Everybody hates performance evaluations. Managers hate doing them because it seems they have to assign their employees a grade. Employees hate receiving them because they are rarely helpful and often seemingly arbitrary. The important thing about assessment and evaluation is that you need to do both. Yes, they are different, and they are different in substantial ways and they serve different purposes. This is not just hair-splitting when it comes to terminology. If you only focus on one or the other you miss an opportunity to develop your people and give them the feedback that they need to be successful.
This is what most leaders and managers are doing at the end of the year in terms of performance management. Evaluation is summative. By that I mean it is the result of activities that have gone on during some defined period in the past. For most organizations, this is a one-year period although some forward thinking groups make the evaluation more frequent and covering a lesser stretch of time. Evaluations are also results-oriented. They focus on what has been produced during a period of time.
The findings of evaluations are judgmental. While it sounds like a negative statement, it is simply that evaluations are for the purpose of judging performance and usually determining a score or rating. From a timing standpoint, evaluations are designed as a quality-gate. In other words, they are for the purpose of giving feedback on performance in a segmented manner. For too many, this is once a year. In fact, mid-year evaluations used by many are not as much evaluations as they are corrections. If compensation and other important decisions are made based on the once-per-year function of performance evaluation, then your evaluation cycle is yearly.
Actually, mid-year evaluations often fall into the category of assessment rather than evaluation. Assessments are ongoing and process-oriented. They check the status of progress and provide direction or correction. By process-oriented, I mean the question for an assessment discussion is “How is it going?” whereas the question for an evaluation is “How has it gone?” So assessments are formative rather than summative. They happen as performance is being conducted, not after the fact.
Assessments also tend to be more flexible than evaluations. With an assessment, modifications can be made either to the development and performance of the individual, or to the desired outcomes. With evaluations, that horse has already left the barn.
The point of calling out the difference between assessment and evaluation is to realize that both are different but important. Employees and followers need feedback in both areas. From an assessment standpoint, reflection on how things are going and adjustments to the tools available or expectations are important on an ongoing basis. Assessment in this sense is not about grading…it’s about providing an honest and helpful viewpoint on the process being used by the leader or the follower in achieving objectives. Every performance management process should include ongoing assessment, but without defined evaluation periods, followers will have a “sense” of how they are doing, but will have nothing to measure their performance against.
From an evaluation standpoint, it is also important to give honest and real feedback about how effective performance has been to a certain point. For most people, this “score” is an important indication of how well they are meeting expectations. Evaluation is not coaching…it’s judging. One of the benefits of evaluation is that it marks a close to the end of a performance period. If I have been doing great, it acknowledges my performance in a positive way and gives an opportunity for us to refocus on the next evaluation period. If my performance has been poor it provides an opportunity for some pre-defined consequence and then a clean slate for the next evaluation period.
The point to take away from this is to ensure that you provide both. Evaluation without assessment is just a random score that surprises our followers and provides no real direction for improvement. Assessment without evaluation is an ongoing discussion that has no end. There are no points for either rewarding or correcting poor behavior or performance. The leader who wants to give the most powerful feedback defines the opportunities and the value of both for all followers.