The Dreaded Employee Evaluation

Jun 4th, 2021 Business Development

We have all been there. It's 90 days in on a new job; maybe it's the typical yearly check-in; hell, maybe they've never bothered, but suddenly a calendar invite populates, and you are facing a myriad of thoughts. "What is this?" "Why is this?" "Am I getting fired?" No matter how good you are doing or think you are doing, the thoughts never end. 

Outside of the typical daily stress of work, employee evaluations drive anxiety. We go home and talk about it with family or friends. We let it fester and keep us up at night. We slowly collapse like a dying star. The outcome? Potentially our worst interaction with our employers. 

An employee should not have to hold their breath and breath a giant sigh of relief once it's over. So, how can you do better?

Reduce Employee Review Stress

Let's be honest. There are companies that have the mentality that YOU should be happy to be employed by THEM. You are replaceable. You are expendable and not in a cool way like Arnold or Stalone. You should be glad to get your paycheck, and you should be hopeful it comes with benefits like a matching 401k, dental, and health insurance. If you are one of those who work in such a place, I feel for you. I've been there, and luckily, I work with a team that values each team member as an intricate piece of a machine. This looming feeling has been evermore present during this pandemic. With no way to predict the future, employees’ stress has been at an all-time high. When introducing your employee evaluations simple steps to mitigate undue stress will allow you to have a stronger gauge of your employees’ performance. 

Be Frequent

Inconsistent evaluation cadence can be a trigger for employees. When an employee goes extended periods of time with no interaction from upper management, the likelihood of a hostile response will take place. In a survey conducted of 1,500 employees, 46% of employees claimed the more frequent and positive their interactions were, the more engaged they were in their work and organization. The same study found that the same employees were more enthusiastic about company-wide goals versus the segment that was only focused on their own work. 

Employee evaluations take time and people-power. Unless you are equipped to have formal sit-downs with each individual, frequent and informal interactions or check-ins can go a long way to promoting employee satisfaction..

Set Expectations

Dropping a bomb on someone’s calendar is just rude. Sure, as management you’ve maybe earned the right but be sure to back it up with context. I promise you, we significant others will appreciate actual conversations NOT about work. This is why Google and the link gave you the handy notes section of the invitation. Be clear and let your employee know what to expect. Something to the effect of…

“This is your employee review. Breath. Everything will be okay. Breath. We are just going to talk. Breath. Please do not spin out when you get home and ruin dinner thinking about this calendar invite.”

Most of the time, it’s something like…

Nope, didn’t forget the content. Just a keen observation of the many invites I’ve received over the years. 

In our organization, we provide a series of questions to review prior to the meeting in order to drive conversation rather than the “Uhm… well, I uh….” which wastes everyone’s time and achieves nothing. Employee review is critical. 

Don’t Seek Input From Others Before the Interview

Much like that of the world we live in, knowing something prior usually paints your view of the object or the person before you actually interact. If Employee A is a great employee and Employee B is upset because of Employee A’s success and productivity, why would Employee B’s input hold any weight? Unfortunately, I’ve watched this first hand. The exercise of the coward is to deflect attention and divert accountability away from themselves. 

When seeking input from colleagues or managers, make sure you seek information at a deeper level. If the input comes back positive, ask for specific examples and data. If the input comes back negative, what did their manager do to fix the issue? If they cannot back up their claim, then this claim is irrelevant to their review. While we like to assume we are all business, we are humans who let emotion take over, sometimes at the expense of others well being. 

Provide Outcomes and Support

If the review is not ideal and the outcome warrants follow-up on performance, then you should be willing to provide support and resources for this employee. Simply put, if you are not removing them from the team, then you are saying that they are worth investing time into. But, this also comes with an expectation that you understand WHY their performance is lacking. This can be due to outside issues, lack of try, or lack of belief in you as a leader. More of than the last one in a second.

At Kicks, we know that there are skills that you cannot teach. This usually comes in the form of carrying an intelligent conversation and being able to move through like a ninja while commanding the room. If I don’t take you seriously, our clients won’t either. What can be taught is a basic digital marketing implementation and we are willing to teach to an extent. I can teach you how to use Illustrator, but are you artistic? There is the line.

Eyes Open and Wake Up

As the marketing team leader, I am not so dense to believe I am the ultimate Marketing Director. I work in many areas of our company and lead all projects outside of monthly marketing deliverables. I will be the first to say to my team, "give me the rundown; I've been busy." I will never take the route of the many in this industry that wants to flex their inferiority masked as superiority in an attempt to hide that they've been checked out. I see often. I hear it often. 

Your job as a leader is to lead. If you can't, move aside and let the ones who can, do. Management tends to be a stale position unless they are tied to a sales quota. Once promoted, senior-level management feels a sense of relief that it's not their job, not their prob, so they hand the reins over, hopeful that the same tenacity and drive that they promoted them for remains constant. What seems to happen is that focus is shifted away from management and accountability, and often blame for lack of production/quality, downshifts to the peasants. 

Be Accountable as an Employer

Let's be honest. As an employee, I want to know what you are doing as an advocate of your team. How are you spending your time? Where were you when you decided to skip our team meeting and tell us five minutes before? As a leader, you should hold yourself to the same standard that you have for your employees. No one wants to work for an aloof boss, and no one respects them. If this were me, I would be embarrassed. What I love about my team is each of us, at some point, is involved and in the weeds. We are in-tune, and if you don't feel like you are, you are about to be clued in. No one gets in the van unless they know where we're going (also, this is a life lesson. Be wary of vans).

Let's call it "culture."

It's one thing to use the world culture on your website. It's another thing to embed it in your company. At Kicks, we say, and we live it. Our culture is like the SNL writer's room. This is very true. We are brutally honest, value all ideas, invest in our people, and don't place seniority of skill. We don't write something sexy for our about page so you think we are good people. This is why we call ourselves "The Anti-Agency." This concept is not born from superiority or the notion that agencies are wrong. We simply leave out the bits that waste time on internal employee struggles and ego handling.

When we say we invest in people, I mean that in the most vital sense. If I met you on the street and your ability to shuck and jive in our conversation is outstanding, you have a soft skill that is hard to teach. Inversely, you can learn about the digital marketing world through experience. My fiance taught herself PPC advertising to get a foot in the door and is now a Senior Art Director. She only got there by teaching herself skills she did not have. 

When I say we value ideas, we genuinely have a standing Wednesday meeting called the SNL Writer's Room, where we pitch ideas between the entire department. We don't silo creativity and leave it to one person to make the call. This usually fails. However, we also know when an idea is terrible and trust when someone with a keen eye says so (even if this person is NOT the Creative Director).

When I say we place skill over seniority, the world changes. Just like politics, we have a demographic of politicians that still carry the ways of old in a world that changes at the drop of a hat. What worked in the 1990s for Pepsi probably doesn't work for them in the 2020s. When a company defaults to promotion based on "time due," be prepared to sacrifice talent that is overlooked. Kids these days, if Fortnite didn't swallow them whole, can likely run laps around senior-level management. 

One could argue that "kids these days" lack management experience. Newsflash pop pop, how do you get management experience if you never get a chance to be a manager? Too often, great employees are overlooked by the ones that should be leading.

Employer Evaluations

If you can subject your employees to critical review that their job depends on, the traffic should flow both ways. Unless you sign a contract of immunity punishable by lawsuits in court for breach of contract, you will likely never hear the truth (Indiana is an employed-at-will state). This is usually reserved for employees who've left or were fired that left reviews on Glassdoor.com. Sadly, employers will say, "they were disgruntled." My god, how some people can be so sensitive to honesty.  

Saying "we're listening" is just like talking about company culture. You can listen, but will you do anything? In a survey of 675 workers, 64% responded that workplace issues were directly correlated to leadership making decisions without consulting their workforce. When organizational changes impact the ones that make the world turn, you should value their input. Failure to do so will keep employees from becoming evangelists for your company. Effectively, you've turned their career into a job based on their lack of belief in you. 

How can you do better as a company?

  1. Implement more frequent check-ins and not pose ambiguous meetings without reason or expectation. 
  2. Use tools like Tiny Pulse or internal survey programs to gauge anonymous feedback from your employees.
  3. Place more importance on auditing your management-level employees.
  4. Revisit your employee growth strategy and gather feedback from employees who voluntarily leave.
  5. Conduct stronger exit-interview for employees who are being let go. Sometimes you'll find their lack of output may be tied directly to your lack of inspiration. 

For everything else, there's Mastercard.

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