Evaluation, Part 2

Updated: 31 March, 2007

Writing the Evaluation

Once you have the input and have gathered your thoughts, I recommend identifying one or two themes. Like any other presentation, you will at best be able to make just a few points stick. If there’s some obvious area that needs to be worked on, that’s a theme. If not, look for areas of strength that could be developed even further.

While it’s usual for a PE to focus on the “Areas for Improvement,” I think there is real value in looking at your strengths first. According to Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s Now, Discover Your Strengths [Buckingham01], “Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.” In their view, companies spend too much time trying to “fix” weaknesses and not enough time trying to capitalize on strengths. While some weaknesses must be addressed—chronic bad work habits are a good example—most people will get more benefit if they improve in the area of their strengths and simply find ways to work around their weaknesses.

Once you’ve found your themes, you need to find a way to work them into whatever format your company has foisted on you. If you’re unlucky, you’ll need to fill in a bunch of tightly constructed forms with radio button ratings: “Employee’s interactions with co-workers are: Always excellent, Always good, Usually good, Sometimes good, In need of improvement.” This type of format makes it very difficult to develop useful themes, but even the worst of them should give you some space for free-form comments. That’s where the bulk of your effort should be focused.

Here is how I approach writing the evaluation:


  • Most formats use reasonably standard categories with titles like Interpersonal Interactions, Job Skills, Leadership Skills, and so forth. I look over the categories and consider how each one aligns with the themes. For now, I ignore ratings.
  • For each category, I identify some suggested action that supports the theme. Examples include: taking courses, taking on new assignments, changing responsibilities, or working around weaknesses. Sometimes they’re directives rather than suggestions, but I prefer suggestions wherever possible.
  • For each category, I select at least one quote from the feedback that reinforces the theme.
  • Using the themes, quotes, and suggestions, I write a short section for each category. A typical paragraph for a writer whose strength is consensus building might look like the following:


    Leadership Skills. Imogene is an effective leader who knows how to build a strong consensus. One colleague said, “I thought we would never come to agreement on the structure of the new User’s Guide, but Imogene was able to get a group of 8 engineers from 3 different groups to sign off on a plan in just two short meetings.” I suggest that Imogene further develop this strength by taking the course, “Advanced Cat Herding: Bringing Contentious Teams to Consensus.

  • Summarize and reiterate your themes. There’s almost always a place for a summation at the end of the PE. I use this space to re-iterate the theme and the most important suggestions. If I can find good ones, I’ll drop in another quote or two.
  • If I need to assign ratings, I’ll do that now. However, if I’m doing evaluations for a group of people at the same time, I’ll come back after I’ve finished all the write-ups and review the ratings for consistency.
  • Give a copy to the employee to review. Some information, like ratings, may need to be reviewed with management before being shared with employees, but otherwise, I share the PE with the employee before the formal discussion. Since you’re dealing with professional writers, they’re sure to have some improvements, which I always take unless they change the meaning in a way I can’t support.

If you have an employee who has some serious weaknesses that need to be addressed, handle them the same way. Use quotes, your theme, and strong suggestions or directives. You owe it to the employee to be honest, and you need to document your actions clearly in case you need to take corrective action. About the only time anyone other than you and the employee will read a PE is when they’re trying to determine if you followed the correct procedure for terminating employment, so write with that possibility in mind.

Another area you will probably need to deal with is objectives. I think it’s important for everyone to document a set of professional objectives. Professional objectives are things like: “Become an expert in using Photoshop” or “Publish an article about subject X in a professional journal.” I like to have these kinds of objectives in a PE because they formalize what might otherwise be a vague desire.

Some companies take this further and incorporate job objectives like: “Complete the Flim-Flam User’s Manual by October 17” in the PE. While this is clearly not a substitute for formally documenting objectives and schedules, stating them in the PE clarifies responsibility and gives you a starting place for next year’s discussion.

The main drawback to including job objectives is that very few job objectives, and even fewer schedules, remain constant over the course of a year, so when you review this year’s objectives next year, they may bear no relationship to what actually happened. As long as everyone understands that objectives change, that’s no big deal. Therefore, I think the advantages of documenting job objectives in the PE outweigh this drawback. It doesn’t hurt, however, to use relative wording like: “Complete the Flim-Flam User’s Manual on schedule to ship with the Flim-Flam product.” That way, if the Flim-Flam product slips, the objective is still valid.

Once you’ve completed the written PE, let it “age” for a day or two, then re-read it. This is especially important if you’re sending a strong negative message, but I try to do this for every PE. I guarantee you’ll improve at least some wording and every once in a while you’ll stop yourself from something very embarrassing. I once put an entire section from one person’s PE into another’s by mistake and only caught the error in that last re-read.

Part 3: The Employee Discussion

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