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4 Mistakes to Avoid While Conducting Employee Evaluations

Analysis  |  By HR Daily Advisor  
   July 18, 2023

Here are four mistakes to avoid in employee evaluations to ensure that the conversations you have with your employees are effective and productive.

This article was first published on July 17, 2023, by HR Daily Advisor, a sibling publication to HealthLeaders, and has been adapted for HealthLeaders.

One of the most important ways management can communicate with an employee is through an official employee evaluation.

It’s easy to give an employee kudos on a job well done after they’ve turned in a big project, or casually bring up an area you’d like to see improvement in. It’s easy to feel like you have a grasp on the day-to-day actions of your employees if you’re an involved manager. But a formal employee evaluation is a great space to pause and take in a birds-eye view. It also helps everyone get on the same page with expectations. How are they doing overall within their position? What were some of their largest achievements over the past few months? What are the strengths and weaknesses they bring to the company? Basically, how are things really going?

As we approach the midyear point of 2023, you may be preparing for a round of employee evaluations. While these conversations may seem simple, there’s actually an artform to having them effectively. Here are four mistakes to avoid in employee evaluations to ensure that the conversations you have with your employees go smoothly and are truly productive.

Not Creating a Plan

An employee evaluation should have a formal structure, and requires forethought. Make sure to let your employee know well in advance that you’d like to have an evaluation so that they have time to gather their thoughts and look back over their job performance. Meanwhile, you should be doing the same thing. Employee evaluations are led by management, not the other way around, and directing the conversation will take a solid amount of planning. Brush up on your own script and what you’re hoping to get across, and give the evaluation plenty of time on your calendar. If you think everything’s going fine; I should be able to just wing it, the conversation won’t be nearly as helpful as it could be. Remember—the entire point of evaluations isn’t to just check them off your to-do list. They’re supposed to have a point. You can always go down rabbit holes with the employee if something unexpected is introduced to the conversation, but having some type of plan going in to refer to and keep you on track doesn’t hurt. By having a formal plan, you’ll also make sure that all of your evaluations are fair. Going in to one evaluation casually singing an employee’s praises while going into another one with a formal list of things the employee needs to work on will sow seeds of resentment among your team, and that’s the last thing you want.

Having a Speech Instead of a Conversation

Employee evaluations are manager-led, and you should come to the table with concrete thoughts you want to get across. That being said, an evaluation needs to be a two-way street in order to be effective. Make sure to ask your employee questions about how they think things are going. They may bring valuable insights to the table that you hadn’t even thought of. For instance, maybe they’ve really been interested in leaning into one aspect of their job that you hadn’t considered before, or maybe they’re struggling on an issue and a colleague has been helping them a ton without your knowledge. By getting the employee’s perspective, you’ll have a more holistic understanding of on-the-ground operations and show the employee that you’re interested in what they have to say. Although employee evaluations aren’t meant to be feedback to the company (there should be separate avenues for that), what your employees have to say in your evaluations can really help you manage and function better as a business.

Providing Overly Vague Feedback

Feedback should be as pointed as possible, even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable. If you’re trying to cushion the sting of critique, you may be tempted to cushion it with filler words or broad goals. But feedback is only useful—and therefore, only worth your time—if it’s clear. Instead of saying something like “I’m hoping to see a bit more commitment from you the next couple of months”, just get to the point and say “I noticed you’ve been clocking in 15 minutes late nearly day. Is there a way we could rework your schedule or problem solve to make sure you’re able to start on time?” Getting a bit more commitment could mean any number of things, and the employee could interpret it entirely different than you intended it! The opposite is true as well—the best positive feedback is crystal clear. By giving direct, straightforward encouragement on specific details, you’ll encourage a repeat performance in the future. If you’re vaguely saying “yeah, good job”, the employee might not understand what exactly they’re doing that you approve of and want to see more of.

Forgetting to Document What Was Discussed

Lastly, it’s essential to document what occurred in an employee evaluation. This is for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you want to have something to refer back to at their next evaluation. Did the employee implement the changes you discussed? Did they work on the goals you set forth? Did they actually take the conversation to heart? Secondly, if something negative were to happen and the employee was let go, it’s important to have documentation showing that issues had been previously discussed and weren’t just sprung on the employee suddenly. Or if the employee comes to you requesting a raise, having their employee evaluation on hand may be helpful to confirm or deny their account of their job performance. Even if the discussion was completely smooth and went perfectly, having some documentation to show when you spoke, how long you spoke for, and what was covered is a good idea. Even better, consider taking things a step further by creating a recap document to send to the employee. It can include what you discussed and what some concrete action steps they could take are.

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