Performance Evaluations – your tool to propagate mediocrity.


Feel like your propagating mediocrity? Accountability. This word has been coming up in my work a lot lately.

At least a half-dozen clients have recently said, “I just wish there was more accountability” in relation to their working environment. Or the sister version of the statement, “I wish he (or she) was accountable.

When I take those words “accountable” and "accountability” by themselves, I have some thoughts on what each of those people might be meaning. I bet you have your own ideas as well. But when I press for a clear description of how someone is either not being accountable or how there is a lack of accountability, I receive a wide spectrum of answers.

It is this spectrum that brings me to one of my favorite topics – performance evaluations. And how we use rating systems and jargon to actually propagate mediocrity, confusion, and low performance.


Yes.  Performance evaluations - a fantastic tool when used for self-reflection, to create dialogue, to share and clarify expectations, to measure progress, and identify additional resources or support needed. They can also help determine if someone is on the right seat on the company bus or if they are ready for a new seat.

But more often than not performance evaluations are more like Christmas morning (or any event of your choosing that involves a long build up, some effort, surprise, emotion and suspense, and then inevitable let down).

When I ask most supervisors about how they feel about performance evaluations, they groan. I hear comments like “They take so much time”, “It is the last thing I get to”, “I don’t like giving negative feedback” and “People just want a bump in pay”, “I pass everyone”, “I can’t stand the tears” or my favorite, “I’m a few years behind in doing them”.

When I ask staff how they feel I hear replies like, “It is always rushed”, “They are not very helpful”, “My supervisor doesn’t ask me questions or listen to my perspective”, “I expect more feedback” and “They really are a waste of time”.

Then why do we do them?

#1 reason:  We are told they are required. #2 reason:  To cover our backsides in the event of termination.

I have yet to have anyone tell me, “I use them because they are a highly effective management tool that empowers, motivates and provides resources for my staff and the department to achieve our goals.

So, if we have to do something that takes time, plus our mental and emotional energy, then why not reinvent it to become a tool that that has a high return on investment for the employee, the supervisor and the organization?

Warning signs that your system may be breeding low performance:

  • Surprise! Employees are surprised by the feedback they are getting.
  • You Pass! Complaining about an employee’s performance, but rating them as satisfactory just to get it done is a reflection on you, not the employee. Stop complaining and start managing performance.
  • What? Rating factors that are vague (accountability, dependability or interpersonal communication) and subjective, and therefore meaningless. A compelling performance evaluation includes specific behavioral competency objectives relevant to the department and organization’s strategic goals and mission. These objectives are measurable and provide clarity about what behaviors are important for the staff person to be a valued contributor.
  • No one is perfect! If your rating scale goes up to 5 yet you never give a 5 because “no one is perfect” you are not using your tool effectively. The goal is for staff to strive for and achieve mastery. If mastery is impossible, you are fostering mediocrity and no one is empowered to go to the next level. The key is to define and communicate what mastery looks like at each rating level.
  • Just too busy! If you are too busy to invest in and manage performance on a consistent and continual basis, year round, then you are spending your time on the wrong things – and it is highly likely your team isn’t valuing performance either.
  • Immunity! If you believe that as the leader you are immune to a performance evaluation, you are modeling the wrong behavior. Feedback is one of the most valuable tools for any of us. If you are the owner or the top dog and there is no one to review you, consider using an instrument that asks staff for feedback. This can be so valuable. And it can help guide and facilitate this process so it is effective and not just venting!

At Beth Wonson Consulting we recommend that businesses and organizations move from a “rate them” annual performance evaluation system to a “coach them” system that includes frequent feedback and acknowledgement. This system empowers employees, improves performance, increases collaboration, advances innovation and critical thinking, and saves time by reducing drama, confusion and missed deadlines!

If you’d like to know more about how to implement a time saving “coach them” system, give me a call.

P.S. Are you a business owner or leader who is feeling isolated? Are you wondering if your leadership skills and knowledge are up to par? Are you feeling ineffective or even struggling to identify your authentic leadership style? If so, consider joining me in 2016 for a unique Leadership Development opportunity in San Luis Obispo. There will be an application process with limited spaces available for this six-session series that will run between February and June 2016. In addition you will receive one-on-one coaching. This confidential group will also include a mastermind component where you will access the experience of your peers.

Interested? Click this link to get your name on the list to receive the application and information in January.