Life at Work

Curing The Common Evaluation

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006

At many organizations, performance appraisals are treated as they are in "Dilbert" or "The Office": "It's performance review day, company-wide," Pam, the office manager character in "The Office," said in an episode last year. "Last year, my performance review started with Michael asking me what my hopes and dreams were, and it ended with him telling me he could bench press 190 pounds."

A lot of employee reviews are about as effective, according to Tom Rath, global practice leader for the workplace with the Gallup Organization.

Fifty-three percent of those rated as top performers and 30 percent of those rated as poor performers say managers help poor performers improve, according to a 2005-2006 report by Watson Wyatt Worldwide Inc., a benefits consulting firm.

Many organizations are on a constant quest to find a formula that is fair to the employees and will help build the business.

Ed Mone, vice president of organization development with software provider CA, changed his company's appraisal process about three years ago. Previously, what people were rated on, and how they were rated, changed depending on the department and manager. There weren't clear definitions for the categories on which employees were to be judged.

So now CA has a company-wide process in which employees are rated on specific categories, such as achievement of goals and output. Employees do a self-evaluation first. Managers then get those evaluations and consider them when doing their own.

The employees are given their evaluation a day or so before their meeting with their boss so they can think about what they want to ask. That helps the meetings be more efficient, Mone said, because the employee isn't focused on one low score. He also suggests reviewers have a discussion about the appraisal somewhere other than the boss's office. "There's a sense of privacy, and you eliminate your sitting behind a desk and having a power position," he said.

The key to Tami Erwin's reviews is no surprises, said the regional president for Verizon Wireless in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

"If you get to the end of year and there's a surprise, there's a problem," she said.

A key piece of Erwin's evaluations is ensuring that individuals' goals and objectives link to the goals of the company. For instance, last year, the company was focused on improving the customer experience, she said. So she and her employees created "performance agreements" that linked a person's objectives to the goal of improving the customer experience.

She finds that the best way to link objectives to the company goal is to have constant communication and clear, concise goals that both the manager and employee agree upon.

Erwin sits down with each person who reports to her (she has seven) at the beginning of the year. They create a development plan that identifies the department's overall goals and the individual's goals. That way, she said, the objectives are all measurable and easy to assess when it comes time to do the evaluation.

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