Angry, hurt, resentful, and confused.
That’s how an employee I used to supervise came to me with her latest performance evaluation. Though no longer under my supervision, I volunteered to sit with her to analyze the evaluation with the goal of helping her reframe the perceived injustice.
My first step was to calm and reassure her.
Second, I analyzed the wording of the evaluation categories
Third, I read the narrative and comments provided by her current supervisor to determine where the miscommunication occurred and why she came to the conclusion that her work was not appreciated.
It became clear that the evaluation categories lent themselves to scrutiny. And obscure wording in narratives, especially when dealing with areas for improvement, led the employee to experience unproductive angst.
This led me to seek solutions to the following questions that supervisors in Christian colleges face:
How do supervisors adopt a Christ-centered approach and help those we hire to become their best and fullest selves in their positions?
How do supervisors shape the behaviors and dispositions of those they evaluate long before the annual review?
Here are five elements of a successful evaluation that answer those questions:
First: Evaluate the Process and Forms
In this employee’s evaluation, some categories appeared misleading if not bending toward exploitation.
For example, she was rated in five performance categories with ranges from “improvement required” to “exceptional.” However, a solid performance of her work fell in the middle of the range— “consistently and effectively fulfills the requirements.”
In academia we are used to a 5-point scale representing the grades A through F. Therefore, the middle category became C work for this employee when it may actually represent a valuable contribution to the organization.
It seems the word “competent” has changed from representing a knowledgeable expert to a simply average person.
This is particularly important for Christian institutions. Are we employing people to meet the expectations of the job at a competent level or do we really want them to go well beyond what we compensate them for? And if so, when does that become a justice issue?
If the desired performance is indeed well beyond competency, supervisors should consider rewriting the job descriptions and evaluate the compensation packages. Ultimately, standardized processes used in industry may not fit well in Christian-based organizations, so regular examination of the process is both right and critical.
Second: View Performance Widely
A broader view of performance provides a clear understanding of how employees interact with a range of people as well as perform daily job requirements. Coupled with the employee’s dreams and goals, the wider view of the person honors the evaluation as a performance-enhancing opportunity rather than acting as a static location on a scale.
Integrating what is known as Principles of Appreciative Inquiry into our daily interactions can help us discover the best in people and eliminate many issues surrounding the perceived fairness of evaluations. It can also provide a framework for building human capacity rather than ranking and rating human beings.
It is also wise to look at who contributes to the evaluation and how bias of the supervisor and comments from other employees influence outcomes, both positively and negatively. Subjectivity compounds the problem of fair evaluations in an environment where personalities, rather than production or outcomes, may overshadow actual performance.
Third: Be Specific and Use Evidence
Supervisors must exercise diligence when writing goals for improvement.
This employee was told that change is a challenge for her and she must respond to changes with grace. What appeared on the evaluation as an innocuous statement felt inaccurate and demeaning for her. Besides, we don’t know what “challenge” actually means. Does the employee erect roadblocks for new projects outside her area or does she point out possible limitations to a plan she knows well?
In the case of the latter, were her comments delivered with kindness and helpfulness or does she respond with anger or defensiveness? How and when is change a challenge? Is it limited to issues surrounding technology or does it relate to the trivial, such as changing locations of meetings?
Then, we must ask what the supervisor determines grace to look like in such a situation. Perhaps, the employee would benefit from becoming more of a listener at meetings and only speaking until others have contributed.
As well, using specific wording that describes positive, actionable goals to deal with her challenges before the next evaluation period would be helpful. For example: “The transition to electronic files has proven challenging due to new software implementation. Training will improve familiarity with online security and hints to use the system effectively.”
Fourth: Provide Regular Supervision and Encouragement
Building healthy and productive attitudes and dispositions should be regular parts of individual meetings or check-ins with employees. Understandably, overworked supervisors may choose the easiest path of annually pointing out weaknesses, but those who prioritize people and growth take the time and challenge to shape employees and to build capacity over time. This requires focusing on employees as valuable and worthwhile.
Given the performance suggestions in the evaluation, the supervisor can monitor growth throughout the year, since development and growth get reinforced and shaped over time. Mistakes or small human errors should not make their way into evaluations but, rather, serve as examples during conversations to reflect on performance.
Fifth: Supervise and Evaluate With humility
Supervisory roles often come with unearned power. Abuse of that power can stratify people who have come together to achieve a common goal.
Quality supervisors adopt a mindset focused on the growth of others while owning personal shortcomings. Supervisors who are not serving those in even the lowest of employment categories would be well advised to consider leadership training.
Moreover, in both small and large institutions, personalities differ and sometimes collide. When the personalities of a supervisor and employee are not compatible, the responsibility rests on the supervisor to eliminate bias or reassign the responsibility to someone who can focus on skill building and development of the employee.
We owe this to our institutions because employee attitude leads to work culture and work culture leads to productivity and productivity leads to a fulfilled mission.
In talking with this employee, we discovered that no mention of the value or quality of her specific work responsibilities were addressed. Instead, the evaluation focused on peripheral behaviors, such as compliments about her friendliness and interactions with people — and needing more grace when faced with change.
The evaluation never mentioned her role in large projects and specific critical tasks vital to the operation of her program. As well, she wanted to discuss how she has grown against the previous goals, which did not happen in the evaluation.
To sum up, supervisors must consider how to use the evaluation tool so that employees emerge from the process emotionally intact, professionally productive and ready for growth.