June 25, 2006
Evaluating Employee Performance: Tips and Pitfalls
by Jennifer Brown Shaw
Many employers evaluate their employees’ To be effective, performance evaluations 10 years. To avoid this problem, employers
performance at some point during the em- should include the following: (1) an evalu- should be objective, honest, and accurate
ployment relationship, such as annually or ation of factors relevant to the performance when preparing evaluations and during the
at the conclusion of an introductory period. of the job; (2) an objective, honest, and evaluation meeting with the employee.
Often, however, these employers conduct accurate description of the performance
Be timely. Evaluations should be conducted
performance reviews as a matter of course that pinpoints specific facts and behavioral
in accordance with the time period set by
without knowing why it is important to do examples; and (3) the identification of
the employer. Employers who are late in
so. Some supervisors and managers also are performance or developmental goals that
conducting evaluations may be perceived
unaware of legal issues associated with con- are specific, measurable, and time-bound.
as inattentive to employees’ needs and
ducting performance evaluations thoroughly Employers should consider creating a writ-
not interested in employees’ professional
and accurately. ten “checklist” for evaluators to ensure each
of these elements is covered.
Why Are Performance Evaluations
Use evaluations to improve performance.
Important? Practical Tips for Employers
Because productivity and good performance
Improving employees’ performance is the In addition to the general guidelines dis- are the primary goals of any business opera-
primary reason for conducting performance cussed above, employers should consider tion, performance evaluations should be
evaluations. Most employees want to un- the following tips to ensure a successful used to encourage employees to improve
derstand where they are succeeding in their performance evaluation process. their work product.
jobs and where their performance could be
Use evaluations to motivate and develop Engage in regular performance feedback.
improved. Providing employees with regular
employees. Encouraging employees and Even if employers conduct formal, writ-
feedback allows them to enhance their dem-
praising good performance is a good way ten evaluations only on an annual basis,
onstrated skills and improve in areas where
to motivate people and can be much more employees should be given opportunities
needed. It also increases productivity.
effective than frequent criticism. throughout the review period to correct per-
Another important reason for conducting formance problems and should be praised
Of course, constructive criticism is an
formal evaluations is to create a written re- for good work.
important part of an employee’s evaluation.
cord of an employee’s performance. When a
However, to avoid the unpleasantness that What about self-evaluations and 180 degree
personnel decision must be made -- whether
may be associated with providing construc- evaluations? An effective performance evalu-
positive or negative -- it is important to have
tive feedback, some employers have a ten- ation process should be a two-way street.
a written record of the employee’s perfor-
dency to “inflate” performance evaluations. Employees who are encouraged to evaluate
mance to substantiate the action taken.
While this is understandable, it can their supervisors’ and managers’ perfor-
Documenting good performance justifies
be dangerous. mance are more likely to take the process
favorable action if challenged by another
seriously and participate in a more mean-
employee who does not receive the same For instance, in defending a wrongful termi-
benefit. Similarly, if a disgruntled em- nation lawsuit on the grounds the termina-
ployee sues or files an agency charge, written tion was for good cause, e.g., poor perfor- Employers also should consider implement-
performance reviews, if done properly, can mance, the employer may have a difficult ing a “self-evaluation” process to obtain
provide crucial evidence for the employer, time convincing the jury to render a verdict feedback regarding employees’ perceptions
particularly when the dispute is perfor- in its favor if the employee has received “ex- of their performance. Thorough an interac-
mance-related. ceeds expectations” evaluations for the past tive evaluation process, employers may re-
ceive valuable feedback on training, benefits, Ensure everyone understands the evaluation
and other issues important for employee process. Good communication is the key to
retention. success in the workplace. Because written
evaluation forms are often long and filled
Be consistent. Each performance evaluation
with ambiguous codes or phrases, employ-
should be considered part of a continuing
ers should consider beginning the evalua-
appraisal of an employee’s performance.
tion meeting with a clear explanation of the
Evaluators should review prior evaluations
process. In addition, all employees should
and seek to expand upon areas discussed
be provided with information regarding the
previously. If continuity is not appropriate,
evaluation process when they are hired, and
the reasons for this should be apparent in
supervisors and managers should receive
additional training on how to prepare and
Carefully consider the location of the evalu- conduct effective performance evaluations.
ation interviews. Preparing the performance
Management sets the tone for performance
evaluation is only the first part of the
evaluations. As such, it is important for
process. The evaluation also must be com-
all supervisors and managers to receive an
municated to the employee. When conduct-
occasional reminder of the importance of
ing the evaluation meeting, the evaluator
the evaluation process. Done right and done
should give 100% of his or her time and
regularly, evaluations are an essential part of
attention to the employee. The discussion of
an employer’s overall success. They also will
the evaluation is a significant event for the
assist employers in the event employees take
employee, and the evaluator should seek to
legal action to challenge adverse employ-
convey an understanding and appreciation
of this fact to the employee.
Schedule sufficient time for the evalua-
tion meeting. In addition to selecting the
right location and setting for the evalua-
tion meeting, the evaluator should ensure
adequate time is devoted to the discussion.
Many employees consider the performance
evaluation meeting a unique opportunity to
engage in dialogue with their supervisors or
managers. These employees will appreciate
the scheduling of sufficient time to cover the
evaluation in detail and discuss questions
Reprinted by permission of The Daily Recorder.
Jennifer Brown Shaw is a partner
at Shaw Valenza LLP. Her practice
includes providing regular advice
and counsel to private and
public sector employers. She also
develops and presents seminars 300 Montgomery Street, Suite 788 520 Capitol Mall, Suite 630
on legal issues in the workplace San Francisco, California 94104 Sacramento, California 95814
for management and non-super- Tel: (415) 983-5960 Tel: (916) 326-5150
visory employees. Fax: (415) 983-5963 Fax: (916) 497-0708