Making Evaluations a Priority, Not a Pain


Yikes! It’s time for those annual employee performance reviews.

Despite organizational pronouncements that employees are the most important assets, managers in many companies do not fully understand the value of periodic discussions on objectives and performance. And even if they do understand, they may not behave accordingly.

Too many managers merely go through the motions. To them, performance discussions are just another set of bureaucratic tasks to get through. Other managers view these reviews as annual lectures on performance and nothing else. Still others view them as a game and avoid forthright, constructive discussions.

Is it any wonder why so many employees do not understand how organizational goals relate to their day-to-day work? That organizational credibility is not where it should be? That we struggle to communicate?


Performance discussions should not be a dreaded task. They are opportunities to deepen relationships. They are opportunities to help employees do better. They are opportunities to align employee objectives and behaviors with organizational goals and values.

Plain and simple, it is time we make employee performance reviews more meaningful. Here are a few ideas that can make a difference in your performance discussions:

* Elevate your attitude toward performance reviews by treating them as a priority. Despite knowing the importance of performance reviews, many managers see them as intrusions to their “real work.” Employee performance discussions are not tasks to be rushed through but should be viewed as a critical tool for employee development and motivation.

* Establish a rhythm of periodic meetings-- for example, hold evaluations quarterly or bimonthly. And don’t wait for Human Resources to remind you. Periodic communication on progress should become natural. Clearly there will always be a number of priorities that will compete for your time. But what is a better use of your time than to deepen relationships and clarify expectations? Be willing to accept that establishing this rhythm will take extra effort. But also know this effort is worth it--not only in terms of productivity but also in terms of bringing depth and meaning to your work.


* Talk less and listen more. Expect feedback and discussion. Solicit input and ideas. As managers, we unfortunately talk more than we listen. Learn about the hopes and dreams your employees have about their careers. Extend your antenna and learn how to better read your employees. Listen and demonstrate that you care about your employee as a person and not as a machine. Commitment, productivity and loyalty flow from these discussions.

* Be constructive and honest, not only with the favorable news but also on the difficult issues. Nonconstructive evaluations and “cream puff” reviews, in which unwarranted praise is given, hurt employees and the organization. Be forthright when reviewing recent performance and assessing skill development. Realistically describe the opportunities and benefits of a situation but discuss the challenges and limitations as well. Commitment and meaningful relationships can only be built on a foundation of respect and honesty.

* Share goals and hopes. By sharing what we hope to achieve, we can better help each other and our organizations. We are able to align objectives and link expectations. Review organizational goals, including your departmental objectives, with your employees. Identify responsibilities and possible projects that can create a “win-win” for the organization and employee. Work together as you link organizational goals with employee job requirements and career aspirations.

* Make a tangible commitment to help your employee make progress toward a career objective--for example, in getting employees the proper training, assigning them to work on a desired project and giving them specific responsibilities. Good managers help their employees build additional skills and are willing to incur tangible costs to help their employees’ development. The end result of employee performance discussions is not just more work for your employees. It should also result in an investment by a manager--a commitment of time, budgetary expenditure and/or political capital.

* Agree on next steps for both manager and employee. Jointly establish reasonable objectives that are challenging but can be achieved by the next meeting. Identify specific tasks to be accomplished by both manager and employee. And lastly, schedule the next meeting date and time.

Let’s bring reality to performance discussions. They are a critical responsibility of managers, not Human Resources. Performance discussions are not just another bureaucratic task but are essential if we are to achieve organizational and career potential. And let’s stop kidding ourselves. Just because we have performance review forms, procedures and deadlines does not mean we have meaningful performance discussions.

If we are to connect with employees, if we are to manage with heart, we must change our understanding of performance reviews from a surface-level importance to a deep, heartfelt resolve. Sharing goals, brainstorming opportunities, identifying resources and discussing how we did not only enable us to be more effective, but also make our work lives richer.

Let’s link organizational goals with employee aspirations. Let’s demonstrate that employees are a company’s most important assets. Let’s make employee performance discussions meaningful and an essential component of our management rhythm.


Gary Izumo is a professor in the Moorpark College Business Department and has managed his own consulting practice. He is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and Practice Leader for the Strategic Management Consulting Practice of Price Waterhouse. You can e-mail him at