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Writing Employee Performance Appraisals Doesn't Have to be Difficult

While many managers dread doing them, a well planned and executed employee performance appraisal can be a good thing for your company, and your employees.

  • Employees contribute more when they’re presented new opportunities to learn and improve, and are given a clear and accurate picture of how they are doing.
  • The performance appraisal forms and other formal documentation that accompany solid performance management systems reduce your legal risk in the event of an employee dispute.

So how do you design and carry out a hassle-free performance review? Here are some simple steps to get you started.

Start with clear performance objectives
Monitor employee performance all year long
Document the wins and the losses in writing
Make sure you have the right employee appraisal forms

Start with clear performance objectives

Good employee annual reviews begin long before you start to write employee evaluations

In fact, they start with good job descriptions. That’s because the job description lists, or should list, the basic performance standards of the job. Start with job description, and create one or two concrete objectives or goals upon which the employee will be rated come appraisal time.

Then move on to current projects and initiatives for that employee’s position. Again, select one or two specific objectives or goals.

In both cases:

  • Make it measurable. Each performance objective should be as specific and measurable as possible. A goal for a manufacturing employee might be, for example, “Complete assembly on 100 units per day.” Then, when you rate the employee on that objective, it will be clear whether their actual job performance missed, met, or exceeded the goal.

    For an information-based employee, a goal such as “Design a new sales campaign for the new widgets for a January 23rd launch date” might be a good, measurable objective.

  • Challenge your employees. Part of boosting performance company-wide is encouraging employees to grow their skills. When developing employee performance goals, include a few that go beyond the existing job description or project requirements. Example: “Learn how to do SEO keyword research and start using the information in online article writing by October” might be a reasonable challenge goal for a print writer moving into online content.

  • When you’re designing and writing performance evaluations, three to five goals or objectives, plus one developmental goal is ideal for each employee. Although you can add more, most this number allows employees to focus, managers to observe and focus and annual reviews to remain manageable in length.

Monitor employee performance all year long

Most managers do a pretty good job in setting employee goals and objectives. Unfortunately, many stop there.

Without monitoring and documenting employee progress throughout the year, the process becomes meaningless, as managers struggle to remember events at annual review time, and employees dread that feeling of being blindsided during their performance review.

A word of caution. “Monitoring” employee progress and performance does not mean micro-managing. It doesn’t mean hovering near employees all the time, or requiring endless reporting on every detail. It does mean:

  • Making sure the employee is meeting minimum standards with the use of milestones, and ongoing conversation
  • Encouraging progress toward developmental goals, including providing needed training and assistance
  • Taking note when performance falls below standards, as well as when it exceeds standards
  • Rewarding employees immediately when job performance exceeds expectations
  • Coaching employees when performance appears to be slipping
  • Talking seriously about the issues observed when an employee’s performance becomes unacceptable. This may include written warnings or other disciplinary action

Waiting until the next scheduled employee appraisal to reward, coach or discipline will ensure lower employee productivity, and reduced company effectiveness.

Document the wins and the losses in writing

Many employment laws and company policies require that managers be able to justify "employment decisions." This typically includes decisions having to do with promoting, demoting, rewarding, firing, disciplining, and so forth.

But if your company has only an employee annual review, it’s almost impossible to provide useful and accurate feedback unless managers and supervisors write down their observations weekly, if not daily. Not only will this make completing the dreaded evaluation forms easier, it will allow managers to spot trends, note patterns and address issues (both good and bad) before they’re forgotten.

Make sure you are documenting employee successes. In our rapidly-changing world, employees may be called upon to learn new tools, jump in on an unplanned project, or master a new skill, even when these things were not in their performance goals. If managers take note of these shifts in responsibility, and write notes in a journal or running employee file that outline the details of an employee’s outside-of-the-box performance, they’ll have these “wins” handy when it’s time for the employee annual review forms to be completed.

Good employee performance recordkeeping includes:

  • Fact-based information only
  • Details on actions and results only, never personality or style
  • Exceptional performance, innovations and growth, not just problems or poor performance
  • Clear step-by-step information on what improvements need to take place, and how that will occur
  • Information created on the day an event occurs or soon after
  • No information or comments based on appearance, religion or culture

Make sure you have the right employee appraisal forms

All the good intentions and plans in the world won’t help if you’re not using the right kinds of human resource forms to document performance goals, achievements, training, warnings, and the annual review.

Make sure the HR forms you select for the appraisal and documentation process meet these standards:

Legally compliant. Some states and local governments, as well as federal labor laws limit the types of information you can gather and record on any employee record, including annual review forms. Make sure the forms you select to set goals, document on-going events, and summarize performance don’t violate laws protecting medical data or include information based on protected categories like religion, race, or disability.

Designed to allow comments and explanations. A form which just provides space for ratings won’t allow you to document specifics. That could not only make it harder to encourage positive change, it could land your company in trouble if an employee sues and you have no documentation to back up decisions.

Encourages employee participation. Whether you provide a separate employee self-evaluation form, or allow employees to comment on the regular annual review form, make sure the tools you use have an option for employee feedback. This simple step of giving employees a chance to present their side improves employee morale and boosts loyalty.

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