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Fred L. Eargle

Quality Insider

Performance Evaluations

How NOT to do them

Published: Monday, August 13, 2007 - 22:00

Meet Chet, industrial engineer and manager of a small manufacturing department. He just came to this company a few months ago. This is his second job since graduation. He was a line supervisor for about a year at his previous company. He felt that job was too confining and prevented him from using the full extent of his college degree. He’s read all about quality and human relations and can’t wait to bring his people to their full potential.

In the next few minutes Chet is scheduled to perform several annual performance evaluations in a manufacturing cell that he manages.

This is new territory for him and he could use some advice, but he’s not about to ask for it. It might be a sign of weakness, and that would destroy the image he’s trying to create.

David, his unofficial mentor and plant human resources (HR) manager, is about to earn his keep.

Chet approaches the manufacturing floor determined to carry out performance evaluations of the six people in his department. He’s never done evaluations before, so last night he reviewed a chapter on the subject from a psychology book he had in college. It sounded familiar to him. If he doesn’t remember something, he’ll wing it. That approach has always worked when he came up against a problem and didn’t have all the information he needed. Besides, he’s got a lunch date with the cute new girl in HR. It’s now 11 a.m., so he’d better get with it.

Chet’s first evaluation is with Ann, a long-term employee with excellent skills. He has just approached her workstation in the small manufacturing cell she shares with the other five members of her team.

Chet: [Let’s see…The book says I should announce what I’m here for so the employee will have time to consider what we’re going to talk about. OK, Here goes.]

Hi, Ann. It’s time for your, uh, annual performance evaluation. You know we do this every year, and I thought since you’re on your break now, this would be a good time to do it.

[Requirement No. 1 is out of the way. I let her know in advance.]

Ann: Uh, yeah. OK, Chet. What’s this about?

Chet: I said we are going to do your annual evaluation. And we need to do it in private. Nobody’s looking. I don’t see why we can’t do it right here at your workstation. Do you? It’ll save both of us some time.

[Requirement No. 2—privacy—is out of the way. Hey, I’m hot! Even if her team members see us, nobody will know what we are talking about anyway.]

Ann: Well, uh, no. I guess not.

Chet: Now, you know, Ann, that I want to listen to anything you have to say. OK? So, just interrupt me if you have any comments or questions, OK? [Hah! No. 3 out of the way. I told her I’d listen if she had anything to say. Man, this is going to be easy!]

Ann: I understand.

Chet: Now, Ann, this is the form we’re going to use. I picked up a copy from HR and looked at it on my way over here. It’s new to me, but seems pretty straightforward, don’t you think?

Ann: I guess so. Looks like the form we’ve been using for some time.

Chet: Good. Now, you know, I don’t get out on the manufacturing floor very often. Office things keep me pretty busy, you know. I looked for your job description and couldn’t find it, but in general I know what you do, like putting these parts in the right place, fastening them with screws, then loading them on a pallet. Right?

[That’s No. 4!  I’ve passed her work station several times.]

Ann: Well, not exactly. I check to see if the paper work is correct before I do anything else. Then I check the dimensions, coefficient of friction, compression, crush resistance, shear strength, torque, and Young’s Modulus using some sophisticated equipment. It took me three months just to learn the equipment and get my confidence. And, you have to be very careful not to contaminate the field because …

Chet: Yeah, yeah. I knew that. Let’s move along, shall we? I’ve got to evaluate five others in this work cell before lunch. OK? As for your performance, you’ve got a few things to bone up on but, overall, you’re doing a good job.

[That’s No. 5! I gave her my evaluation. I know what she does, regardless of what she says. Hey, evaluating is easy. This might turn out to be the best part of my job. I’m a fast learner.]

Now, to sum up, Ann, is there anything you’re concerned about or want to learn? A new skill, perhaps?

Ann: Well, yes. I’d like to take advantage of the company’s college tuition program and …

Chet: College? I don’t know, Ann. That would mean taking some time off. Don’t know if I can spare you. But, like I said, I don’t know what you’re really interested in, but stop by my office sometime and we’ll discuss it. OK?

Thanks for your time. I’ll finish writing this up when I get time. You know, just filling in some details to make it look official. Stop by my office sometime and I’ll show you your rating.

[Hot diggity! Requirement No. 6 aced! And under 7 minutes! I asked for suggestions and her future plans and aspirations, and even offered to spend some time with her to discuss some options, although she seemed unclear. Anyway, one down and five to go! Now, who’s next? Looks like I’ll be on time for my lunch date.]

11:30 a.m. The loudspeaker system blares and interrupts Chet’s interview with Roy, his fourth evaluation of the morning.

Chet: Was that for me?

Roy nods in the affirmative.

I wonder why HR wants to see me? Roy, I guess you’ll have to excuse me. This sounds important. We can finish your evaluation later. It doesn’t really have to be done now. It’s not as important as some other things I’m involved in. So, just go about doing your work as usual, and I’ll get back with you in a week or two. OK?

Roy: OK, Chet. Anything you say.

Chet turns to go to HR, just a short walk away.

Meet David, HR manager. David has had several assignments since coming to work here 12 years ago. He’s been responsible for hiring and training, and he’s had some manufacturing line experience. He has advanced college degrees and regularly participates in seminars and workshops to keep abreast of new trends, labor laws, and the latest practices. He’s a good man and has tried being a mentor to Chet, who has largely resisted his advice and counsel.

Chet arrives at David’s office.

Chet: Hi, David. What’s the big rush? I was right in the middle of giving performance evaluations when I got this urgent message. I hope this won’t take long, because I’ve got a lunch date with the new girl in HR.

David: Come in, Chet. Close the door and have a seat.

Chet: What’s up David? You look upset.

David: Not so much me as the people in your department. I’ve had several telephone calls within the last half hour wanting to talk to someone about the evaluations you’ve been giving this morning.

Perhaps you can tell me what’s going on.

Chet: Well, I don’t know what you heard, but I was only giving annual evaluations. What’s wrong with that? It’s done each year on each employee because the company says to do it, right?

David: Company policy calls for it, yes. But we do it for specific reasons; it’s not perfunctory, Chet. The company and employees take it seriously. Have you ever done performance evaluations, Chet?

Chet: Well, no, but I did have a couple of lectures in one of my college courses. It seemed pretty straightforward to me. What did I do wrong? I don’t want to upset anyone, especially if they work for me. Why, just last night I pulled out my old psychology book and reviewed the principles of doing evaluations.

David: Principles? Do you mind going over them for me?

Chet: Why, no. First off, you want to alert the employee to the purpose of this meeting.

David: True, but the employee needs a minimum of a day’s notice so he can get his thoughts in line and perhaps make a list of points he wants to cover. Two or three days is even better, if it can be arranged.  

Chet: Yeah, yeah. OK. The second principal in my psychology book said it should be done in private. I did. I met with Ann right at her work station, on her break time. There were others around, but no one came close enough to hear what Ann and I were saying.

David: I see. If you will go back and review your psychology book, I think you’ll find that confidential conversations of any nature between manager and employee should be done in private. This should have been carried out in your office, Chet, or somewhere absolute privacy is assured. And her break time was her own personal time, and not the time to transact company business. About how long did Ann’s evaluation take, Chet?

Chet: Seven minutes, as I recall.

David: (Uttering a low moan.)  Seven minutes? Did you place a time limit on it?

Chet: No, but I had six people to evaluate. It was 11 when I started, and I had a lunch date with … You know.

David: I’m not going to lecture you on business ethics right now, but I will mention a couple of things. When you are at work your responsibilities are to he aligned with those of the company. Personal agendas and choices frequently take a back seat.

More to the point, you should not, in general, restrict the time it takes for a review. Thirty minutes should have been allotted. Perhaps an hour in some unusual cases. The point is, it should not be rushed just because you have a personal agenda. Using Ann as an example, she should feel that adequate time was available to find out how she is measuring up to what the company expects. This is also an excellent time to find out what educational plans and aspirations she has. You could even discuss any performance or other problems that she might have. She may even take you into her confidence and share some very personal things. Handled correctly, this could have been a positive experience for both of you.

Chet: OK, so I screwed up. What do I do now?

David: I suggest that you return to your department and very quietly apologize to each person. Don’t make a big deal about it. Tell them you’ll reschedule the evaluations, and this time they’ll be done correctly. Then come see me, and we’ll work out the details of how it should be done.

One other thing. Normally the form is filled out in the absence of the employee. This allows the rater to be more objective in his evaluation and removes the possibility of employee intimidation. It also gives you a chance to review production data and other records pertinent to the person.

You’ve only been here a few months. Did you review the job descriptions to remind yourself of the nature of the jobs? Do you think you know your people well enough to rate them accurately?

Chet: Well, I thought so. But I couldn’t find the job descriptions, and this morning was the first time I had seen the evaluation form. Guess I really need some help here.

Dave: (Another low moan.) Look, Chet. The HR department doesn’t exist solely to hire and fire and fill out government forms. We do training and counseling, we administer employee benefits, we keep up with all kinds of employment regulations, and many other functions. We’re also here to work with managers, employees, and engineers on the many problems that face them.

Now, why don’t you get out to your department and speak with them briefly? See me after lunch, and we’ll do some fence mending and lay out a plan for how things should be done.

Chet: Thanks, David. (Looking at his watch). If I hurry, I still have time to meet the new girl for lunch.  Just kidding!  


About The Author

Fred L. Eargle’s default image

Fred L. Eargle

Fred L. Eargle has more than 30 years of experience conducting workshops and consulting on many topics, including performance appraisal, job evaluation, lean manufacturing, and counseling techniques. He has written numerous handbooks, manuals, and technical reports, as well as a book on pneumatics. He was on the faculty of North Carolina State University for 34 years and played a major role in the development of the North Carolina Quality Leadership Award.