Articles Posted in Performance Evaluations

I never discuss politics. Never. I don’t have the stomach for it, to be honest, and I avoid the subject like the plague. That said, I did manage to watch part of the Presidential Debate on Tuesday night. There are ample pundits who surely have more insightful (i.e., political) commentary than what I can offer. So I’ll gladly leave the politics to others and stick with what I know–employment law. Here’s one HR-related lesson that I took away from the debate.

One of the hottest topics of post- debate discussion was Mitt Romney’s comment about “binders full of women.” I’ll admit–when I heard him say that, I cringed. It just sounded so wrong.

But I’ll admit that I cringed for another reason. I assume Mr. Romney did not actually plan to say that he’d looked at “binders full of women.” Surely he meant to say that he’d reviewed binders full of resumes of female candidates. But, alas, those were not the words that he said. And now he’s stuck with the ones he did say.

There has been a common element in each of the most difficult cases I’ve litigated–poor client management. What this means in a broad sense is a lawyer who fails to properly manage his client’s expectations. This occurs for any number of reasons. For example, the lawyer may not have a good grasp of the case or of the applicable law and, for that reason, may have a severely inflated sense of the value of his client’s claims.

The client is not always without fault, either. I’ve seen particularly manipulative or just plain bossy clients push their lawyer to do one thing or another and simply refuse to relent until they get their way. I usually see this exhibited during depositions. My opposing counsel brings his client to the deposition of my witness. Throughout the deposition, the client scribbles notes frantically, ripping pages out of a notebook and thrusting them across the table to his lawyer.

Inevitably, the lawyer relents and asks the question proposed by his client. And, inevitably, it’s a flop. The question is out of context, irrelevant, and often poorly stated. It makes the lawyer look foolish and throws him off course.

Just how useful are traditional performance evaluations? According to a recent study by SHRM and Globoforce, not very. 45% of the HR professionals surveyed reported that performance reviews are not an accurate appraisal of employees’ performance. And 42% don’t believe that employees are given rewards commensurate with their performance.

Is anyone really surprised by these statistics? I mean, when was the last time you heard a group of HR professionals, managers, or even employees, cheer enthusiastically about the value of the performance review?

Okay, after you’ve stopped laughing hysterically at the thought, consider the suggestion of Globoforce CEO Eric Mosely in his post on the Harvard Business Review Blog. Mosely’s idea is to “crowdsource” your organization’s next performance reviews. In other words, solicit regular feedback from everyone who works with employee being reviewed. Don’t limit your sources to only the employee’s manager or direct supervisor. And don’t wait until the end of the year and expect the reviewer to have sudden recall of the past 12 months.

Ahh, feedback.  It’s a tricky pill to swallow, isn’t it? When performance-review time comes around and you’re making a list of all of the areas in which you want your employees to improve, maybe you should ask yourself a few questions first. Have you really done everything that you can to address problems as they arise? Or have you waited until formal reviews to bring up those little problems that have become bigger problems?


The best leaders know that regular feedback is essential to an effective working relationship.

If you are looking for a creative way to get and receive feedback, there’s a website for you.  BetterMe gives users a way to give “private, anonymous feedback.”  You can give feedback to anyone–even if they’re not registered with the site.  You can also ask for feedback from others.  Good idea?  Well, an interesting one, indeed.

“Get Rid of the Performance Review!” That was the title of an article in Monday’s WSJ. I’m certain many employees read the headline and thought, “If only it were that easy.” In the article, author Samuel A. Culbert promotes nixing the tired annual performance review in favor of a “preview.”

His message is simple: instead of looking back, think about what’s going to happen next. The essence is that instead of reviewing what your employees did, consider what they are going to do and how they will achieve their goals in the future. It’s sensible and makes good business sense to have your employees think about what they are going to do better, not what already happened that can’t be fixed. Culbert rightly advocates that a boss should “guide, coach tutor, provide oversight and generally do whatever is required to assist a subordinate to perform successfully.”

But, because of the anxieties associated with a performance review, that goal is lost to things like concerns over pay raises and disruptions to teamwork. In Culbert’s alternative, a preview becomes an exercise in problem-solving and promotes discussions among teammates who are going to work together more effectively and efficiently than in the past. A preview focuses on the future, and, according to Culbert, “promotes straight-talk relationships for people who are up to it.” Although a preview may not be for the fainthearted, it can be a useful mechanism to re-tool your old performance review checklist in favor of a more dynamic activity aimed at promoting employee and business development.

Performance reviews and evaluations are a sensitive topic for employers and employees, alike. Diligent, thoughtful managers, want to craft the most accurate and effective employee evaluations without triggering hostility or damaging relationships. How to word a performance evaluation is a major source of mystery for most everyone. It’s difficult to give “sample” language for use on an employee evaluation. The better approach is to start with the actual evaluation system that is in place. Does it meet the needs of your organization? More importantly, do reviewers actually understand how to use it? And do they all understand it in the same way?

For those of you brave enough to tackle your company’s performance-evaluation system, I applaud you! It’s a very worthwhile effort, even if you meet great resistance. Below, I discuss the four basic types of rating systems. Once you know how you want to rate, then you can decide what you want to rate. Put the two together, and you’re off to the races.

There are variety of ways to rate an employee’s performance. Generally, though, there are four common approaches used by the majority of businesses. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Below is a summary of the four types. The benefits and pitfalls will be discussed in a subsequent post.

Employee performance reviews are hard, aren’t they? Much fuss is made about them–by senior management, by HR, by Legal, and, of course, by the employee receiving the review. Get over it.  That’s what separates managers from non-managers. 

Writing a performance review is a learned skill and requires a lot of practice to get even close to getting them “right.”  Yet, many (or most) companies fail to provide training to supervisors on how to prepare an effective and legally compliant employee performance review.  If you’re one of those companies, do yourself a favor and start that training now.  If you’re a supervisor in one of those companies, here’s the top 3 things you can do now to write a better performance evaluation. 


1.  Be [Painfully] Honest. 

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