By Laura T. Wetherald, MS, CPRP
Bureau Chief, Howard County Recreation and Parks
Staff Evaluation can be the most important opportunity between a supervisor and employee during the year. The process of planning goals, coaching, mentoring, and evaluating can change an employee’s performance at many levels. Not meeting with the employee annually or discussing performance standards may lead to the staff being unclear of their actual performance. We evaluate to see progress, fix areas of weakness, and to praise and acknowledge a job well done. Written and oral communication in the form of Staff Evaluation is essential to a healthy agency expecting excellence. Each staff member needs an up-to-date working job description from day one.
A proven and effective staff evaluation process involves two-page action plan form that provides flexibility in the amount of detail that can be written. There are 11 Performance Standards Dimensions to be considered in the process: 1.) Team/Cooperation/Attitude; 2.) Judgment/Problem Solving; 3.) Communication/Public Relations; 4.) Accountability/Attendance /Punctuality; 5.) Adaptability/Creativity/Initiative; 6.) Customer Service; 7.) Professionalism; 8.) Job Knowledge; 9.) Supervisory Skills (if supervisor) or Job Duty (1); 10.) Job Duty (2); 11.) Job Duty (3). In each Dimension, the employee is ranked on just three ratings: 1.) Meets Standards; 2.) Does Not Meet Standards; or 3.) Exceeds Standards.
The rating, Does Not Meet Standards, demonstrates that an employee is inconsistent and may negatively impact work environments. The performance is below the expectation of the position or below standard. It is the supervisor’s job to state why and how the performance must improve. The rating, Meets Standards, means duties and tasks are completed on time and with success. The staff member is consistently receptive and responsive to the instructions of the work team and meets the expectation for the position; however, opportunities for improvement remain. The rating, Exceeds Standards, concentrates on a staff member demonstrating superior work efforts and abilities above the expectations of the position. The employee who receives this rating is always receptive and responsive and serves as an example to other staff members.
The supervisor has ample space on the form to write comments offering behavior-driven statements on how their staff exceeded, met or did not meet the Dimensions. The written comments should focus on highlights, strengths, and areas for improvement, successes as well as areas where staff still needs coaching. It is very important that supervisors provide behavior-based statements (not judgmental) when writing comments for the Standard Dimensions. Brevity is important as the comments are not meant to be all-inclusive.
If an employee receives a Does Not Meet Standards rating, they are required to follow an Action Plan for the Performance Standard Dimension(s) that it is given in. The Action Plan is created by the supervisor and outlines the following: 1.) Statement of the Problem; 2.) What the Problem Results in (i.e. policy, waste, safety, moral, attendance, etc.); 3.) Corrective Employee Action; 4.) Supervisor Support and Recommendation; and 5.) Follow-Up Activity (specify a time deadline, at which time the initial problem results of corrective action will be reviewed). The Action Plans are very useful for supervisors in identifying areas of improvement for staff, specifically when a staff person may not agree or understand the depth to a problem. The one-page Action Plan allows a concise and direct overview of what needs to be corrected.
If an employee receives more than four Does Not Meet Standards ratings, their merit or step increase will be affected. If the poor performance continues throughout the following year, the employee may be recommended for termination.
Common Rating Errors sometimes occur, especially when supervisors are not properly trained on how to write performance evaluations. These rating errors need to be shared during staff trainings on how to use the evaluation tool. A common rating error occurs when supervisors rate their employee too high so they will like them. Supervisors may also focus on one specific event or a negative situation that occurs right before the evaluation and forget the staff member was very good on the same dimension before this event transpired. This situation then taints a year’s worth of dimensions and ratings when it should just focus on one and perhaps share one comment.
There are times when employees and their supervisors are not on the same page regarding performance. When this occurs, it is a helpful idea to request the employee to do a self-evaluation before the formal evaluation. This allows the supervisor to see where the areas of miscommunication are before the evaluation is held and the supervisor can be better prepared to address areas more carefully with behavioral examples.
To be effective as a supervisor in sharing the evaluation, there should never be any surprises. The ‘no surprises’ approach will enable the supervisor and the employee to focus on topics that should have been brought up before the formal evaluation session. It is important for supervisors to schedule a time to meet with staff for evaluations and not spring the meetings on the employees without notice. Within our organization, the evaluation needs to be approved by the Bureau Chief of a particular division before it is given to the staff member by the supervisor. This allows a check and balance as far as inaccurate evaluations or ones where patterns of performances have been shared. At times, the supervisor may need to have additional training if their performance evaluation skills demonstrate common rating errors or lack of preparation and proofing.
The supervisor sharing the evaluation with their staff should be a good listener and provide feedback to the concerns or positive feedback outlined in the formal document. The form is not meant to be the only communication tool during evaluation. The written part is important, but so is the oral communication, comments and validation of what has happened during the past performance cycle.
A formal evaluation process should be written in a staff manual and be transparent for training and as a resource. During their orientation, new employees should be informed of the process on which they will be evaluated. They should also be given an accurate and up-to-date job description. The job description is very important as two to three job duties within the description are highlighted in the performance tool as dimensions. The job duties that are highlighted in the evaluation form are those that are most important to the position.
This is the third evaluation tool that has been used by the agency in the last 25 years. Each time a change was made to the evaluation tool used, lessons learned and staff input was obtained to create a better document. The current two-page form was created to meet the needs of all employees and unions and to provide a standard of communication that staff could provide in all classification levels. The previous evaluation tool used was computer-generated and often took staff members between four to six hours to complete. The new form can be filled out in less than half of the time with the same outcome. The previous computer-driven tool was also six to eight pages in length and cumbersome to read. At times, it was apparent that even the staff members receiving the evaluation did not want to read that much material about performance.
Employee Evaluations done on a regular basis in a formal environment will help improve performance and eliminate misunderstandings between supervisor and the staff. At the end of the evaluation, there is a place to plan an individual goal for the employee to help them focus on next year’s plan of performance. There should also be a place where the staff member receiving the evaluation can write their own comments about their performance. Evaluations establish benchmarks with each employee and allow them to share and receive valuable feedback on their own performance. It saddens me to hear other agencies’ staff relate they have not had an evaluation or even had a conversation with their supervisor in years. If your evaluation process works, your agency can acknowledge supervisors and employees are at least speaking to one another and communicating about their performance.
Creating an effective staff evaluation process
By Laura T. Wetherald, MS, CPRP