I am not sure when performance evaluations became standard practice in business, but I can say with confidence I have never met one executive, director, manager or employee who relishes the process. It is laborious, and in many circumstances, antiquated. The reason is pretty simple: It is often a cold, process-driven meeting, with little intellectual or emotional investment beyond checking off a few boxes on a performance evaluation software application and giving a rah-rah speech to the employee. In other words, it’s something you just have to do.
There is no question that performance evaluations have a role to play within organizations. However, employees who are performing tangible, quantifiable tasks will be more suited to a traditional evaluation than more relationship driven, strategically focused employees—but a company still needs to know how these individuals are performing in respect to their job duties. I am not suggesting that performance evaluations should be abolished, but at the very least, they should be complimented with a different approach to achieve maximum value from the process no matter the level of responsibility of the employee in the organization.
The suggestions that follow are not solely my own, but rather blended insights from our experience in the banking industry and the experience of other successful business leaders, such as Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries in Alpharetta, Georgia, who uses a similar approach in his organization.
Some employers, such as North Point Ministries, have developed questions that replace the standard evaluation for senior level managers who typically interact on a daily basis, may know each other well and have a high degree of accountability to other members of the team. What is the true purpose of an evaluation where the executives know how they are performing and the board of directors knows how they are performing? To formalize what is already known? Shouldn’t we want to accomplish more?
That brings us to the Employee Evaluated Experience. As opposed to checking a few boxes in a standard evaluation form, try developing a set of questions that drills down into the employee’s experience. Below are few examples—there is no right or wrong here.
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What do you want to spend more time on?
- What’s most challenging?
- Anything bugging you?
- What can I do to help?
These are designed to be permission giving questions, providing the opportunity for the employees to share experiences with the company through his or her manager in a safe environment. The importance of safeness cannot be overstated. If employees don’t trust the process and fear that candor could put their jobs at risk, they will be very reluctant to express their true feelings. As you begin to ask employees these questions, patterns will emerge that will provide tangible insights into the organization. And if acted on, this insight will begin to fundamentally strengthen the organization.
A word of caution: These questions are not meant to be answered all in one sitting during a two-hour timed session, in a group setting or in a hurried, ‘let’s-get-this-over-with’ manner.
The intent behind these questions is to integrate them into natural conversations—perhaps over an evening cocktail or a morning cup of Joe. But even in a slightly more formal setting, the employee is still engaged and is typically excited to share their experiences. Leaders, be ready for what you may hear and do not take the conversation lightly because that will only undermine the authenticity of the conversation.
No matter what your set of questions, always end the conversation with question number five. The role of a leader within any organization should be to remove obstacles that infringe upon the ability of people to do their job. Take this role seriously and help your associates, team members and colleagues accomplish more.
As an experiment, try asking these questions informally of your executive team members, managers and line employees. Perhaps even board members should be asked these questions. Why would you not want to know what excites your board members about the company you’re leading? Start with those trusted confidants. See what answers begin to pop up. You may learn something you did not know, or confirm something you already did. Regardless, the exercise of giving your employees permission to provide their Evaluated Experience will only provide added value to you and your organization.