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As I was recently working on my Christmas “to do” list while singing along to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the lyrics “He’s making a list, and checking it twice, Gonna find out whose naughty or nice,” reminded me that December is not only the holiday season, but is also the performance evaluation season for many employers.

I believe I just heard a collective groan from this post’s readers! Yes, the evaluation process is time consuming and for many, about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. But evaluations can be an integral component of a Company’s performance management system for its employees. Evaluations identify where an employee excels, meets expectations, and needs improvement. In the event that the employee is terminated for performance and then pursues a legal claim, the evaluations will be key pieces of evidence, supporting (hopefully) the Company’s reason for its decision.

With all of this in mind, here is an “Evaluation Season Preparation List” for HR to use in training its managers on the performance review process:

  • How to use the Company’s evaluation form: The Company could have the best form in the world, but it is useless if no one knows how to fill it out.
  • The necessity of honest, accurate assessments, even if that means providing unfavorable feedback. Written comments should match any numerical rating. For example, an employee cannot be “meets expectations” in attendance if the written comments note that the employee is consistently tardy.
  • The evaluation comments and rating should be for the entire time period covered by the evaluation, not just the last two months. For example, if the employee has unsatisfactory performance for July-October, but then improves in November and December, the evaluation should reference both levels of performance. Do not just rate the employee on the last two months to “encourage” the continued improved performance.
  • Rate the employee on performance of the job duties, satisfaction of the review period’s goals, and any relevant behaviors (such as recognizing the employee who works to keep the team’s morale high, or admonishing the employee whose behavior lowers team morale). Provide specific examples where possible.
  • Do not “save up” issues to put in the performance evaluation. Employees should not be surprised by their evaluation rating and should receive performance feedback periodically throughout the period of time covered by the evaluation.
  • Encourage Employee Feedback: Ideally, the performance evaluation meeting with the employee would be a conversation. Ask the employee to provide feedback on the evaluation’s positive and negative points while the evaluation is delivered. Also allow the employee an opportunity to respond to the evaluation in writing. If the employee does provide feedback, consider it.
  • Action Plan: The evaluator and the employee should discuss goals for the next evaluation period and, if needed, steps to address the areas for improvement. The action plan should be realistic, both in content and timing.