Leadership Spotlight

Build Bridges, Not Dams: Performance Evaluations

A roadway traverses a river like a bridge over troubled water.

That time of year has come upon many supervisors again—employee performance evaluations. In this regard, why do some managers have acute levels of difficulty in evaluating their employees at the end of the year? In short, some do not understand that performance evaluations are a tool for building, not piling! Valuable employees embody the stones needed in building strong bridges to organizational success. Nevertheless, let us examine some of the effective actions and mistakes regarding performance evaluations as related to “shoring up” employees.  

  1. Prior to the evaluation session, expectations should be set early and often during the year. Feedback serves as one of the most important year-round tools that some managers fail to use when building good employees. Believe it or not, your personnel have your full attention when it comes to your assessment of their work. Do not wait until the end of the year to make your employees aware of your expectations.
  2. Keep record, not a book. The difference? If you are a manager who chooses to maintain notes of only the negatives regarding an employee during the year, you simply are “keeping book.” Such an evaluation method not only will result in employee resentment, but you, also, may be abusing what should be a developmental tool for that employee. This will turn a strong stone into a soft rock. Using performance evaluations for the right reasons, ultimately, will better the organization and your reputation as a manager. The fundamental questions answered during the evaluation process are “What is the employee doing well?” and “What tools am I, as a manager, providing if the employee is not doing well?” This can be assessed only by keeping an accurate record of the employee’s entire efforts during the year, rather than documenting only limitations.
  3. The Human Resource Division (HRD) is your “friend.” As a manager, you are not expected to know everything about the performance evaluation process. However, you must navigate it. The best compass to help guide you through the peaks and valleys of what you can or cannot do are the business professionals in HRD. Ask them the tough questions. For example, should a manager comment upon an employee’s physical disability during an evaluation session? You would be surprised how many managers do not know the answer to that question. However, HRD does. 

Performance evaluations entail building bridges to organizational success, rather than dams that harbor professional stagnation. As the saying goes, being firm is a good motif for a manager, but being fair and accurate is a requirement for leadership. It does not take much to build a firm dam; that only requires piling a bunch of soft rocks together to stop a flow of water. But, to build bridges, you must be fair in your assessments and accurate about where you place the stones. Otherwise, the bridge will come tumbling down.

Special Agent J.E. Granderson, an instructor in Faculty Affairs and Development at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.