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Performance Evaluations: An Underutilized Tool

As an employee and as a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to see numerous performance evaluation forms and processes. I’ve unscientifically polled many graduate students about their experiences with their own performance evaluations. Their observations are similar to mine: most performance evaluations are inadequate. They are experienced as perfunctory and meaningless. The content of the evaluation does not tap essential job functions, and most managers give very little thought to their completion of ratings. The conveyed message seems to be, “look, it’s that time of year again, and we have to do this so let’s just get it done.”

That’s such a shame. Performance evaluations have the potential to be a valuable management tool. Employees appreciate accurate, timely feedback. They like to know where they stand, what kind of job they’re doing, and what they need to do to improve their chances of moving up the ladder or earning extra rewards. It feels good to know a manager cares enough to invest time and energy in evaluating your performance. An efficacious performance evaluation helps the employer. Data can be used to identify training needs, assist in succession planning, acknowledge and reward good performance, and eliminate poor performers.

Performance evaluations are not that difficult to develop, although time and energy is necessary. The rewards make the investment worthwhile. Developing performance evaluations begins with a job analysis, a process intended to identify key job tasks and the necessary employee characteristics to successfully perform those tasks. I/O psychologists can conduct these analyses, and many are available on line. Once key tasks are identified, meaningful job descriptions and performance evaluations can be developed. An effective performance evaluation must have a reliable and easy to understand behaviorally anchored rating system. Once in place, you have a valuable communication and data gathering tool which will serve the employee and employer well.

I enjoy teaching and helping graduate students master the skills necessary to develop performance evaluations. I envision these students going out and ‘spreading the word,’ thereby enhancing the work experiences of many employees. Of course, this, in turn, benefits the employer. Improving the workplace is what I/O psychology is all about.

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