The Myth of the Performance Evaluation as an Effective Management Tool

performance evaluationLet’s stop pretending. Performance evaluations don’t work. But organizations do them anyway because they think that if they don’t do them, they won’t . . . . well, I’m not sure what organizations think will happen if they stop doing performance evaluations. Maybe they think won’t look like they are “managing” employees. Well, here’s a news flash: performance evaluations don’ t help you manage employees, and by using them, organizations are dodging the real problem: conflict avoidant managers.

The standard performance evaluation usually has a grade-card-like section that rates an employee’s ability to do aspects of the job or to exhibit the organization’s expected behavior. Seriously? NOW, you’re grading the employee’s abilities in these areas? Wrong. The time to grade the person was BEFORE you hired him . . . during the selection process. Grading the person’s abilities AFTER you hired him is a bit late. If the person made it through your selection process and landed a job he can’t do well or at all, you don’t need a performance evaluation tool: you need ways to assist you in hiring hire better. At this point, you’re really grading how well your selection process worked.

Also, research shows that it’s really difficult for an employee to turn ability deficits into strengths. So what do we think we’re going to accomplish by filling out a grade card on each year? Not a lot. Oh sure, you need to document poor performance to justify remediation or eventual termination, but you can do that in timely memos or letters created after each conversation a manager has with the employee about deficit performance.

You see, the real reason organizations create and use forms called performance evaluations is that managers are conflict avoidant. Managers cross their fingers hoping maybe the form will do the managing for them. But the forms don’t do the manager’s work. And that leads to the heart of the matter. Because even if managers have a handy form to communicate their perception of an employee’s performance quality and ability, they don’t do it! They often avoid the tough news anyway!

In my HR career, almost 100% of the time I found that each performance evaluation form in an employee’s file showed at least an acceptable if not downright stellar performance. Why? Because most supervisors don’t want to ruffle feathers or rock the boat by subjecting themselves to the negativity that might occur when bad news is delivered to a poor performer. Conflict avoidance.

Well, in my book, any manager, who hires the wrong person and doesn’t take timely steps to address performance issues when they occur, ought to experience a little negativity. The issue isn’t about the employee’s performance level or the fact that the company doesn’t use a performance evaluation form.

So, whatever shall we do without the performance evaluation? Trade all the time and money used to create, distribute, complete, file and store annual performance evaluations for management training on how to hire the right person in the first place. Oh, and use a hiring managers’ track records of hiring sub-par employees as feedback when talking to THEM about their performance.