February 2019

Many of us have had bad experiences with performance evaluations. They can leave you scrambling to remember what your employee accomplished or scratching your head to evaluate performance against goals no longer reflect your department’s priorities.

Research suggests meaningful performance management is possible using a more fluid process involving many discussions and interactions throughout the year.

feature insight

Performance Management: More than an Evaluation

The reality is performance reviews must be done, however, the process doesn’t have to be painful. Good performance management is more than an annual evaluation. It’s based on regular and meaningful discussions. Goal setting, ongoing check-ins, and annual reviews are all opportunities to talk with your employees about what’s going well, strengths, challenges, and opportunities.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is a two-way street and employees will be more likely to find the goals meaningful and motivating if it is a collaborative exercise. Work with your employee to set three to five goals to focus on over the next year. Start the conversation by asking:

  • “What do you want to accomplish in your work over the next year?”
  • “What do you see as the most important work you need to get done in the next year?”
  • “What skills will you need to develop to succeed?”

Meaningful goals include both WHAT will be accomplished and HOW it will be accomplished. For example, if the goal is to implement a new process or tool, think about the skills and behaviors the person whose work you oversee will need to be successful. In this case, you might suggest to your employee that they focus on building relationships to help others adapt to the new process.

Goals should also describe how the results will contribute to the priorities in your college, unit, or department.

If you’re coming up on review time and you haven’t worked with your employees to set goals, remember these best practices for next year.


The key to good performance management is to have regular check-ins throughout the year. This is your opportunity to review goals and offer guidance and support toward achieving goals. Start by the conversation by asking:

  • “Tell me what’s going well”
  • “What has been the most difficult part?”
  • “How can I support you?”
  • “What are our next steps and when do we need to complete them?”

We work in a world of constant change and goal setting should be conducive to change as well. If when reviewing goals throughout the year, you find that they no longer fit the priorities of your college, unit, or department⏤it’s OK to adjust goals to support the current priorities.

Evaluating Performance

The formal performance evaluation is generally what people think of when it comes to performance management⏤but remember, this is only part of the process. True performance improvement is more likely to come from your check ins and conversations throughout the year, rather than this once a year meeting.

The process or tool for evaluating performance varies from unit to unit at the University. Regardless of the process, there are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • No surprises. Feedback should be shared throughout the year during check-ins, so the formal performance evaluation should be a simple summary of those conversations.
  • Get employee input. Ask your employee to summarize their accomplishments over the year including specific situations, their role, and the impact on your department. Many colleges and units still use self-ratings as part of the evaluation, however, these ratings can steer the conversation toward defensiveness and negative emotions if the employee and supervisor ratings don’t match. Instead, focus on accomplishments and future improvements.
  • Get input from others. Ask for input from peers or important partners who can provide insight into your employee's work and performance. Consider the relevance and usefulness of that input and compare it to other information about the person’s performance.
  • Write the review. Formal evaluation is the final step in the performance management process and includes writing and delivering a performance evaluation. The heart of the review is the narrative which will help the employee understand why they received a particular score.
    • Evaluate results. Summarize the employee’s accomplishments and the impact on your department. Consider the employee’s input and incorporate some of that into your evaluation along with input from others.
    • Evaluate behavior. Identify the behavioral competencies the employee needed to achieve their goals and provide examples of how they did or didn’t exhibit these behaviors on a consistent basis over the past year.
    • Rate results and behaviors. Depending on the process in your college or unit, you may be asked to rate your employee. Ideally the evaluation would include ratings for both results and behaviors using a five- to seven-point scale with  each point on the scale defined clearly and consistently.

Discuss the review

The meeting with your employee should summarize your check-ins, explain the evaluation’s ratings and your college’s or unit's evaluation process. Spend the majority of the review discussing your employee’s accomplishments, goals that were not achieved, strengths, and areas for improvement.

Resources for Supervisors

  • Take a look at this video (5:45) that summarizes the review process and then check out the Managing and Evaluating Performance module in the Supervisory Development Course.
  • Effective performance management starts with setting meaningful goals. Goals should include both WHAT will be accomplished and HOW it will be accomplished. Use this goal setting template to help develop goals with your employees.
  • The HOW in goal setting comes from key competencies⏤knowledge, skills, and abilities. These key competencies are integral to meeting goals and improving performance.  
  • Regular check-ins are the heart of effective performance management. This quick guide and check-in template to help to structure your discussion and to make sure these conversations are mutually beneficial. Also take a look at the Quick Guide for Coaching tips, guides, and best practices on providing feedback and coaching.
  • This Quick Guide for Performance Evaluations outlines all of the best practices for conducting a formal evaluation.


All of the Supervisory Development webinars are available as podcasts so you can listen whenever it’s convenient for you--during your commute, walking on campus, or when you’re at home. Each podcast is about 45 minutes long.

 This image shows the question, "Tell us what you think. Describe your experience with performance management?"

Last month you told us that competing demands and priorities stress you out the most at work. Here are some ways to address this problem and cope with stress.  

ask the experts

LTD consultants have expertise in leadership development, engagement, and supervisory development. If you have questions about employee engagement, send us an email. We’ll do our best to respond and may even feature it in the next newsletter.  

How do you balance setting measurable goals with the need to conduct day-to-day business? Goals often seem like special projects and may distract or hinder meeting the day-to-day needs of the job.

It's important to create flexible, short-term goals that can be revised to reflect the needs of the day-to-day work. Keep in mind that goals include the "how" of performance, not just results or deliverables. For example, in many consulting roles, an important goal for the day-to-day business is to "analyze problems and processes in new ways that lead to innovative ideas and approaches." If your goals feel too much like special projects outside of day-to-day work, then chances are behavioral competencies may be a good focus for goal setting. For more information, check out http://supervising.umn.edu/behavioral-competencies 

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