Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Performance Evaluations: A New Perspective

Volume: October 2012

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com

Simon is a slightly above-average employee in your organization. He has tons of untapped, unrecognized talent. He is also about to meet with his boss in order to discuss his annual review. Simon could not be less excited. As he enters the room he feigns a smile and thinks to himself: “I can’t believe I have to sit through another one of these things just to see what I get for my raise.” The review is dry and Simon is surprised by several of the comments and ratings. When Simon attempts to discuss the surprises, he comes across as defensive. Simon’s time-pressed, stressed-out boss quickly moves forward, focusing mainly on corrective areas. He eventually informs Simon of the percentage salary increase that his efforts merit. Simon leaves the meeting unhappy about the unpleasant surprises, disappointed by the meager increase, and annoyed by the wasting of his time. In addition, he is less than inspired regarding his future growth with the company – a topic that was not even addressed. Does Simon’s experience echo the lament of your team members? Let’s hope not, but Simon’s experience is all too common.    


It is befuddling that organizations continue to engage in an age-old annual review process similar to the one that Simon experienced: little employee input, sprinkled with surprise ratings, barely a discussion about skill development, and no clear-cut future success path for the employee to focus on.   


Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. But in order for it to be different it takes a change in corporate culture. The change, if executed properly, can make the review process meaningful and productive. How you ask? Well, hold on to your hat and ponder some of the following ingredients.


Mindset. My experience has shown that most annual review processes focus 99% of their time on the evaluation (i.e., the past), and 1% of their time on team member skill development (i.e., the future). This ratio seems odd to me since after the review is completed, 100% of what lies ahead is the future. Therefore, the mindset that I recommend is to implement an evaluation process that focuses 50% on past performance and 50% on future development


No Surprises. The second ingredient is to demand a “no surprises” commitment from the leaders conducting the annual evaluations. There are several items that if executed properly will lead to no surprises come review time:

  • Coaching. Daily and ongoing coaching is paramount to high level team member performance. (For more on this topic please review some of my recent newsletters, newspaper columns, and blog entries. – TAKE THIS OUT)
  • Informal Quarterly Reviews. Dovetailing on coaching, leaders should consider informal, individual meetings with each of their direct reports on a quarterly basis. These reviews should serve as a compass to ensure that both parties are pointing in the same general direction.  
  • Self-AssessmentWithout input from team members the entire review process is a sham. Prior to each quarterly review, request that the team member mark up a copy of their annual performance plan. Many leaders have concerns that team members will rate themselves well above the leader’s opinion of their performance. Well, there are three items to consider in this regard:
  1. Realize that often team members rate their performance more critically than you do.  
  2. As you conduct more quarterly reviews with a team member your rankings will grow closer to each other. It is similar to creating a budget for the first time. At first you may be way off from the actual financial results. Over time however, you become quite good with your predictions and budgeting becomes an accurate process.
  3. Offer an incentive for the team member to be pragmatic in their ratings. For instance, share an expectation that the team member will rate themselves within 10% of your ratings. In other words, if you rate them a four (on a five point scale), they will rate themselves no higher than a 4.4 or lower than a 3.6. Consider throwing in some type of small reward if they stay within the parameters with which you challenge them.


Preparation. Once leaders have compiled the annual review, they rarely spend any time considering how the review will be delivered to the team member. This lack of prep time is a mistake. By spending 15-minutes per review strategizing, a leader can tailor their language and approach to best fit with each team member. The result is usually a better experience for all concerned, even if the performance reviewed has been less than stellar.


Technique. During the presentation of the annual review leaders should be acutely aware of the techniques they use. By technique, I refer to the following:

  • Positioning. When possible, sit on same side of the desk or table as the person who is being reviewed.
  • Tone of voice. Practice vocal variety in order to maximize attention, and use tones of voice that are consistent with the ratings being addressed. 
  • Body Language. Exhibit body language that is open, and create an atmosphere that is ripe for information share.
  • Power Paraphrasing. Use paraphrasing as a tool to ensure that the team member feels understood and that you thoroughly understand their comments.
  • Parking Lot. Stay on task by parking non-targeted issues in a place that can be visited at a later time.
  • Focus on the Future. Spend at least 50% of the evaluation meeting discussing the development of the team member. Remember: team members should be developed in one of three directions: up, in-place, or out. If done correctly, the annual review should hold no surprises regarding which direction the team member is headed.


Bottom Line: Productivity and team member satisfaction can be elevated by embracing a development oriented evaluation process. Ensure no surprises via frequent coaching and the sharing of feedback. The result may be a big change to your corporate culture – a change that will undoubtedly enhance your bottom line. 

Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and communication consultant, executive coach, and business planner. His book, Leadership Simplified, as well as audios and video are available at the Productivity Store of www.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug speak at your next event, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at 941-776-1121.      

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