Candid Talk About Performance Evaluations

It's evaluation season--does any topic spark more debate between employees and managers?
8 min read

This story appears in the December 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Candid Talk About Performance Evaluations

I Am Not a Child (as told by an employee)
So why am I sitting with my boss, hands folded in my lap and struggling not to roll my eyes as he fidgets with my annual review? It's like this every year. I try to be pleased about the good parts. But in my mind, I'm age 7 all over again as I hear I'm a "3" here or a "5" there, or maybe "satisfactory" or "acceptable," or did he say "superior?" I never understand the relevance of these grades.

I hate the juvenile ritual of the annual evaluation. I am not a child, and I don't want grades or scores in my life anymore. Why does my company persist with it?

I talk with my boss all the time. I know what's on his mind, what he likes and doesn't like. He hired me because I do work he likes and needs. More important: I make this company tons of money. You see my work all over. Customers snap it up because it's beautiful and creative.

But my annual evaluation this year? We both know what's coming and I'm already starting to burn: We're going to discuss "interpersonal relationships." My colleagues like me. But then there's the new hire they assigned to "help" me. Sweet. Young. I have to ask her three times to do the simplest task. She smiles and says she'll get right on it. She never does.

My team was crashing recently on a big project while there were power surges in our office. Our computers kept failing. I was designing a small but key bit. And I kept losing it to system crashes. It was too frantic a time for tantrums. But did I mutter bad words when--poof--an hour's work vanished from my screen? You bet. Was I sorry? Yes. Was it horrible? Listen, I was a soldier. I know swearing. But I'm also European. I've got manners and my friends tease me because with my accent, it can be hard to understand what I'm saying in English when I talk low.

That, of course, didn't stop Honey Child from complaining to Human Resources about my language, without ever talking to me first. My boss and I trooped up there. They interviewed us and others who were present. I got a reminder of company policies. And that was it.

Now, weeks later, I'm still stuck with a useless assistant. And the "incident" is part of my permanent file. I sign my evaluation, take a copy and wonder: What does it mean? I got a big raise already for my work on that big assignment. But there's also a creative director job opening up and my competitor, I don't think, has an evaluation like mine. So now I'm worried: After all my hard work, will I be shut out of a promotion and be forced to move to New York because of this annual review? --As told to Craig Matsuda


It's Not Just About You (as told by management)
I know that look: I see it on faces in the dentist's office or in the line for Sunday confession. I also see it when folks visit my corner suite for their annual evaluation. If we're going to do reviews--and we will, because all companies demand them now--then I'll do mine my way. Relax. I'll supply coffee and snacks. I'm happier to invest in a long, valuable chat with you than to run off for yet another scrum with the suits over spreadsheets. Who knows what great ideas you'll bring me?

I try to walk around the shop, to talk with people every day about themselves and their duties. But I get locked up in my world too often and if you work for me, you deserve to know at least once a year where you stand. I owe it to you to really hear you out. I don't want to just go over what you did right or wrong last year. I want you to tell me why stuff happened. What are you working on now? What's your next big thing? Most important: What do you need to excel?

I did a job like yours once. I did it pretty well. So there will be things I'll want you to work on. But what will help me and the firm succeed most? You getting better at what you do. And my job is to help you figure how. Bosses come and go. CEOs last for a blink. I worked here for years before I started to get this outfit's size and complexity. We work around the clock in so many sites. I knew many people's faces. I had to learn more.

Evaluations are so important that I have announced I would read all 1,200 of them. And I did--and I found out more about who they are, what they do and how they think.

But I also learned a ton about their supervisors and managers--which ones are the tigers who just tear strips of flesh off their people in evaluations and which ones are the pussycats who just sit and mew at problems. I saw key trends and uncovered issues in and across departments. I knew where senior leadership had to act.

People hate criticism. But evaluations let us look forward. When you chat with me, bring the forms the HR folks want. But let's keep it simple: You fill them out. You rate yourself. I find most people are more honest and harder on themselves than I would be. If I disagree on the paperwork, we'll discuss it.

I'll also tell you, frankly, that in this economy, reviews and ratings won't affect your pay as much as Id like. I want performance rewarded. But no papers or processes will boost the sad raise pool. Still, if we must let folks go, I want to know their evaluations were fair and accurate. And by the way, I get evaluated too. --As told to Craig Matsuda

Benefits: A Glossary

It's no secret that employee benefits are among the most essential elements in recruiting and retaining top talent. A recent survey by Combined Insurance, an Illinois consulting and insurance firm that works with small businesses, found that 71 percent of workers said benefits were a factor in signing on with their current employer.

"Employees increasingly expect employers to be sensitive to their individual needs," says Dennis Ontaneda, the firm's director of sales and finance administration. "They want personalization--benefits for a group of one--that meet the needs of their family and stage in life."

What is a secret--or at least, something of a mystery--is which benefits will fulfill those individual needs. "Supplemental insurance," "guaranteed renewable," "workers' comp"--insurance jargon can be
confusing, to say the least. So here are some of the essential terms, for both employers and employees. --Kara Ohngren

For Employees:
Critical Illness Insurance
A type of supplemental health insurance that pays a lump-sum benefit when a critical illness or condition is diagnosed.

Disability Income Insurance
Also called income protection insurance, this coverage provides regular income if the employee becomes disabled. Short-term disability income insurance provides benefits for six months to two years.

Guaranteed Renewable
This provision in a life or disability insurance policy requires the insurer to renew the policy on its anniversary. The premium can usually be changed if the change applies to the entire class of employees.

Supplemental Life Insurance
This coverage provides additional funds for beneficiaries after an employee's death.

Accident Insurance
This supplemental insurance pays benefits directly to employees, and covers expenses beyond those covered in a primary insurance policy, related to treatment after an accident.

For Employers:
The person or group who solicits or negotiates insurance contracts on behalf of an insurer. Agents can be independent or employed by an insurer.

Best's Insurance Report
The industry's standard tool, published by A.M. Best Inc., for measuring insurers' financial integrity and managerial and operational strengths.

Major Medical Insurance
Benefits for most medical expenses (broader coverage than a primary policy). There may be limits set by the company, and employees may pay a per- centage of the coverage expenses.

Supplemental Insurance
These plans help pay for what major medical may not cover, such as life insurance or long-term disability insurance. The benefits are paid directly to the employee (or a beneficiary), not the medical provider.

Workers' Compensation
Provides benefits required by state law, protecting workers who are injured, sickened or killed on the job. There are two basic coverages: Benefits for employees and employer's liability.

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