Minnesota grown Garrison Keillor penned the phrase “…where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above-average…..” While this may work to describe the mythical Minnesota town of Lake Wobegon, it should not be the model to use when completing employee performance evaluations. Unfortunately, many supervisors fall into the “Minnesota nice” trap and inflate employee evaluations, much to the peril of their employers.
Performance evaluations can be a very effective tool for employers. To the extent they are accurate snap shots of an employee’s work performance, they can serve as a resource in promotion decisions, and supporting evidence in discipline matters. Too often untrained supervisors inflate an employee’s performance, failing to document deficiencies or problems. Under these circumstances it is better to not even have evaluations, as they serve no business purpose except to expose an employer to potential liability when an underperforming employee files suit when they are disciplined or denied a promotion.
Good performance evaluations start by identifying important job criteria. This means identifying those skills and traits a successful employee must demonstrate in order to successfully perform the required job duties. Depending on the job, these may include categories for evaluations such as attendance/punctuality, accuracy, job knowledge (including demonstrated skill in technology and tools), verbal and written communication skills etc.
Once the required skills and traits are identified, a neutral rating system should be selected such as a numerical rating system from 1-5, with 3 being satisfactory. Another option is to select a performance guide using exceeds expectations, superior, satisfactory, below satisfactory, unacceptable, and does not apply. (N/A) Room for narrative comments should be included to explain the reasoning behind the score. A good evaluation system will also include goal setting for the next year, strengths and weaknesses, training needs, and employee comments. Including narrative sections will provide greater opportunity for an accurate snapshot.
Inflated evaluations fail to provide important feedback to employees, to help them make necessary changes or improvements. They also pose liability problems for employers who are sued by an underperforming employee who was terminated, but whose personnel file glows with exceptional evaluations. Supervisors averse to conflict are more inclined to inflate employee performance evaluations, and require training on how to properly conduct employee appraisals.
If your workplace conducts performance evaluations, make sure they are an accurate snapshot of the employee’s performance. “Minnesota nice” should be traded in for accuracy when it comes to evaluating employees, to benefit both the employee and the employer.