Employee Evaluation Systems

Dear Management Doctor:

How should one evaluate the annual employee and merit evaluations system being used in government?

Tim Holloman

Dear Tim,

I’m not a fan of governments’ annual evaluation systems. Many of the managers writing the evaluations don’t have good evaluation skills and they don’t like doing them. Often evaluations, both positive and negative, that should have taken place during the course of the year, are saved up and they lose their effectiveness. Employees tend to focus on how they are rated compared to others rather than on areas for improvement. Employees do want to be evaluated and evaluation is important. However, it needs to be a routine part of the work place, day in and day out.

When I was in government, I tried two systems to improve the evaluations. First, I told all my managers that henceforth all employees would be marked “above standard.” The only exception being was someone we were planning to fire. This allowed us to focus on the content of the evaluation rather than the score. It worked until the personnel director made us stop it. My second approach was to create a self-evaluation system. It consisted of a two-page form that was completed by the employee and attached to the other evaluation. This form focused on what the manager was doing to help or hinder the employee in their work. It is available in my book, The ABZs of Planning Management. In many respects, an employee evaluation is really an evaluation of the manager, i.e., “How well did I do in helping this employee succeed?”

Edward Deming, the guru of quality and the turnaround of the Japanese economy after World War II, recommended totally dropping the annual evaluation. Since this is probably not possible in your situation, take a look at the evaluation form. Criteria often used include Traits, Activities or Results (TAR, RAT or ART). Good evaluation is truly an ART. The evaluation should focus more on results and less on traits and activities.

Evaluation of the manager is still another matter. I am a big fan of what is called 360-degree evaluation. In this system the manager is evaluated by the superior, peers and subordinates. A number of companies sell forms and instructions for such evaluations costing roughly $300 each.

You also raised the question about evaluation and the merit system. I have yet to see a pay for performance system in government that didn’t create more problems than it solved. For every person it might have motivated, it de-motivated many others. There is substantial literature that suggests the evaluation and pay be done separately. There is an old story that goes like this:

A little boy took it into his head for reasons unknown to wash the dishes after supper every evening. His mother was pleased with such a fine boy. One evening, to show her appreciation, she handed him a quarter. He never washed another dish. Her payment to him changed their relationship. It hurt his dignity. He had washed the dishes for the sheer pleasure of doing something for his mother.

For better evaluations,

The Management Doctor

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