Giving and receiving: Performance Appraisals (Hiring Series #2)

It’s a conversation!

Everyone dreads this. It’s hard, as an employee, to have your performance judged – even when the result is good news. And it’s hard, as a manager, to have to come up with insightful things to say about everyone’s work without constantly repeating yourself.

So is it still valuable to go through the process? For most people: yes!

Ideally, a performance appraisal is not a time to talk about problems – though those should be addressed. When there are performance issues during the year, those can be addressed in the moment and dealt with at the time. They should not build up to wait for the annual review. Instead it is a time for people to reflect on their past performance,  and to think about what they want to do over the next year. It is an opportunity to take time out of a hectic schedule, or one that has a lot of repetition from day-to-day and week-to-week, and to see, think, and do some self-evaluation.

What kinds of questions can employees ask themselves in their reflection?

  • Are things going well for me?
  • What are some of my biggest successes this year, or things I am proud I did?
  • What could I improve on?
  • What kinds of new skills could I add to improve my job performance, or to improve my job satisfaction?
  • How do I see myself fitting into the mission of the overall library, or of my department?
  • What suggestions do I have to make my area of the library run more smoothly?

Ideally, a manager will give the employee their performance appraisal filled out a week or so before they set up a time to meet. Likewise, if the employee can submit their side of the evaluation in advance, the manager can look it over too. Everyone has time to look over the responses and to think about them, so when you meet to talk it is a true conversation.

And that conversation is what you are aiming at. Reflection is the best way to cement positive work performance and habits, and leads to a more thoughtful approach to work. Not everything we do is exciting, and in many library jobs there is a lot of fairly dull repetition. Taking this time to deliberately step out of that routine, and to discuss the year’s progress is valuable. And hopefully it is a positive experience!

What do you leave this conversation with? A set of goals for the new year. Every employee should always have at least one or two new things to do in an upcoming year. The world of libraries is too fast-changing for people to just stagnate or to keep doing the same things over and over again. Setting up goals for new skills, for developing new procedures, for moving the physical location, for reaching outside to a new audience – any of these can be valuable!

What kinds of goals could employees set for an upcoming year?

  • Learning some basic service phrases in a language spoken in your community
  • Trying out a new technology tool
  • Taking a free class in basic coding
  • Rewriting (or just writing!) some procedures for your area
  • Learning more about the collection, to be ready to talk about the highlights
  • Take a class in conflict management

Although there should also be job-specific goals set, a few more global ones can be good. And goals that are not part of the employee’s job today, but are part of the direction the job can develop, will be valuable too!

There are a variety of different types of evaluations you might try, if your library wants to experiment with some other strategies for doing these well.

  • Numerical rating scales: the manager and employee fill out a standard evaluation form, with performance on different aspects of the job rated
  • 360 degree: people all around the employee do evaluations on different aspects of their performance, including superior, other managers, subordinates, peers, customers, etc.
  • Management by objective: the employee has a checklist of goals, and they are either met (success) or not (failure) [Note: there is a large, much more complicated, system of MBO; check that out if you want to learn more about it!]
  • Critical incident: the discussion centers on a larger, more pivotal, situation – good or bad – that happened in the year, and the discussion centers around evaluating it and the ramifications of that incident
  • Journaling: all year the employee keeps a journal of performance, ideally at least weekly, reflecting on their experiences – both good and bad; at the end of the year the manager and employee discuss it together

You could incorporate any of these into your own evaluation system, or you can be less formal with it. The specifics are less important than the need to have something, some form of discussion, and some concrete evaluation and goal setting that emerges from it.

As a manager, you owe it to your staff to give regular, formal feedback in the form of an annual meeting. Everyone needs to know what they are doing well, and where they can improve. You are laying the groundwork for future promotions and raises for your good employees. For poorly performing employees, it can signal a future termination when problems are identified and not resolved. Avoiding these does not make problems go away, it can just mean you are left with a troublesome employee. And when your employees are already good at their jobs, this can be a way to encourage them to keep developing so they can increase their own job satisfaction! Everyone needs to hear some good feedback, and this is your opportunity to tell employees that you value them!