A Biblical Perspective on Evaluating Performance
Regardless of what many leaders and managers think, employee performance evaluation systems were not designed simply to give the personnel department something to do. It is unfortunately true, however, that many of them have degenerated to little more than that. Nevertheless, to accomplish activities and projects as planned, the manager and employee must he able to evaluate progress and take corrective action as needed. This is the major purpose and function of the performance evaluation system.
GOD’S VIEW OF PERFORMANCE.
God is performance-conscious. Scripture indicates His concern about the quality and level of our work performance by saying, “Work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters” (Colossians 3:23, TLB). While on earth, Jesus apparently performed to the best of His ability, for those observing His actions commented, “He has done everything well” (Mark 7:37).
When Jesus told the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), He described two types of people-those with good performance and those with bad. When describing the workers with good performance the master said, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (v. 21). But when talking to the unproductive worker, the master said, “You wicked, lazy servant!” (v. 26).
The Christian leader should be committed to a high level and quality of performance. As we read in Colossians 3:23, we are to work hard and cheerfully at all we do. The Christian’s goal is high performance with a positive and cheerful attitude toward the task being performed.
This is diametrically opposed to most of the world’s view of work and performance. The secular philosophy tends to be “take it easy” and “don’t work too hard,” Many people are committed to doing only what is required to get by in order to keep the boss off their backs. This certainly is contrary to the standard established in Colossians 3:23.
Since God desired that we perform well, the Christian community and its leaders should strive for high performance. When properly developed and maintained, the performance evaluation system can be one of the best management tools for achieving and maintaining high performance.
WHY EMPLOYEE EVALUATION SYSTEMS TEND TO FAIL
Most employee performance evaluation systems are built on the wrong objectives. Most organizational performance evaluation systems ate designed to evaluate past history instead of work currently in progress, They focus on the employee’s past twelve months of work. Such performance systems are usually referred to as “annual reviews.” Once each year the supervisor fills out some type of performance review form that summarizes the employee’s performance during the past year. Unfortunately, in most cases there is little value in recording and reviewing an employees past year performance. It is history, and it can’t be changed. Except for the minimal value such a system offers for future planning purposes, the information has little purpose.
In order to be meaningful, a performance evaluation system should allow the manager and employee to take corrective action while the project is in progress. Since it is impossible to change past actions and performance, the annual review approach becomes meaningless in terms of helping people with a given project. Therefore, instead of focusing on evaluating past history or performance, the evaluation system should evaluate current projects in progress.
Most performance evaluation systems lack clearly defined performance standards. The typical employee performance evaluation system fails not only because it evaluates past history, but it lacks clearly defined standards by which performance is evaluated.
The performance evaluation system should help both the supervisor and his employees agree on a definition of the performance standards before the employee starts working on a project in which his performance will be evaluated. If an employee is expected to do a “good” job, then he should know ahead of time what is meant by “good.” Unless performance standards are clearly defined, with measurable terminology, employees have no way of knowing what is expected of them.
Most managers lack training in how to conduct meaningful performance review sessions with their employees. This is one of the major weaknesses with most employee performance review systems. It causes discomfort and anxiety for both the supervisor and his employees.
One day while I was working as a personnel director for an electronic manufacturing firm, a young lady came into my office with tears in her eyes. She said she felt like a school girl who had just come from the principal’s office.
When I asked what was the matter, she said she had just come from her first performance evaluation session with her new boss and felt like quitting. “If I was doing such a bad job, she should have said something sooner,” she complained. “How was I to know she wasn’t happy with my work?” As she chewed on her fingernails she continued. “She treated me like I was her little girl that needed a spanking. I’m an adult and the least she can do is treat me like one.”
DESIGNING AN EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION SYSTEM
Follow these steps when setting up a performance evaluating system:
Emphasize work in progress rather than evaluating past history by the use of annual reviews.
The supervisor and subordinate should develop and agree on measurable performance standards. This should be done before the project or activity begins so that the subordinate will know by what standard his performance is being judged.
The evaluation sessions should be done in a two-way learning environment. The supervisors, as well as the subordinate’s performance should be considered. The emphasis should be on identifying and meeting all the needs that exist in order for the project to be accomplished as planned.
SETTING PERFORMANCE STANDARDS
When setting performance standards the supervisor and employee should set both preferred performance standards and minimum performance standards. Preferred performance standards are what we are striving to achieve. However, if we would actually be willing to settle for less, the minimum performance standards tell us how far below the preferred standard we may go before repeating the activity or project becomes necessary. In other words, the minimum performance standards indicate how much tolerance exists within the standards.
IMPLEMENTING A WORK-IN-PROGRESS REVIEW SYSTEM
Following is an example of how a work-in-progress review might be done on a six-month project. The work-in-progress reviews are designed to keep the employee and supervisor informed concerning how the project is going, whether changes need to be made, and whether the project is accomplishing the original objectives. The review sessions also insure open communication- between the supervisor and employee concerning the various aspects of the project.
Start: Meet with the employee to set measurable objectives and performance standards for the project.
Week 1: The employee begins work on the project.
Week 4: The supervisor and employee have the first work-in-progress review session. This session should be conducted shortly after the project begins in order to make sure there are no unexpected problems in implementing the startup phase of the work. During this session, evaluate how realistic the objectives, time tables, and performance standards are. The supervisor should place a special emphasis on trying to identify the unforeseen work needs of the employee as he pursues the project. Set the date for the next review session. The length of time between review sessions will depend on how well the project is going.
Week 12: The second work-in-progress review session should consider the remaining activities needed to complete the project on time. Is the project on schedule or not Are new circumstances developing that weren’t anticipated?
Week 22: The third work-in-progress review of this project is conducted shortly before the end to make sure no last minute changes are needed in order to complete the project as scheduled.
Week 24: The final evaluation is conducted at the end of the project. This session compares the results with the original projections.
CONDUCTING THE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION SESSIONS
Focus on developing a two-way learning environment. If the evaluation session is to he meaningful, the manager must avoid dealing only with the subordinate’s performance. Instead, he must create an environment in which the employee understands that the supervisor’s performance will he evaluated along with his own.
Focus on acquiring employee ideas and input. The evaluation session should be a time when the supervisor solicits ideas and input from the employee. This is not necessarily the time for lengthy lectures. The supervisor should first ask the employee for his input concerning the current status of the work, progress being made, problems that have developed since the last meeting, and recommendations for improvements or solutions to problems. This will give the employee an opportunity to use his creativity. It will also communicate that the manager trusts the employees judgment and needs his input.
Encourage the employee to make decisions within the framework of his authority. Many employees expect the boss to solve all problems and make all decisions concerning changes and other corrective measures. The evaluation session is an excellent time to encourage the employee to solve his own problems as long as the solution falls within the employee’s decision-making authority. Don’t let the employee delegate problems upward to you when he is capable of developing his own solutions. The manager frequently hinders the employee from taking initiative by stepping in too quickly to rescue the employee from a problem.
Use a performance evaluation worksheet to maintain a written record of progress and actions taken. It is very important to keep written records of employee performance. Both progress and problems should be recorded, and the employee should sign the evaluation form at the end of each session. These records provide valuable information when planning similar projects in the future and when it comes time to consider employee promotions.
Always give proper recognition during the evaluation session. During the evaluation session, the manager should properly recognize the employee’s performance. Proper recognition means that the manager offers praise when the job is done well, and constructive criticism when it is needed. Some managers don’t mind giving praise, but they don’t know how to properly handle constructive criticism.
When dealing with constructive criticism, always focus on performance. Deal with the cause of the performance problem, and never criticize unless you are prepared to offer suggestions for improvement. Stick with facts and try to avoid subjective opinions because they only lead to arguments. It is difficult for an employee to deny poor performance when you deal with facts instead of opinion.