Every county, city, tribal department, nonprofit organization, and business should conduct annual performance evaluations for all full- and part-time employees. In this era of mushrooming legal liabilities, it amazes me to hear that some employers are not doing this. It is even more surprising to me when I hear that local units of government are failing to complete this most basic task for employers. Local Units of Government are stewards of taxpayers’ money, and it is simply irresponsible to risk a claim of wrongful termination because of a failure to conduct annual employee evaluations.

Annual evaluations are a basic protection for employers and a basic right for your valuable employees. Every employee deserves to know where they stand with their employer. An annual performance evaluation is essential to communicate this. While I am not a lawyer, I have participated as an employer’s agent in several Administrative Law Hearings regarding Unemployment Benefits. Imagine that you have a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge or are taken to court over a claim of wrongful termination. A basic request of the judge and court will be the Employee’s Personnel File. What do you think the judge will say upon learning that you don’t conduct annual performance evaluations? One possibility is that your organization or business may be found guilty of wrongful termination if you did not clearly state to the employee that there is a need for performance improvement and give the employee a reasonable amount of time to make such improvements.

Annual appraisals provide employees with a clear understanding of what they are doing well, what they need to improve, and identify specific performance goals for the coming year. Appraisals are not a replacement for regular weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with a supervisor, but they are likely to be the clearest written document that is consistently found in a personnel file that identifies the employee’s pattern of performance with your business or organization.

A best practice is that annual performance evaluations are completed in a timely manner each year at a regularly set time (usually one to two months prior to the close of the employer’s fiscal year). This timing allows evaluation ratings to be used in determining any merit increases that an employer offers for the coming year. Because it is difficult to keep track of date of hire anniversaries for multiple employees, it is advisable to put all employees on the same annual schedule for performance evaluations. This helps ensure that annual evaluations are not missed for employees.

Conducting a High Quality Evaluation

Scheduling & Advance Notice of Expectations: Set a time for each employee’s annual evaluation at the beginning of the year so that this date is in the employee’s and supervisor’s calendar. Ideally, the Human Resources Department will monitor this process and provide reminders to supervisors when evaluations are due. Give your employee a copy of their annual evaluation form at time of hire so they know their performance expectations and what areas will be reviewed during the year-end evaluation. Two weeks before the evaluation, remind the employee to review his/her job description and note any changes or additions to duties or new responsibilities they have assumed.

Self-Evaluation & Supervisor’s Evaluation: Request that the employee complete the evaluation by rating themselves and noting performance goals for the coming year for different categories on the evaluation form. The employee is essentially conducting a self-evaluation using the same form their supervisor will use. Let the employee know that you will discuss their self-evaluation during the actual evaluation meeting, at which time their supervisor will share his/her ratings and performance goals for the employee. Make it clear that while the supervisor will consider the employee’s feedback and may adjust some ratings based on the feedback, the supervisor has authority to assign the final rating.

Evaluation Cover Page: Consider adding a cover page to the evaluation that asks the following basic questions:

How is the job going?

What is the most rewarding or what components of the job do you enjoy the most?

What do you find the most frustrating?

Are there any suggestions you have for improvements to communication within the department, organization, or between supervisors and their direct staff reports?

Do you have the tools/supplies/and equipment you need to do the job?

Is there any training you’ve identified that will help you in your job?

Are there new responsibilities you’re interested in learning or taking on in the coming year?

Do you have any other suggestions/comments/concerns or feedback on the business/county/tribe/nonprofit agency?

Again, give this cover page to the employee with the copy of the evaluation form and ask that they make some notes in advance of the evaluation meeting and bring the completed forms to the meeting. Similarly, the supervisor should complete the evaluation form in advance of the actual evaluation meeting with the employee and should review and edit the form before bringing their final draft to the actual meeting. Supervisors may accept employee feedback about ratings and choose to change some ratings…or they may stick with their assessment of the employee’s performance for specific sections of the evaluation.

Categories to Rate: The evaluation form should include categories for: specific job duties/standards of performance, interpersonal skills, attendance and use/abuse of leave time and PTO, level of supervision required for the employee, employee acceptance of supervision, employee’s compliance with employer policies/practices/procedures, and an overall rating. Include performance goals for the coming year under each section. Some employers accept rating scales with Excellent, Very Good, Average, Needs Improvement, or Unsatisfactory. Other employees require a numerical scale. Consider adding a numerical rating to your existing “Excellent and Very good Ratings.” The highest rating would be a 5 and the lowest rating would be a 1 or 0.

Performance Improvement Requirements: The form should include a section for narrative description of required performance improvements (i.e. things the employee must do to be considered proficient at their job and to keep their job if performance is not at an acceptable level). Include a specific deadline by which time such improvements need to be made. Note: Performance improvement requirements are different from performance goals for the coming year.

Overall Performance: Last, the form should include a section on “overall performance comments” which addresses their performance over time. The first sentence should clearly indicate the employee’sr current status with the employer. For instance, “Shannon continues to be an excellent employee” or “Jason is struggling in this position.”

Signed Copies: The evaluation should be signed by the employee, the supervisor, the Human Resources Director, and perhaps the CEO or Chief Administrator (depending upon the size of your organization or business). The employee and supervisor should sign the evaluation right away upon conclusion of the meeting. Employees should be provided the opportunity and encouraged to submit their own comments about the evaluation and any accomplishments that may not have been included. A timeline of 5 to 10 business days should be given for the employee to submit their written comments. Limit comments to 2 pages.

After the employee’s comments are submitted, the supervisor and employee may choose to meet again to review and discuss the employee’s comments. The supervisor may (or may not) add some of these comments to the evaluation form and may (or may not) revise some parts of the evaluation. At this point, the form should be re-signed by both parties and attached to the original evaluation. The employee should receive a copy of the evaluation, the supervisor should scan and save a copy of the evaluation to review during regular check-ins with the employee during the coming year, and a copy should be sent to Human Resources for the Employee’s Personnel File.

If there is disagreement over the evaluation, it might be helpful to have the supervisor and employee sit down with a Human Resources representative for an additional level of review. The final evaluation may or may not change after this meeting. The purpose of this final review is to provide the employee an opportunity to meet with a neutral party and his/her supervisor jointly to discuss areas of concern.

Becky Schueller is a consultant and trainer to nonprofits, counties and cities, tribes, schools, and businesses.  Do your supervisors need training to conduct annual performance appraisals?  Contact Becky to schedule training on Supervision & Performance Appraisal for your managers, supervisors, and HR team.  Follow Becky’s business Facebook page, visit her webpage at www.bemidjiconsulting.com, or contact her a Becky@bemidjiconsulting.com to discuss your needs for assistance with conducting an annual Executive Director or CEO evaluation, developing forms and processes for employee evaluations, training for supervisors, or other management concerns.