Question: How do I make my annual job evaluation meaningful?

I am an experienced healthcare professional in a large non-profit. Our job evaluations are close. I am hoping your advice can help me improve a very ineffective process.

We have 3 "optional" areas on a form to list — a self-evaluation of achievements, improvement needs and overall performance. We use this form to talk to our managers who decides whether performance meets requirements or not.

Neither salary changes, nor future promotions are linked to these discussions... so most employees treat it as a mere formality. Salary increments (if any) are uniform across the organization, promotions are based on situational needs.

I have been on both sides of the table, and see it as a futile exercise... except as a tool to formally warn non-performing employees.

How can I as a contributor and a manager, make this process more meaningful?

5 Expert Insights

Performance management is a critical component for the success of any organization. If high-performing organizations were the natural outcome of laissez-faire management, most organizations would be high performing. Most are not. Annual performance reviews can be a component of effective performance management, but certainly not as the sole component.

The timing of various aspects of performance management ought to align with its objectives. If the objective is encouraging constructive and productive behaviors, the management should be happening in near real time. The trick here is to aim for catching people doing something right and recognizing them for it. An annual performance conversation should focus on things like personal objectives in line with organizational objectives and personal development plans, i.e. performance over the past year relative to goals and new goals for the upcoming year. There ought to be a two-way conversation that allows the performer being managed to also evaluate the  manager and discuss how the manager can contribute to the performer's performance.

If you are seeing the current process as a futile exercise, it's highly unlikely that you are the only one. You might want to begin by putting that observation on the table: This is generally perceived as a waste of time. What can we do to change that?

It sounds like your assessment of the evaluation is right on target. The current evaluation process is basically useless.

When performance evaluations have no consequence then  they have no  meaning. This  scenario neither rewards high performers nor challenges low performers. As I see it, this is an organizational and culture  issue. You would have to initiate a re-org of some kind wherein people's performance actually matters. Otherwise in an environment of uniform raises, there's no reason to do anything more than whatever's necessary to keep ones job. What that promotes is 'lifers' people who don't care as much as they might because they don't have to. even when someone comes along who does care, eventually this system will erode it either by the lack of incentive or the cultural environment of people phoning it in.

Unless the organization is going to shift what's rewarded and what is not, then the only thing to keep if for is as you said. to warn non-performing employees.

Sorry about this one, wish I had a better answer but I've rarely seen this kind of system work to create or generate personal development by people within the organization.  Without something to reach for there's no reason to reach.

What you have described – the dreaded annual performance review, is not that uncommon. I suspect that many people who read your question can relate to it. I like to compare it to a colonoscopy – the anticipation & preparation for the event are often worse than the event itself. I believe that real performance management happens in the more frequent, informal dialog during the year than at an annual, more formal event.
Congratulations on wanting to raise the bar on the quality of the annual event. It sounds like it is set low. Here are my suggestions.
First & foremost, keep the discussion positive. Avoid problems & excuses. Indicate that you feel good about the accomplishments of you & your organization. To the extent your boss will allow you, take charge of the discussion and use the concept of “feedforward” coined by my business partner Marshall Goldsmith. You can download his article on it here:
The concept of feedback is often associated with performance reviews and can be a negative experience, even for those who say they want it. Feedback focuses on the past & often deals with failures or mistakes. You can’t change the past, you can only change the future. Feedforward focuses on a positive future state that you can accomplish. It might sound like any of the following statements:
“I feel very positive about the work we accomplished last year, I think our organization could be even more successful in the future if . . . What suggestions do you have?”
“As I look at my role in the organization, I am proud of where I am. I think I could grow & contribute even more if . . . Here are some ideas of how I think you could help me be even more effective in these areas. . . . What suggestions do you have?”
In summary, keep the conversation focused on a positive future state & how you & your organization could be even more effective. Say “thank you” at the end.

In basic terms, be sure the performance evaluation 1) aligns what you are accountable for and measured by with what the organization is accountable for and measured by - in a 'Balanced Scorecard' sense, 2) specifically lays out goals for you that are measurable and trackable, 3) specifically details the rewards and penalties associated with meeting, exceeding or falling short of your goals, 4) incorporates your input into the setting of your goals, and 5) addresses both the needs and priorities of the organization and your own needs for professional development and advancement.

Decide what your longterm career goal is within the organization. Redesigning the process may or may not serve you, depending on that goal. If your goal is to advance in the organization and/or make more money, talk with your supervisor and find out what they and the company most need that's not being fulfilled. Then create a plan with them that rewards you in the way you want for solving their problems. Don't fight the box. Think outside it.

Contact me if you'd like to talk.