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How to conduct an employee evaluation

Employee evaluations have long been an important communication tool between managers and their staff. They’re an opportunity for both parties to review performance, set goals for the year ahead, and discuss growth opportunities at the company.

With the growth of performance and talent management software, employee evaluations have evolved into various new formats and frequencies. While annual performance reviews used to be the norm, many companies are now moving to weekly or monthly 1:1 sessions, and 360-degree feedback.   

In this article, we’re going to look at what types of employee evaluations are popular today, why they’re important, and provide tips on how to conduct effective review sessions.

What is an employee evaluation?

Employee evaluations are regular assessments of an employee’s performance on the job. Evaluations can take many forms and be conducted at different intervals, depending on the desired outcomes. 

Traditionally, employee evaluations were conducted on an annual basis and part of a yearly performance review. This has increasingly shifted to more frequent and less formal review sessions that act as an opportunity for open two-way communication between manager and employee. 

Today, employee evaluations can take many forms, including:

  • Annuals or quarterly reviews
  • Informal, regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings
  • 360-degree evaluations that include feedback from around the organization
  • Employee self-evaluations 

Employee self-evaluations are typically completed in advance of a more formal, two-way review session. They allow your staff member to reflect on their own performance and give their thoughts on how things are going. 

Whatever form your employee evaluations take, the goal is to provide managers and employees with open conversations about performance, goals, and development. 

Why are employee evaluations important?

Employee evaluations are key to establishing clear expectations between employees and managers. They’re the vehicle by which both parties lay out what the goals for the year are, what success looks like, and what new training or growth paths are needed to achieve those outcomes. 

Above all, employee reviews enable open and honest feedback. Without them, it’s tough for managers and employees to remain on the same page. Because of this, the outcomes of employee evaluations often contain key pieces of information that lead to promotions, bonuses, and raises for the staff member. 

The benefits of employee evaluations are many:

  • They establish clear expectations between employees and managers.
  • They set goals and success metrics for the year ahead.
  • They provide honest feedback to employees on what’s working and what needs improvement.
  • They help employees better understand what’s expected of them.
  • They improve communication. 
  • They give recognition and rewards for good work. 
  • They help managers understand an employee’s strengths, goals, and motivations.
  • They help employees plan a future growth path for their career.
  • They provide an opportunity for employees to explain how they’d like to be managed. 

Without these structured employee evaluations, it’s unlikely that each of the above benefits could be achieved in a sustainable way. These points often get lost in the hustle of daily business. 

Employee evaluations, therefore, are an opportunity for managers and employees to pause, reflect, and chart a path forward. 

Key elements of an employee evaluation

Regardless of what type of employee evaluation you use, and the frequency at which you hold them, all review sessions should contain some variation of the following elements. 

1. Performance standards and review frameworks

It’s important that your company, or at least your team, has a clear framework in place for measuring performance. This framework should include sliding expectations depending on the seniority and position of the employee being reviewed. 

Having this framework allows managers to evaluate employees more objectively rather than reviewing based on personal biases. It should give managers employee evaluation questions that are designed with a clear review outcome in mind.

These structured questions and performance standards should be achievable, relevant to the job description, and communicated upfront to employees. 

2. SMART goals

Each employee should have a specific set of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely) that relate to their job performance. These goals should serve as the reference point against which you measure that employee’s performance. 

When establishing SMART goals, work with your employees to establish their ambitions, strengths, and desired responsibilities. They can, and should, include development goals and expected outcomes. 

Employee evaluations should refer to these SMART goals and discuss the employees’ progress towards achieving them. 

3. A consistent schedule

Choosing an employee evaluation schedule is very important for the overall success of the performance management process and employee confidence in the company. Whether you hold reviews yearly, quarterly, or informally on a weekly basis, you should be as consistent with your schedule as possible. 

Consistency in employee evaluations will give your employees clear milestones to work toward and prioritize their tasks to achieve their goals. It will also ensure the desired level of transparency between employee and manager by guaranteeing honest conversions on a regular basis. 

Tips for evaluating employees

Knowing how to hold employee evaluation sessions is one of the manager’s most important jobs. As a team leader, it’s critical that you have open and accountable communication with every team member and work with each of them toward personal and organizational goals. 

Employee evaluations are one of the best outlets for this type of honest back and forth conversation, provided you follow some tips and best practices.

  • Take a lot of notes. Taking notes between, and during, employee evaluations will help you keep track of important pieces of information you’ll need to manage your employee effectively, and ensure that your conversations are structured and actionable.
  • Be honest and specific with feedback. Regular feedback helps you direct and coach your employee toward success. To do so, you need to give clear insights into what’s working, what’s not, and what needs improvement. Be sure to give clear steps forward, and empower your team to improve.
  • Don’t compare employees. Nobody is the same, so you shouldn’t treat them that way in your employee evaluations. Instead, measure the individual progress of your employees based on the goals you’ve mutually agreed upon. Avoid evaluating based on personality, as this ultimately doesn’t matter if they are achieving their goals, and are a good cultural fit.
  • Build a strong rapport. Open conversations only occur when both parties are comfortable with being honest to one another. This comes from a strong rapport between employee and manager. Treat evaluations as friendly discussions, and encourage an open dialogue. Holding regular, weekly check-ins will help create this honest rapport, which will lead to more honest and valuable two-way feedback.
  • Ask specific questions. And be sure that they serve a concrete purpose. Employee evaluations should act as a review of the last quarter or year, be a two-way conversation about personal and team development, and provide managers with insights into how they can improve as well. Create a list of questions that help steer the conversation in the right direction to cover each of these objectives.

With that last tip in mind, let’s take a look at some sample performance evaluation questions that you can incorporate into your own meetings. 

Sample employee evaluation questions

As mentioned, you should be deliberate with the types of questions you ask in an employee performance evaluation. In other words, your questions should relate to a clear action item for you and the team member. 

For example, your questions could relate to employee performance, professional development, or your own management. 

Performance questions

Employee performance evaluation questions might include:

  • What do you think your great accomplishment was at work this year?
  • Overall, how would you evaluate your performance this year/quarter?
  • Do you feel that you met your SMART goals for this review period? If not, why?
  • What are some challenges you’ve faced, and what can I do to help?
  • What do you hope to achieve in the company this year?

The idea here is to encourage your employee to reflect on their own performance and chart a path forward. Each of these questions is a conversation starter and should be paired with your own input and suggestions. 

Development questions

Expanding on performance question, your development conversation might include: 

  • What support, training or resources do you need to meet your goals?
  • What are your long-term career goals? How can I help achieve them?
  • What new skills or knowledge do you want to develop this year?
  • What position in the company do you want to move into next?
  • Where do you think there’s room for you to improve?

This part of the employee evaluation is all about working out a path forward for your employee, and showing that you and your company are there to support them. 

Management questions

Lastly, you should take some time to receive feedback as well. Ask your employees questions like:

  • Is this review process working for you? How would you prefer to receive feedback?
  • How can I better manage you?
  • Do you have everything you need to perform your job?
  • Where has the company management helped or hindered your performance?

The goal here is to learn how you can be a better manager and identify any red tape or micromanagement that might hinder your employee’s performance. 

Employee evaluations are critical to keeping staff and managers aligned and working in lockstep toward a common goal. That means open, two-way communication that helps both parties grow their respective skill sets and processes. 

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