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Five Steps to Better Employee Evaluations

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Good communication is important in any business, says Jim Webber, a human resources professional and employment law attorney. Management and employee interaction need attention to ensure that everyone is on the same page and in good working order.

Regular employee performance evaluations are one way to have those detailed conversations.

“It’s a mirror for both the employee and the employer,” says Webber, who has worked within the repair industry. “The employee sees how they’re doing and the employer gets feedback. It’s a system to make sure that feedback happens.”

Although most business owners would agree that performance evaluations are valuable, Webber says it’s a task that many business owners don’t look forward to.

“They’re time consuming,” he says. “If you’re not keeping track of performance throughout the year, it can feel like an insurmountable job when it’s time to do it. You want it to be meaningful and that’s where so many supervisors drop the ball.”

But according to Bob Parra, owner of the two-location Parra Car Care in Euless, Texas, performance evaluations are the lifeblood to maintaining his 15 long-time employees and keeping the shop moving forward.

“In the automotive business, there is no standardized education,” he says. “So it becomes especially important to make sure we keep growing and moving forward. My guys look forward to the evaluations. They want that acknowledgment.”

And while the evaluation process can sound overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. The following five tips make it easy to improve your evaluation techniques. You’ll end up with an easier pathway to providing honest and detailed feedback, fixing problems and assessing goals.

1. Follow a Criteria Checklist. To ensure consistency across all employees, Webber suggests creating a standard employee evaluation checklist to go through with each employee.

“Employers should have their employees being treated consistently,” he says. “Having a format helps them do that, especially if it’s a larger employer.”

Parra’s checklist looks at the highlights and lowlights of the review period: if they took any additional training or passed an ASE test, weekly performance numbers, attitude, tardiness, goals reached, etc.

“I always look for the positives. You want to be sure that if you’re giving them a reward, you want to be able to validate the reward,” he says.

The end of the checklist includes a portion dedicated to goal setting. Parra sets a yearly goal with each employee and includes a plan of action that outlines how employees will work to meet the goal. Parra says he makes a point to regularly check in with employees to make sure they’re achieving those goals.

He also looks at last year’s evaluation. He discusses the topics covered in the previous evaluations, goals set for the employee, and whether or not those goals were met.

2. Record Observations. Webber says that one reason many shop owners fail at consistently conducting employee performance evaluations is because they haven’t recorded observations on an ongoing basis.

He also suggests conducting informal feedback sessions with employees throughout the year, letting employees know when they’ve excelled or when an issue needs to be fixed. Then, create a performance evaluation file for each employee and make quick notes to yourself about their performance and work behaviors as it comes up. That information can be used as the basis for the next formal evaluation meeting.

“When you do this on an ongoing basis, you spot trends before they become problems and you can address that,” he says.

Parra has a similar system for his employees. Each employee has his or her own file, which he uses to collect information throughout the year.

“If a mistake was made, we bring him in, sit him down and talk. Then we write up an account of the incident, they sign a document that the incident happened and, once resolved, it goes in their file and it’s part of their annual review,” he says.

3. Evaluations Should be Summaries. All feedback from the year should not be reserved for the performance evaluation. In fact, Webber says that none of the information discussed should come as a surprise to the employee.

Instead, any pertinent performance issues should be discussed as soon as they occur, whereas the evaluation should be used as a summary of the entire working period.

“The evaluation period should be a summary of what happened throughout the year,” he says. “It should not be the corrective action itself or the employee’s notice. You should say, ‘During the evaluation period, we had to go through corrective action and here’s why.’ Don’t shy away from that. But the evaluation itself is not the corrective action.”

4. Get Detailed. The more specific and detailed that managers can get with employee performance feedback, the more valuable the conversation will become, according to Webber. Employees need concrete examples to back up why you’ve ranked them in certain ways.

Webber suggests starting the conversation by quickly letting employees know how they were ranked within each evaluation category and then following up with details, turning the evaluation into a dialogue between employee and employer.

“If you’re saying, this person is a good team player, that shouldn’t be the whole evaluation comment,” he says. “It’s a more powerful and better evaluation if you follow it up with a couple examples.”

For those examples, Parra turns to the technician’s weekly performance numbers, which he breaks down into a graph showing their performance throughout the entire review period.

“Offer them compliments on their stability or weekly numbers,” he says. “You have everything they’ve accumulated in the last year in black and white. They can see where they had a good or bad week, and they know what we’re trying to hit as a team and individually. That’s a jumping-off point for the conversation.”

Webber also says to make sure you’re offering examples and details about the entire review period, not just one job or period.

“I would avoid writing anything in the review when I am incredibly happy or mad about something,” he says. “I’m going to calm down and make it more balanced because maybe that’s not how they always work.”

5. Remain Respectful, but Honest. Grade inflation is a common misstep when it comes to evaluations, Webber says. Employers aren’t always honest about employee performance.

“If you have 10 employees and the supervisor doing the evaluations is giving nine of the 10 people the highest possible score, then you’re not doing the evaluation right,” he says.

Conversely, he says that if everyone is ranking poorly, the criteria might be too harsh.

“You’ve got to make sure it’s balanced. If everybody is getting the highest or lowest level, it’s time for a reality check,” he says.

Webber says to make sure you’re using a respectful and empathetic tone that is still direct and complete.

“You’re not doing them a favor by trying to sugarcoat it,” he says. “I have people who say they feel too critical, but do you think you’re being kind to them by not being honest about what you think about their performance? If you’re gritting your teeth because you’re frustrated but you’re not telling them, you’re just going to get more mad.”
That being said, Parra says it’s important to be in a good frame of mind during the meeting to make sure you focus strictly on performance and conduct, not the person.

“We found that by treating our employees with respect and courtesy, we get a lot more out of them,” he says. “You want them to engage in what they can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Don’t make condescending statements that goes against their pride and self-respect, or blow up at them.” 

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