The distinction between criticism and constructive feedback is not always clear to front line managers. Unfortunately, if you have ever been on the receiving end of a negative performance evaluation, the distinction is pretty clear and you are left wondering exactly how did this person ever get to the position of managing or supervising anyone?
It’s that time of year again for many employees and more times than not, performance measurements can be directly tied to monetary compensation in the form of bonuses or raises. To have your future finances in the hands of an incompetent supervisor or manager can be both frustrating and professionally discouraging. For a supervisor or manager, bottom line results are typically tied to their ability to achieve productivity expectations from a team of individuals that may or may not be trained, motivated, or skilled for the tasks associated with their responsibilities. For some supervisors, unfortunately, they opt to use the annual evaluation time to cite their concerns. This counterproductive tactic is never viewed in the positive and only comes across as a ‘get-back-at-you’ device.
If you are the employee looking to be rated, here are few things to keep in mind when preparing for a performance evaluation:
Are you waiting for feedback?
Not a good idea; seek feedback every month so that quarterly positive results can be captured and accumulated for end of year (EOY) measurements.
Accomplishments (bragging rights)
It’s not always realistic to expect a supervisor of many people to remember all of your accomplishments. The great ones will, however, you are placing your evaluation at risk to assume that every project you participated in, successfully managed, completed on time, or contributed to that enabled the department to look good will be duly noted. Where is YOUR list? What you can count on is a list of what you didn’t do.
Everyone knows that the first step toward repairing credit is to prepare a written response for every allegation and have it submitted to the national three credit reporters. Your supervisor will have a list of everything you didn’t do so you should already have a ready response (verbal and written) for any projects, assignments or duties where you fell short. This is not necessarily the time to offer excuses, but be prepared to provide facts that contributed to your less than stellar performance along with your plans for improving these particular areas going forward.
Write down timelines and tools that are required and clear obstacles that could hinder your performance. Most importantly, be ready to negotiate for changes that provide optimum leverage for your success.
If you are a front line supervisor or manager, having your own professional reputation and evaluation tied to the performance of others can be stressful. There are obviously many factors that can contribute to the lack of productivity including but not limited to the following:
- Insufficient Staff
- Untrained Staff
- Unmotivated Staff
- Unskilled Staff
The first priority of any front line manger is to make sure that any obstacles within their control are addressed and removed or at the very least minimized. A few signs that the employee performance appraisal process will be negative are:
Front Page News (attendance, punctuality, productivity adherence measurements)
If the employee has never heard you formally or informally mention a concern specifically to them, then your comments will be viewed as negative news and won’t inspire or encourage change; many daily concerns are easily identifiable, measureable, and can be addressed quickly.
Many special projects are inappropriately assigned in the first place. If you are aware that a person has a shortcoming, why assign them to projects that will only spotlight these critical areas? Until that person has had sufficient and ample opportunity to increase their training and confidence level in a particular area, giving them high stake projects is a sure fire way to frustrate them, sabotage the outcome and provide ammunition during a performance appraisal to let off accumulated steam.
“Other duties as assigned”
What the heck is this anyway? If you don’t know then why do you expect direct reports to know? This area clearly can lead back to the first two items mentioned above under front page news and projects that employees are not skilled or trained to handle. If you merely are attempting to capture an employee’s willingness to take on extra responsibilities and measure flexibility, state that clearly prior to the evaluation process. Tasks out-of-the-scope of required duties and responsibilities should not be measured negatively unless the employee volunteered for those tasks and feedback is in order to document their ability for promotion.
Criticism is never merited and warranted when conducting performance evaluations. Professional feedback is always the appropriate method of providing a framework for employees to improve. Here is a checklist to determine if feedback is a criticism or constructive professional feedback:
- Can the comment be substantiated with facts? Are their reports or documents that can clearly provide examples of behaviors or outcomes that should be improved?
- Are the comments personal and/or petty? Are the comments written and phrased in verbiage that will incite feelings of being singled out or picked on? Do you make statements in writing that appear to take exception to persons with kids, illnesses, or other extenuating circumstances?
- Does the feedback provide an opportunity for improvement or does it leave a negative and permanent label attached to the employee? Dates and timeframe for improvement should be stated clearly.
- Are the comments subjective and unclear? An employee should not require a term key or glossary to understand feedback. Terms such as ‘excellent’ and ‘satisfactory’ may be clear to the average reader, however, the employee should not have to guess their rating. To some employees, ‘satisfactory’ may be good enough.
- Every comment or feedback that could be viewed as unsatisfactory should come with a course of action required to improve and a timeframe that would allow ample time to accommodate the necessary steps for training and application. The employee should be allowed input as to what tools they need to address concerns. Many supervisors allow ample to time for training but not enough time for newly acquired skills to be applied on a daily or weekly basis to build confidence and proficiency. This oversight will send the negative message that the goal is not necessarily to allow improvement but to eventually terminate employment.
- Are the comments placed in writing professional or culturally related? Every business and organization has their own cultural environment and attempting to mentor during a performance evaluation could prove detrimental. Some feedback is best given in the form of a conversation and not put in writing. Not every employee will have aspirations for leadership and written comments regarding their style of clothing, amount of jewelry worn, or hairstyle can be taken personally instead of professionally. An employee seeking to advance will let you know they require honest feedback and the platform for those type of conversations can be had when more appropriate.
In order to secure mutual professional respect, everyone involved in the evaluation process must feel valued, listened to, and vested. Not every manager or supervisor will gain the respect of their direct reports enough to be able to professionally mentor them; however, job description duties and responsibilities are non-negotiable items that any employee should expect to meet and exceed.