Addressing management issues

Feb. 1, 2011
Performance-evaluation anxiety

Q As a new lab supervisor, I am feeling uneasy about performing employee evaluations — I have never been on this side of the desk before. Can you offer any advice?


Evaluations are used to measure work goals, help plan needed training, facilitate career growth, inspire and reward employees, improve employee morale, assist in determining compensation adjustments, and provide a documented history for succession planning or disciplinary actions. In other words, performance evaluations are a significant part of the success of each and every employee, so they often become a considerable source of anxiety — for both employees and the managers who have to write them, especially those who are new to the position. Unfortunately, most facilities do not provide training to supervisors on how to prepare an effective employee-performance review.

Get help. Ask for help from a supervisor who has performed evaluations in your facility — the previous manager, a supervisor from another shift, or your boss. If you are new to the facility, it is essential to get input from someone who has worked with your staff over the evaluation period, so you can give an accurate appraisal of each staff member — with evidence to back up the resulting evaluation. It may be helpful to read evaluations written by other managers.

Do not procrastinate. Performance appraisals should be performed in a timely manner at a scheduled time. Employees will believe they are low on your list of priorities if you put them off.

Use job descriptions. Every employee should know what is expected for her particular position, and you should, too. Compare performance to expectations using specific items from the job description.

Schedule your time. Allow plenty of time to write each appraisal, and allow at least an hour to meet with each employee individually. Do not rush the process.

Be direct about problems. Nothing in a performance evaluation should come as a surprise to an employee. Managers should offer feedback all year to give employees the opportunity to correct problems, improve performance, and increase efficiency. Addressing problems with employees can be difficult, but it is your job; it is a skill you must learn.

Be honest. If there are problems, they must be addressed in writing. If you ever have to defend a termination in court, misleadingly positive performance reviews will pose legal problems.

Be as specific as possible. Whether praising or criticizing, use specific, observed examples. Instead of stating, “You did not perform all assigned tasks on time,” say, “You did not perform required QC procedures during the month of January.” And instead of saying, “You are a quick learner,” a more effective statement would be, “Your skills on the new analyzer have helped improve turnaround times from 19 minutes to 15 minutes, and several people have mentioned that you have been helpful in training other employees.” Relate evaluations to previous reviews. Are things better, worse, or the same?

Focus on entire evaluation period. Do not be too influenced by recent events. Each evaluation is for the whole year (or six months), not just the past few weeks or months. If an employee has had problems all year but improved recently, be sure to note this so the she does not feel her improvements have gone unnoticed. The same goes for someone who has been a good performer most of the year but has had recent setbacks. If you have not been on staff or in a supervisory position for the entire period, it is essential that you are become more familiar with the performance of each employee before conducting an evaluation. If you are lucky, the previous manager made notes in throughout the year to help you with this task. If not, you will need to rely on other staff members and your immediate supervisor for this information.

Get feedback from others. Managers only see part of an employee’s performance; so, if your facility allows it, ask for comments in confidence from others who work closely with the employee.

Make it a two-way conversation. Do not just read your assessment to the employee. Talk about goals and find out if the employee is happy in her job. Ask if she is looking for more responsibilities and find out her future plans. Work together to create measurable goals. Again, be specific and provide suggestions (or requirements) for improvement and advancement.

Since you are new to the position, make the performance evaluation something you do every day. Start keeping notes throughout the year with specific instances and examples you observe about each employee. This will go a long way toward easing the end-of-year panic over upcoming evaluations. Ask your boss for an assessment of your performance of this task, then make improvements.

— Debbie Rogers
Personnel Consultant
DGR Staffing Solutions
Atlanta, GA

Bottom line: Since this is a new position for you, the staff also will be assessing you to determine if they believe you are up to task of being a good supervisor. Follow our expert’s advice and give each employee an individual customized evaluation that is honest and constructive, then you are sure to get a good grade.

C. Anne Pontius is a senior medical practice consultant with
State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Co. in Brentwood, TN, and president of CLMA. Send questions to Ms. Pontius at [email protected].