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California State University, Long BeachCalifornia State University, Long Beach

Tips for Discussing Performance Evaluations

Involvement in performance discussions can be both a nervous and rewarding experience. Evaluators will want to provide encouragement and guidance, as well as clarify expectations for the coming year. It is important to be clear about the purpose of the discussion before beginning the conversation. The following tips may helpful regardless of your role in the discussion.

Utilizing the written form as a guide, the evaluator should discuss areas in which the staff member has performed well along with areas in which improved performance may be possible. It is important to ensure the staff member takes ownership of his/her performance and is committed to goals for the coming year. Similarly, the evaluator should commit to the support he/she will provide to ensure the staff member’s success. As with the previous pre-performance evaluation informal discussion, the focus of the discussion should be on the evaluator and staff member working in partnership to achieve the common goal of enhanced staff performance.

  • Be Prepared — It is important to schedule the time and place of the discussion well in advance of the discussion so that you will have ample opportunity to prepare. It is especially important to schedule adequate meeting time, to allow ample time for discussion without interruption. It is also important to conduct the discussions in a private setting where you will be able to talk openly without concern of being overheard. It is important to think about what you wish to discuss in advance so your discussion will stay on track. You may want to make a few notes before your meeting.
  • Be Open and Receptive — One of the goals of performance evaluation is to align goals and expectations with actual performance. For this to occur, it is important for the evaluator to communicate what is expected of the staff member. This includes how accomplishments will be measured (i.e. quality, quantity, timeliness) and what factors have influence performance (i.e. unexpected staffing decreases, new regulatory requirements). The annual evaluation is a global discussion of overall performance as it was evidenced during the year. Although there may have been specific areas of concern, generally conduct-related issues such as a failure to follow a workplace rule (whether written or unwritten) or tardiness and/or absenteeism would have been dealt with in the form of an individual communication that specifically addresses that particular issue.
  • Demonstrate Respect and Dignity — It is important to demonstrate respect and dignity by maintaining confidentiality, by not sharing what you have discussed with others who do not have a need to know. Listening carefully, being careful to be perceptive beyond what is said, and seeking clarification will demonstrate your interest in understanding what the other person is saying and how it can help you in your role as an evaluator. Avoiding argument and recognizing individual perceptions and opinions will likely lead to a more productive discussion. It may be helpful to recognize the mutual goals of improving performance and focusing on opportunities for professional development. Be careful not to concentrate too closely on minor issues or to become too highly critical on any particular item unless that item is essential to the successful performance of the job.

NOTE: At the conclusion of the final Performance Evaluation discussion, the staff member should be asked to sign the form. After giving the staff member a copy of the signed form, the original should be sent to Staff Human Resources via your Administrative Services Manager for inclusion in the staff member’s personnel file.

Challenging Situations

If a staff member declines to sign the form, the evaluator should inform the staff member that his/her signature does not indicate agreement with the content of the Performance Evaluation, only that he/she has received the evaluation. If the staff member still refuses to sign, the evaluator should indicate this to be the case in the section designated for the staff member’s signature by writing “Staff member reviewed the evaluation and declined to sign”. This statement should be initialed and dated by the evaluator.

By soliciting the staff member’s input early in the process, before the evaluation is developed, the evaluator can mitigate the possibility that the staff member will provide additional performance information during the discussion that suggests the performance evaluation ratings should be modified. However, the potential for this situation to occur always exists.

In this situation, it is important to determine whether or not the information provided by the staff member does indeed require any of the performance evaluation ratings be changed. This is best done after listening to the staff member and fully considering his/her input. If necessary, the evaluator should take additional time to consider the new information provided. The staff member should not sign the Performance Evaluation document while the evaluator reviews the new information and makes a determination regarding whether or not to change a rating. The evaluator should consult with Staff Human Resources or the ASM if he/she determines changing a performance evaluation rating is appropriate before making the change or discussing his/her intent to do so with the staff member.

If a staff member strongly disagrees with the evaluation ratings, but offers no compelling, specific, or new information that supports changes to the evaluation ratings, the evaluator should remain calm and focus on the documented evidence that resulted in the ratings given. The evaluator should offer specific examples of the staff member’s performance that illustrate that the rating given is consistent with the appropriate performance evaluation language written on the form. If the evaluator and the staff member continue to disagree, and the discussion becomes heated or non-productive, the evaluator should suggest they take a break and get together again within the next few days.

All of the collective bargaining agreements that provide for staff Performance Evaluations also include provisions for a staff member to submit a rebuttal to the evaluation. When the staff member writes a rebuttal to a Performance Evaluation, a copy should be forwarded to HR for inclusion in the personnel file.

Giving Feedback

No matter how much preparation, documentation, and communication the evaluator has done, the Performance Evaluation discussion can be stressful. The staff member usually hears and remembers the negative statements, even if the overall rating is satisfactory. Thoughtful preparation for the conversation will help avoid dissatisfaction.

  • Be honest
  • Demonstrate respect for the person without glossing over negative feedback or being vague.
  • Prepare, even practice, difficult statements ahead of time.
  • Make comments descriptive, not evaluative. For example, “I’ve observed you several times working with students. You do not always take the time to understand and fully answer their questions,” rather than, “You don’t treat students very well.”
  • Describe behaviors and actions, not total impressions. Be specific. Rather than, “I’m not very happy with the quality your work” say, “The number of errors in your data entry has been running at ten per week.”
  • Make specific suggestions, not general ones. “One of the things you can do to increase customer satisfaction is to use the student’s name while you work with him/her.”
  • Include both positive and negative observations, giving positive ones first. Try to frame negative observations as areas for improvement rather than criticisms.
  • Maintain a pleasant smile and/or direct eye contact with the staff member. Avoiding eye contact indicates discomfort, lying, and distress. Direct eye contact conveys confidence and sincerity.
  • Maintain an open, somewhat informal posture; pay attention to body language, and send a nonverbal message of approachability.
  • Beware of personal biases, attitudes, and hidden agendas. For example, the staff member’s personal appearance (hair style, casual dress) may not be consistent with the evaluator’s tastes, but may be perfectly fine for the position. It should not affect the evaluator’s feedback on the position criteria.
  • Be considerate of the receiver’s feelings, readiness, level of trust, tolerance limits, and self-esteem. Don’t press on if emotions are strong. In difficult evaluation discussions or when ratings need improvement, it may be necessary to stop the discussion and reschedule to clear the air and allow time for emotions to subside.