What is an employee evaluation and how to conduct one (with examples!)

Last updated:
February 18, 2022
May 9, 2022
min read
Brendan McConnell
employee evaluation
Table of contents

Employee evaluations have long been an important communication tool between managers and their staff. They're an opportunity for both parties to review performance, set goals for the year ahead, and discuss growth opportunities at the company.

With the growth of performance and talent management software, employee evaluations have evolved into various new formats and frequencies. While annual performance reviews used to be the norm, many companies are now moving to weekly or monthly 1:1 sessions, and 360-degree feedback.  

In this article, we're going to look at what types of employee evaluations are popular today, why they're important, explain how to write an employee evaluation, tips on how to conduct effective review sessions, and provide examples of questions you can use in your employee evaluation write-ups.

What is an employee evaluation?

Employee evaluations are routine assessments of an employee's performance on the job. Evaluations can take many forms and be conducted at different intervals, depending on the desired outcomes.

Traditionally, employee evaluations were conducted on an annual basis and made up a section of a yearly performance review. This has shifted over time to more frequent and less formal review sessions. These sessions act as a facilitator to open a two-way discussion between the manager and employee.

Today, employee evaluations can take many forms, including:

  • Annuals or quarterly reviews
  • Informal, regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings
  • 360-degree evaluations that include feedback from around the organization
  • Employee self-evaluations

Employee self-evaluations are typically completed in advance of a more formal, two-way review session. They allow your staff member to reflect on their own performance and give their thoughts on how things are going.

Whatever form your employee evaluations take, the goal is to provide managers and employees with open conversations about performance, goals, and development. It shouldn’t be something portrayed in a way that makes the employee fearful. Rather, a learning opportunity that’s entirely personalized to them. 

Why are employee evaluations important?

Employee evaluations are key to establishing clear expectations and boundaries between employees and managers. They're the vehicle by which both parties lay out what the goals for the year are, what success looks like, and what new training or growth paths are needed to achieve those objectives.

Above all, employee reviews enable open and honest feedback. Without them, it's tough for managers and employees to remain on the same page. Because of this, the outcomes of employee evaluations often contain key pieces of information that lead to promotions, bonuses, and raises for the staff member.

What are the benefits of performance evaluations? 

The benefits of performance evaluations (otherwise known as employee evaluations) are many:

  • They establish clear expectations between employees and managers.
  • They set goals and success metrics for the year ahead.
  • They provide honest feedback to employees on what's working and what needs improvement.
  • They help employees better understand what's expected of them.
  • They improve communication.
  • They give recognition and rewards for good work.
  • They help managers understand an employee's individual strengths, goals, and motivations.
  • They help employees plan a future growth path for their career.
  • They provide an opportunity for employees to explain how they'd like to be managed.

Why do we need employee evaluations?

Without these structured employee evaluations, it's unlikely that each of the above benefits could be achieved in a sustainable way. These points often get lost in the hustle of daily business.

Employee evaluations, therefore, are an opportunity for managers and employees to pause, reflect, and chart a path forward. Ultimately, performance reviews benefit both employer and employee through uniquely individual feedback relating to performance on both parts. Routine employee evaluations can also intervene at an earlier stage before an employer requires serious action in the future, should that be applicable. 

Key elements of an employee evaluation

No matter what type of employee evaluation you use, and the frequency at which you hold them, all review sessions should contain some variation of the following elements to make it worth your time as an employer or an employee.

‍1. Performance standards and review frameworks

It's important that your company, or at least your team, has a clear framework in place for measuring performance. This framework should include sliding expectations depending on the seniority and position of the employee being reviewed.

Having this framework allows managers to evaluate employees more objectively rather than reviewing based on personal biases. It should give managers employee evaluation questions that are designed with a clear review outcome in mind. There’s little point in asking questions without a strategy. Ensure everything has a purpose. 

These structured questions and performance standards should be achievable, relevant to the job description, and communicated upfront to employees.

‍2. Set SMART goals

Each employee should have a specific set of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely) that relate to their job performance. These goals should serve as the reference point against which you measure that employee's performance.

When establishing SMART goals, work with your employees to establish their ambitions, strengths, and desired responsibilities. They can, and should, include development goals and expected outcomes. Remember, the point of an employee evaluation is not only to evaluate current achievements, but to improve over time. 

Employee evaluations should refer to these SMART goals and discuss the employees' progress towards achieving them.

‍3. A consistent schedule

Choosing an employee evaluation schedule is immensely important for the overall success of the performance management process and employee confidence in the company. Whether you hold reviews yearly, quarterly, or informally on a weekly basis, you must be as consistent with your schedule as possible. Employee evaluations must be something your employees are expecting, and holding them routinely allows them to know it’s approaching.

Consistency in employee evaluations will give your employees clear milestones to work toward and prioritize their tasks to achieve their goals. It will also ensure the desired level of transparency between employee and manager by guaranteeing honest conversions on a regular basis.

What to write in an employee evaluation

If this is your first time writing a performance review, you may find yourself searching Google for an idea of what to write in an employee evaluation. Luckily, we have a step-by-step formula you can follow. Make sure, more than anything, you fully customize the employee evaluation to the employee. Completing a performance review just to check a box and say you’ve done it won’t be helping anyone, and will, in fact, be a massive waste of time. 

Step 1 - Revisit the employee’s job description

The job description is the perfect place to start. After all, a well-written job description outlines the main responsibilities and duties of the role. Since the employee was onboarded, there may have been further tasks added to their duties, but, to begin with, reviewing the job description is a good place to start. 

Create a list of the tasks mentioned and assess on a sliding scale how successful your employee has performed them. 

Step 2 - Where can the employee improve? Where have improvements been made? 

Now that you have a list of responsibilities and tasks from the job description, try to think of examples where the employee has not met the tasks or met with difficulty. These can help inform your comments on a performance review. 

It may also be worth looking at previous employee evaluations. Look at the areas that were highlighted as needing improvement last time, as this shows whether the feedback has been acted on or not. Make a note of any areas that need work for progression. 

It’s important to not only focus on the negatives, though. You should consider where your employees have made progress. Make note of this, being as specific as possible about tasks that have gone particularly well. This includes any further development and training the employee took part in or any certifications earned by the employee. Don’t solely focus on the positives or the negatives. There should be a combination of both in the employee evaluation. 

Step 3 - Compare the strengths and areas that require improvement

At this stage, you’re going to use a combination of the previous employee evaluations and job descriptions to create a clear list of each individual’s strengths and weaknesses on the team. SWOT frameworks work well here, (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat). This can help you formulate the employee evaluation notes. 

The strengths of the employees should revolve around key accomplishments or any area where there has been considerable progress. Weaknesses should address elements that prevent meeting goals. Opportunities are methods that could be used by the employee to better their performance. And, finally, the threat section should outline any behaviors or aspects that could create a negative effect on the team and their performance. 

These notes must be backed up with data, as it acts as your evidence. Not only this, but having clear key performance indicators help you measure success or regress come to the next performance evaluation. 

Gather attendance data that show attendance records and sales numbers to show the overall impact the employee has on the progression of the company. 

Step 4 - Allocate goals based on step 3

Your employee evaluation should empower your employees. They should provide actionable goals that help better their performance, and in turn progress their careers. 

The goals you recommend should link to their strengths and areas that require improvement. It’s tempting to only focus on goals linked to areas of required improvement, but fine-tuning an already clear strength could take them from ‘good’ to ‘brilliant’. 

Step 5 - Give constructive feedback 

You want to ensure your employee evaluation gives positive feedback and allows employees to feel proud of their progress. However, there will be areas that they need to improve, as we’re human and no one is perfect. 

When giving feedback, it should be constructive. This should be actionable and non-personal. Keep it linked to the points you’ve already made, and provide ways to improve those weaknesses. 

Step 6 - Have a box for employee input

This isn’t a school report. Sometimes, when employees don’t have a chance to defend themselves or have their voice and opinion heard, it can feel like a report card rather than an employee evaluation. It’s important to monitor and measure the impact of an employee, but you must do so respectfully. 

Allowing your team members the chance to respond to their performance reviews and write comments about your findings is important. They’ll feel heard and like their opinion of their performance matters, too. By allowing them to feel this way, they’ll feel more invested in the goals that were set and push themselves further to achieve them. 

Tips for evaluating employees

Knowing how to hold employee evaluation sessions is one of the manager's most important jobs. As a team leader, it's critical that you have open and accountable communication with every member of the team and work with each of them toward personal and organizational goals.

Employee evaluations are one of the best outlets for this type of honest back and forth conversation, provided you follow some tips and best practices.

1. Take a lot of notes‍

Taking notes between, and during, employee evaluations will help you keep track of important pieces of information you'll need to manage your employee effectively, and ensure that your conversations are structured and actionable.

2. Be honest and specific with feedback

Regular feedback helps you direct and coach your employee toward success. To do so, you need to give clear insights into what's working, what's not, and what needs improvement. Be sure to give clear steps forward, and empower your team to improve.

3. Don't compare employees

Nobody is the same, so you shouldn't treat them that way in your employee evaluations. Instead, measure the individual progress of your employees based on the goals you've mutually agreed upon. Avoid evaluating based on personality, as this ultimately doesn't matter if they are achieving their goals, and are a good cultural fit.

4. Build a strong rapport

Open conversations only occur when both parties are comfortable with being honest with one another. This comes from a strong rapport between employee and manager. Treat evaluations as friendly discussions, and encourage an open dialogue. Holding regular, weekly check-ins will help create this honest rapport, which will lead to more honest and valuable two-way feedback. Remember, an employee evaluation shouldn’t be a monologue. 

5. Ask specific questions

And be sure that these questions serve a concrete purpose. Employee evaluations should act as a review of the last quarter or year, be a two-way conversation about personal and team development, and provide managers with insights into how they can improve as well. Create a list of questions that help steer the conversation in the right direction to cover each of these objectives.

With that last tip in mind, let's take a look at some sample performance evaluation questions that you can incorporate into your own meetings.

Examples of employee evaluation questions

As mentioned, you should be deliberate with the types of questions you ask in an employee performance evaluation. In other words, your questions should relate to a clear action item for you and the team member. For example, your questions could relate to employee performance, professional development, or your own management.

Performance review: Performance questions

Employee performance evaluation questions might include:

  • What do you think your great accomplishment was at work this year?
  • Overall, how would you evaluate your performance this year/quarter?
  • Do you feel that you met your SMART goals for this review period? If not, why?
  • What are some challenges you've faced, and what can I do to help?
  • What do you hope to achieve in the company this year?

The idea here is to encourage your employee to reflect on their own performance and chart a path forward. Each of these questions is a conversation starter and should be paired with your own input and suggestions.

Performance review: Development questions

Expanding on performance question, your development conversation might include:

  • What support, training or resources do you need to meet your goals?
  • What are your long-term career goals? How can I help you achieve them?
  • What new skills or knowledge do you want to develop this year?
  • What position in the company do you want to move into next?
  • Where do you think there's room for you to improve?

This part of the employee evaluation is all about working out a path forward for your employee, and showing that you and your company are there to support them.

Performance review: Management questions

Lastly, you should take some time to receive feedback as well. Ask your employees questions like:

  • Is this review process working for you? How would you prefer to receive feedback?
  • How can I better manage you?
  • Do you have everything you need to perform your job?
  • Where has the company management helped or hindered your performance?

Conclusion

The goal here is to learn how you can be a better manager and identify any red tape or micromanagement that might hinder your employee's performance. Employee evaluations are critical to keeping staff and managers aligned and working in lockstep toward a common goal. That means open, two-way communication that helps both parties grow their respective skill sets and processes.


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