Company Culture

3 Useful Alternatives to the Employee Evaluation Form

George Dickson
July 6, 2016
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Employees hate evaluations and most managers do, too.

Why is that?

In study after study, employees express their desire for feedback, but the type and frequency of feedback they receive both matter a great deal.

Ticking off "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations" on an evaluation form during the annual employee performance review doesn't fulfill that desire for feedback. In fact, it can have a detrimental effect when that becomes the primary management moment in an employee's experience.

It's incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to distill an employee's contributions down to a handful of categories and pin the impact of those contributions on a 1 to 6 scale.

Employees are then left with a system that provides too little feedback, and provides it too late in the game for them to make meaningful improvements.

But that's not the only problem.

A surprising number of managers are uncomfortable or unskilled in giving actionable feedback — particularly when that feedback could be perceived as negative.

This results in a situation where employees could be working throughout the year, thinking everything is going well, then are struck with a bombshell bevy of 'needs improvement' scores on their evaluation. Any of those areas could have been improved with more timely and actionable feedback, but they never received it.

The team at Halogen shared some great additional insights into why employees (and managers) have such a hard time with annual evaluations, but let's move on and some ways to improve on the strategy.

You don't even need to take a step as extreme as banishing employee evaluation forms entirely, but they shouldn't be the only tool in the shed. There are many performance management strategies that can compliment employee evaluation forms; the focus is up to you.

1. Objectives and key results


Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a useful strategy for defining, and measuring success. Many thriving organizations like Google, Facebook, and Slack adopted OKRs into their performance management strategy with great success.

OKRs are split into two categories

Objectives — a high-level initiative, the success of which is clearly defined. For example, expand user base.

Key results — the quantitative element that make OKRs such a useful tool. They're the indicators of that objective's success and must be measurable. For the expand user base objective, one key result might be increase daily visits by 1,000.

The success of each key result is ranked on a 0 to 1 scale, so if visits were increased by 600, that key result would be scored as .6.

Tip: OKRs should be achievable, but should aim audaciously high. If you or others routinely receive a score of 1 on each section, your goals aren't big enough.

Why OKRs are great

Although there's a bit of a learning curve involved with designing truly effective OKRs, the time spent is well worth it. This strategy can make the switch from being "held to accountability" to "embracing accountability" much easier and more intuitive.

This strategy also helps eliminate the surprise element employees often face during evaluations. They know objectively where their efforts sit at any given time.

How OKRs can help

OKRs help individuals to develop growth mindsets and think about the work they're doing from that perspective. An entire team of employees focused on moving the organization forward in meaningful ways is invaluable.

Many organizations have had success making OKRs internally transparent. Because each person on the team has visible, transparent objectives they're working toward, there's often a greater opportunity and hunger for cross-departmental collaboration.

How to implement OKRs

If implementing OKRs as a company-wide strategy seems like a challenging proposition, start by developing your own, or adopting this strategy in one team. The results will likely encourage wider adoption.

If you're looking to expand your knowledge on OKRs, our friends at Officevibe published a great article about OKRs, how they work, additional implementation advice, and some things to watch out for.

2. Continuous feedback


Not to be confused with micromanagement, continuous feedback is a strategy for providing an employee with frequent and timely information about the contributions they're making and the behaviors they're exhibiting. 

Why continuous feedback is great

Continuous feedback is an extraordinarily powerful tool for developing talent within an organization, and helping to guide a team to success.

A major contribution that isn't recognized until the end of the year isn't going to inspire much goodwill in the interim. When (and if) that contribution finally is recognized, it's often too little, too late.

An undesirable behavior, or poor performance that isn't redirected early can easily evolve to become worse over time.

Feedback, both positive and negative, is most effective when it's given frequently, and in a timely manner.

Research from Gallup showed that out of three categories, the most engaged employees, as you might expect, had supervisors whose feedback focused "on their strengths, or positive characteristics." What you might not expect is that of the employees who fell into the other two categories — their supervisors focused on "weaknesses, or negative characteristics" or "ignored" them — the most disengaged employees fell into the "ignored" category.

How continuous feedback can help

Continuous feedback helps employees recognize the contributions they make that are most valuable to the organization, and develop a strategy for making more of those contributions.

It helps them to understand the impact their work and behavior has on their team and the organization.

It also helps them to understand which types of behaviors and contributions aren't valued as highly, and how to transform those behaviors to better align with their team.

How to implement continuous feedback

Although it may seem daunting to regularly give thoughtful feedback to each employee in your organization, consider the impact failing to do this can have on an employee's engagement level, and their performance.

The hardest part of implementing a continuous feedback system is often the level of effort it takes.

If only managers shoulder the burden of giving this feedback, they'll be overworked, but more importantly, there will be a huge number of feedback opportunities that are lost. It's not due of a lack for caring, but simple bandwidth limitations.

That's okay, though.

Feedback doesn't always need to come from a manager or supervisor in order to be useful or actionable. An employee's peers are another great source of valuable feedback. 

Peers work closely together. They are often most familiar with the requirements of the work being done, and the effort and skill that goes into meeting those requirements.

The key is developing an organizational culture that values and supports transparent communication, feedback, and recognition among teammates.

3. One-on-one meetings


Perhaps one of the most useful interactions a supervisor can have with their direct reports is a one-on-one meeting. These (usually informal) discussions are a great way for a leader to get to know their teammates, their organizations, and themselves, better.

It's not just an opportunity to discuss project status (although it can be); it's an opportunity to discuss anything that matters.

One-on-one meetings are a forum for anything, from career trajectory and aspirations, to organizational culture and 360 feedback. These meetings are often utilized to their greatest effect when the agenda focuses on the interests of the employee.

Why one-on-ones are great

While quantitative evaluations can be priceless for some things, there's no substitute for a qualitative evaluation either. 

Regular one-on-one meetings are an excellent opportunity for an employee and their leader to discuss the things don't often fit onto the standard employee evaluation rubric. The're a unique source of candid communication regarding nearly any topic.

The best part? You might not know how important some topics are until they're given a venue for discussion. 

How one-on-ones can help

Without taking the time to conduct regular one-on-one meetings, you may never find out that there's something blocking an employee's progress that you could easily have resolved, that they're fascinated by management and want to explore that path, or that they're unhappy in their position.

Groove's Alex Turnbull wrote an article about one-on-one meetings, and the massive impact they've made on nearly every aspect of his team. It's a great read.

How to implement one-on-ones

The most important thing is to get started. One easy way to make sure you're covering important topics is to invite your teammates to make the agenda.

This meeting is for them, so why shouldn't they steer it?

It's a great opportunity for them to reflect on their work from a high-level perspective, and provides some good leadership practice.

Erin Greenwald shared some more great tips for holding effective one-on-one meetings in an article she wrote for The Muse.

In summary

These are just a few examples of strategies you can use to build a better feedback or performance management system within your organization. You don't need to eliminate the employee evaluation form entirely, but if it's the sole focus in either of those efforts, it's probably time to start considering ways to improve.

If you're ready for more tips and insights on building a great team, check out our latest guide:

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