In my 20+ years of leadership experience, mostly in a cross-cultural setting, I did many things right. I developed the skills of those on my team. I allowed my team members to speak their opinions, and I listened sincerely. I gave people the space they needed to do their jobs and was always available to help them when they expressed a need. I encouraged them and fostered loyalty. However, I was weak in one key area of team leadership: evaluation.
I rarely evaluated the performance of my team members. Whether I was too busy to take the required time to do it, or whether I was afraid their positive opinion of me would turn negative, I missed out on an enriching experience that would have built our team into a stronger unit, while at the same time helping us to achieve the vision and mission of our organization with greater excellence.
Evaluation of team members is essential. It is imperative for the growth of the individuals, as well as the growth of the team. Feedback, whether on team member strengths or weaknesses sets the stage for greater effectiveness on many levels.
Evaluation doesn’t simply happen, however. It takes effort and intentionality by both the team leader and the team members. The team leader must show the way forward, as well as create an atmosphere that welcomes evaluation and values it both in the short term with regard to team goals and objectives, as well as in the longer term process of personal and professional growth.
What does it take to evaluate your team members well?
1) Set and communicate expectations.
Team members need to know that there are expectations for their performance. They need to know what those expectations are and how they will be evaluated against them. A job description is a perfect way to start when setting expectations. However, many times a team leader needs to take the job description a step further and put in writing the ways in which a team member will be evaluated. This may take greater explanation and clarification to ensure that both the team leader and the team member are in agreement moving forward. Once the expectations are set, it is vitally important to clearly communicate the expectations and receive confirmation that the team member understands what is expected of him or her. Clear communication is essential and almost always requires a conversation and dialogue rather than just the sending of a document or memo. Collaboration early in the process on the expectations that have been set is the key to a successful evaluation later.
2) Prepare to evaluate.
Evaluations traditionally take place once or twice a year, perhaps every six months. These are dates that should be marked on the calendar so that everyone involved knows they are coming. Because of the advanced notice required, a team leader must take the appropriate amount time and effort before the day of the evaluation to prepare adequately for this important time together with his or her team member. This preparation may include a review of the job description, appropriate dialogue with other team members, a review of performance reports submitted by the team member under evaluation, and perhaps even suitable discussion with clients or recipients of the team’s efforts. The team leader should prepare a written document as the basis for discussion during the evaluation, with ample room left for conversation and perhaps even debate during the evaluation appointment itself. Subsequently, the team member can also prepare for the evaluation by creating a review of his or her activities noting accomplishments as well as challenges. The team member can create a list of questions to ask, as well as a list of goals for the next evaluated time period. If both the team leader and the team member come to the evaluation having intentionally prepared, the time spent together can be much more effective, propelling the team member on to greater success in the months that follow.
3) Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses.
In an evaluation, it can be very easy to place the focus mainly on the things that the team member has done wrong over the last six months. While team leaders do need to help team members with the areas in which they struggle, a more productive time together can be had if the focus of the evaluation is on the team member’s strengths. This goes beyond praise. The evaluation is not meant to be a blind encouragement session. Focusing on strengths helps the team member to see the positive impact in attaining team goals and objectives that he or she is having. Focusing on strengths gives the team member information on where he or she should be spending the bulk of his or her time during the working day. Yes, there will be weaknesses. Rather than complaining about those weaknesses or unduly criticizing the team member, first determine if the areas of weakness are ones in which the team member must continue putting effort. If the areas are pertinent to the success of the team, then make a concrete, measureable, time-bound plan for the team member to improve those areas of weakness, and then agree on a date in the future to re-evaluate those areas of challenge to check for progress.
4) Encourage and value self-evaluation.
Above all, the team leader should be cultivating a culture in the team of consistent self-evaluation. Evaluation is not effective if the team members cannot see their own areas of strength and weakness. Helping team members to assess their own skills and performance will produce people who can contribute to the goals of the team with excellence and with a greater sense of self-awareness. Team members can be emboldened to dialogue with their fellow team members about their performance. Team leaders can also suggest that their team members seek out ways to enhance their own abilities through reading, interaction with industry experts, or through formalized education. Team members can also be encouraged to conduct more frequent self-evaluations, whether that is through the use of a prepared evaluation tool or rating scale, or whether that is simply being given time off to reflect and record their opinion on their performance.
Evaluation is key! Don’t be afraid of this valuable tool for team effectiveness. Reach out to your team members and together forge a way forward that creates space for reflection and grace for the betterment of everyone on the team.