At the end of the year, it’s common to work on employee evaluations. Which can be a real downer for everyone involved.

If you think about it, they’re not really doing much about what can be affected: the future. So we’re doing it to justify how we have to make management decisions about pay, promotions, job roles and such.

The employee doesn’t get much value out of the whole experience, to be honest.

Let’s think about this in a different way: What’s the discussion which would be most useful for each employee? What are the results we’d like to have?

  • Recognition for the value produced for the organization (both hard and soft results)
  • Motivation for doing great work in the future
  • Increased bond of relationship – so the employee actually cares about what the boss needs
  • Boss caring about the employee and what they need and want

Every part of your evaluation and feedback process should be tested against whether it improves these outcomes. So, for instance, you might be asking the employee to list their accomplishments for the year. Useful, I suppose, but the undercurrent is that the manager doesn’t care enough to know what the employee has done this year. Already, the relationship has been damaged. And it reinforces that this is just a make-work exercise used to justify some kind of rating or ranking.

Imagine instead that you, as the boss, want to make sure that an evaluation process is going to become a motivating exercise. So you’re keeping a little tickler list of what each employee has done recently which really had the most impact. You’ll be including what the employee did, how they did it, and the impact it had.

Then you realize that it’s great to give the employee that feedback right now, even more than some year-end exercise you might do. So have that conversation in the next day or two. At the end of the year, the employee will know you’ve seen those contributions because you’ve been telling them.

So now, at evaluation time, what is the conversation which would be most useful?

  • Ask the employee what their personal and career goals are
  • Discuss what the organization is going to be needing over the coming year
  • Find the intersection between those two, identifying strengths which could have the most impact

And if you have the right mood, ask the employee to give their feedback on how the team’s going and frustrations you can help remove. But you might just decide that this is better as a different conversation, when the employee isn’t feeling like giving you feedback might damage their career goals.

This is a tough one, especially if you’re a leader in a larger organization that has strong rules about such things. But you should always have freedom over giving employees feedback in a timely manner, addressing each person’s goals, and discussing how they can deliver better results in the future.

Because the future is the only thing you can change.