overall results.
  4. Leniency or Strictness: These errors occur when either no low scores are given, skewing the results to be falsely positive or exaggerated (leniency) or when no high ratings are given and true achievements are overlooked (strictness).
  5. Primacy or Recency: Primacy happens when more focus is given to someone’s earlier performances, let’s say at the beginning of the year, while overlooking a change in certain areas since then. The opposite occurs in Recency when you base your assessment on activity from the last month or so, without considering the big picture performance.
  6. Central Tendency: This error occurs when you rate all employees within a narrow range, perhaps a middle of the road score, regardless of what the actual performance should rate.

Guidelines for Giving Feedback

As with any verbal or written communication, we should always be sensitive to sending an accurate message in a way that will be best received. This requires one part empathic truth and three parts positive twist.

  • Describe the performance, don’t judge it.
  • Assume the attitude of helpfulness, not domination.
  • Empathize; listen with an open mind.
  • Give specific examples of good/positive performance. Don’t be general, don’t be vague.
  • Stick to the facts, not your opinion.

Positive Power Phrases to Use

  • You did great on these items. Let’s take a closer look at…
  • Can you help me understand why ___.?
  • You’ve reached your latest goal of __ AND [instead of but] we want to add these next level goals.
  • I might have done it differently. Can you show me how you’ve worked on ___?
  • How can I help you tackle this challenge?
  • What do you need from me to achieve these goals?

Warning Signs that Your Evaluations Stink

In giving staff/employee evaluations, one has to remember that your role as a leader/supervisor is to assist the employee to reach successful levels. To achieve this, your feedback is required all year round, not just once a year (or less frequently). Without thinking of the evaluation as a tool, or a Cheat Sheet for Success, you may find yourself facing these types of results;

  • Your employee is shocked and awed by their results and didn’t see it coming.
  • Ratings are all the same with no change from one to the next.
  • Great employees receive same ratings as those that lack in performance.
  • Employees who are terminated had recently received good, or even average, ratings.
  • Productivity goes DOWN after an evaluation period. Constructive and achievable feedback should have an improving effect.
  • Someone runs crying from your office (okay…this one’s obvious for humor’s sake)

The bottom line is that most folks get a bad vibe at the thought of being evaluated because they expect, or even fear, a negative result. An effective communicator can turn bad juju into good by practicing the intention and structure that it takes to guide others toward success.

Want to be a better communicator? You may be interested in these other topics:

8 Ways to Talk to Difficult People

Shut Your Pie Hole: A Lesson in Listening

Are You A Conversational Bully?