6 Reasons Employee Evaluations Fail

Ready for your performance evaluation?

Nothing stirs up the stomach like knowing it’s time to find out how you measure up at work. In some organizations, 360 degree evaluations are popular, while many of us receive monthly, quarterly, or yearly evaluations directly from our supervisors. Then there are those impromptu, informal evaluations where a supervisor, staff member, or colleague tells us what we did well and/or where we fell short. All of these evaluation types can provide valuable learning experiences and be catalysts for professional growth…

…but sometimes they fail epically.

Here are six reasons why:

1. The Evaluation Recipient Lacks Self-Awareness and/or a Personal Desire to Change

“That’s not true!”

“What? Me passive aggressive? I don’t even know what that means! From now on I’ll just avoid everyone! THEN they’ll realize they’re wrong!”

Not everyone responds to feedback with defensive outbursts like these; some cry, others withdraw, a few may offer a feeble thanks. In the end, an employee evaluation is only as valuable as the paper it’s printed on unless the recipient is open to the feedback and wants to improve.

2. Weak Leadership and/or Evaluation Follow-up

Evaluation recipients may dismiss their evaluation results if they do not believe their supervisor is credible, trustworthy, and honest, if the evaluation is clearly unfair or inaccurate, or if supervisors do not hold other employees with similar weaknesses accountable. Evaluations are hollow exercises unless leaders provide supportive post-evaluation training and follow-up.

3. The Evaluation is Tied to Compensation or Promotion

Organizations that use evaluation results to determine bonus amounts, pay raises, or promotions may create an environment ripe for corruption and retaliation. Worse yet, if a company limits bonus money to a set amount, and apportions it based on evaluation results, participants may manipulate evaluation responses to ensure they or someone they favor “gets a bigger slice of the bonus pie,” or “hold back” those they perceive as competition. Employees that are honest about their weaknesses may literally be taking money out of their own pocket or denying themselves a promotion.

4. Unhealthy Group Dynamics

The 360-degree evaluation process in particular is failure prone if an organization has strong “in-group” and “out group” dynamics. Members of the “in-group” may band together against someone in the “out-group” (differing ethnicity, personality, gender, ethics, skill, etc., than the majority) or in support of someone that is a member of the accepted “club.” This problem seems to thrive in organizations with multiple leadership levels (many leaders and “sub-leaders” under the company head) versus those with a “flatter” corporate structure. Managers that use a 360-degree review process to evaluate employee performance must spend time “on the front lines” to identify underlying group dynamics. However, even if an organization does not use the 360-review process to evaluate team members, leaders must still base their evaluation scores and comments on what they have personally observed, not on the “word” of coworkers, past supervisors, or others within the organization.

5. Lack of Confidentiality

If 360-degree evaluation participants fear that their responses are not truly anonymous (and they may be right), they may not give forthright answers because they fear retaliation or don’t want to harm workplace relationships. This problem is common in smaller organizations or departments where team members can easily determine the response source.

6. Fear

Employees may not admit weaknesses if they fear their boss will use their admission as “ammo” to demote or fire them. Supervisors that fear conflict may avoid addressing an employee’s weakness only to surprise the employee with a poor evaluation. The latter creates employee defensiveness and a loss of trust that hinders the team member’s ability to receive feedback in the future.

When correctly administered, performance evaluations can be powerful motivators for improvement and growth. For instance, one of my colleagues recently told me she learned she was “managing more than leading her employees” thanks to a 360-degree evaluation. She described the experience as a “breakthrough leadership moment.” This was possible because she was humble, trusted the feedback source, and committed to personal growth.

How have effective evaluations helped you?

What are some of the other reasons evaluations fail?

Feel free to add your comments below.

Hope Horner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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