Human resources and management spend an awful lot of time designing performance review forms. That’s good news because despite the negative attitude of many managers toward completing the annual  employee appraisal, it does show the good intentions of management to make the review more valuable for the employee and the company.

Unfortunately, good intentions don’t always end up with good results.  Here’s a list of typical mistakes that companies make when designing employee evaluation forms.

  1. Too much criteria to evaluate.  To accommodate the personal viewpoints and biases of human resources, managers, and management, the number of items evaluated becomes everyone’s wish list with little to no relevance to performance.  After a year’s deliberation, a client of mine recently released their new evaluation form…with 33 criteria. Consider these unintended circumstances:  a manager has 6 reports.   That means he needs to consider a total of 198 items when evaluating performance. Even if desirable, it’s not logical to think that a manager will give each item sufficient time before he offers a rating and/or include a comment that might be helpful to his direct report. If a company wants to turn a superficial feedback processes into complete irrelevance, then add as many competencies, goals, and attitudes as possible to the evaluation form.  That strategy is a sure way to turn a performance feedback system from superficial to irrelevant.
  2. Non-relevant criteria.  Whether a human resources designs a form with 10 or 50 competencies isn’t as big a problem as when the criteria don’t directly impact employee performance.  Management and HR painstakingly investigate the validity of pre-employment tests but rarely if ever test the relevance and correlation of criteria on their employee appraisal forms with performance, productivity, and profitability.  For instance, attendance and appearance are almost universal criteria used by managers to evaluate performance. But little if any data supports the linkage between appearance (tattoos. piercings, facial hair, etc) and productivity or meeting attendance and profitability.
  3. One form fits all.  Out of necessity, many organizations use one form to evaluate all employees, from the maintenance person to the executive team.  For the sake of sanity, reducing the number of form types to one or two prevents managers from completing the wrong form or version. It also minimizes the number of forms HR needs to update.  Unfortunately this strategy makes no sense except for convenience.  Ideally each position should have its own set of criteria; possibly four or five company-wide criteria plus up to a half-dozen job specific ones.
  4. Lack of comments. A rating without supporting comments significantly diminishes the value of performance feedback.  In effect, a performance review without comments is a report card – a grade on past behavior with no justification, documentation, or value.  Without some explanation to the employee why the rating was given or recommendation for improvement, the value of the performance review is near meaningless.
  5. Unintended comment consequences.  Many companies require comments only if and when a managers gives an employee of 5 (consistently exceeds expectations) or (consistently misses expectations).  Often this strategy is chosen with a single purpose – to avoid giving too many employees high or low ratings, especially if the ratings are tied to compensation.   But even if compensation is not linked directly to the ratings, many managers will avoid giving an employee a 1 or 5 rating even if he or she deserves it – just to avoid taking the time to comment and justify the high or low rating. Requiring comments on only high and low ratings skews all employee performance ratings toward average. That strategy is neither motivating nor productive.

One very effective solution to improving the employee performance review process is to go digital.  Online performance review systems don’t necessarily solve the problem of too much or not relevant criteria, but it does allow companies to customize multiple forms specific to different jobs.  The problem of filling out the wrong form is minimized if not eliminated because the form the reviewer receives is programmed into the system, removing the chance of human error or oversight.  By simplifying the distribution of multiple employee appraisal forms, HR can more easily engage managers from different departments and functions in selecting the criteria they feel are most important to improving the performance of their teams. By engaging managers, they have more ownership and participation will improve.  Greater involvement and participation means faster and higher completion rates and more valuable feedback for employees.

Online performance reviews systems also can require a manager to comment on all items or as an alternative just the most critical ones. Unlike paper forms, the reviewing manager cannot submit the form until he or she includes a comment in addition to a rating.

Providing employee performance feedback has never been as critical to a company’s productivity and profitability as it is today. The ability to create employee evaluation forms specific to the responsibilities of individual employees is a significant benefit of putting the performance review process online.