Why Your Performance Reviews are Busted (Hint: It’s Not the Process)

Written by Jonathan Wiersma

Leaders in government human resources know that a good performance appraisal system is an integral component of their process of helping employees grow and develop. Most local governments implement some type of tool that can be used to evaluate employee performance, but the problem is that the performance appraisal system doesn’t achieve the desired results. When the results aren’t achieved, then the most common approach is to change the system to change the performance results.

Consider This: What if your process for performance reviews works just fine, but the problem lies in the way people are implementing the process?

If you want to motivate employees who are committed to the goals of your community, then you need to take a close look at your performance review system, as well as the methods that are being used to implement that system. Most of the time, performance appraisal systems are well designed, which means that the problem is usually found in the way managers are implementing the process—not in the process itself.

Here are some of the common pitfalls in the way the performance appraisal process might be implemented by the staff in your administration:

1. All Employees are Evaluated Using the Same Factors

A good performance appraisal system will have different options available to ensure that the evaluations are catered to the job description of each employee. If management is evaluating every employee with the same competencies, then it’s a sign that the system is being used in the wrong way.

It is not uncommon for managers to prefer using the same evaluation elements for consistency or ease, and therefore use the same exact template and factors for every employee on the team. The only way this would work, however, is if every employee had the same job requirements and they have been at the company for the same amount of time. For example, do you think a new hire admin should be evaluated in the same way as your tenured city clerk? Their job requirements and skills are different, and these factors need to be considered in the performance appraisal process.

2. Everyone Receives the Same Scores

As you are browsing through the performance appraisal results, do you notice that all the employees on a team seem to receive the same scores across the board? Sometimes managers get stuck in the rut of marking each evaluation in the same way, resulting in above-average scores for everyone.

The best employees should be rated above everyone else, and you should be able to look at the numbers and get a feel for who the above average people are. Managers need to consider the overall performance of each employee and mark ratings that match up to the performance of each employee.

3. Appraisals are an Afterthought

Even the best performance appraisal system won’t be any good if the program isn’t used consistently. Make sure that managers are implementing the system throughout the year and putting in the effort needed to set goals and evaluate the progress of each employee.

You should be able to look at the appraisals and tell if thought and effort was put into the ongoing meetings and discussions. For example, if the manager is required to meet with an employee four times a year and you notice that all four meetings happened in the fourth quarter, then it is a good sign that the appraisal process was more of an afterthought than an integral tool to improve employee performance.

4. Employees Have No Input

 The purpose of a good performance appraisal system is to help the employee develop his skills, set goals, and grow within the administration. For this system to be effective, you need to make sure that the employees can offer their input.

Do the employees have a chance to provide their suggestions for the goals that they are working to achieve? What happens if an employee needs extra support along the way? Do they feel comfortable to talk with their manager to ask for help?

Make sure that employees know that the performance appraisal process is a two-way conversation, and that their thoughts, ideas, and suggestions are always welcome. If they can’t speak up, then the system isn’t being used to its full potential.

5. Inconsistent Evaluations

When you are using a good performance appraisal system, it should incorporate the opportunity for the appraiser to give number ratings in different categories as well as to provide written feedback for those categories. When the system prompts for this information, is the appraiser providing fair and equal feedback about each employee?

For example, you might notice that the performance appraisal for one employee includes long, detailed paragraphs with a lot of information, while another appraisal has short one to two sentence responses. The discrepancy shows that the manager is not using the performance appraisal system in the same manner for all employees.

Training Your Team to Use the Performance Appraisal System

Setting up the performance appraisal system is just the first step. Make sure that your team of employees is using the system in the right way. With proper training, your managers can use these tools to help their employees grow and develop within your administration, resulting in higher levels of success for everyone involved.

Use Performance Profiles, Not Job Descriptions

Finally, make sure your managers are using the same criteria to evaluate their employees that wereTurn Your Job Descriptions into Performance Profiles used to hire those same individuals. Rather than using task-oriented job descriptions, use goal-oriented performance profiles during the hiring process. Then, ensure your managers are referring to those same profiles during their annual performance reviews.

Make sure you are fully leveraging the performance review tools available to you with consistent, equitable, and detailed manager performance appraisal implementations. For more on how to execute measurable employee performance reviews, click here.