The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

December 29, 2014

Staff Evaluations

You both sit down to the table for a chat. Well, it’s more formal than a chat. Your employee looks at you with wide eyes. At present, they are more attentive than they are at staff meetings, and you feel pressure to say everything with a smile – even if the information is negative at times. Why do we have to go through this? Aren’t they self-aware enough to know how they’re doing at their own job? You refocus your attention on the mid-year evaluation before you and begin.

Evaluations Can Be an Ordeal

Many of us are gearing up for mid-year evaluations with our supervisors, our staff members, and ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t get lost in the rubrics and number valuations, but at some point we trip up during the evaluation process especially when we appraise our own employees. For me, most the anxiety around assessing my staff stems from me not wanting to hurt feelings or turn staff off from the work they do. At the end of the day, I’ve hired competent individuals who work to improve the lives of students. Alas, those same individuals are imperfect and need coaching, mentoring, and feedback.

Feedback with a Purpose

At some point in my career, I decided to view one-on-one meetings as opportunities for improvement and relationship building, rather than just simple check-ins with my staff. Reframing my meetings changed my line of questioning. I became more interested in the life of my employees outside of work. I wanted to know about how their interpersonal relationships were with their teammates. And I questioned their thought processes when reviewing situations they’d dealt with since our last meeting. I wanted to affirm their decision making skills and let them know where they could improve as well. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said to “make every meeting an appraisal.” Sure, I could have a staff that dreads criticism each time they enter my office. Or, I could have a team that values my perspectives because they know my intentions are to build and strengthen instead of belittle and weaken.

By the time we reach evaluation season, my staff is knowledgeable about their progress and areas of growth. The formal appraisal meeting becomes a space to exclusively converse about what they need to do to take their positions to the next level. We focus on actionable steps and end the meeting with goals and deadlines. The result: we have an account of their progress, written steps to better performance, and an entire evaluation packet to help me keep them accountable throughout the next half of the semester.

Putting it All Together

Here are 3 ways you can kick up your staff evaluations and make them less scary and more meaningful:

1. Show them how what they do matters – One section of my evaluation focused on interpersonal relationships. This section contained phrases like: staff member effectively communicates with others and staff member updates supervisor in a timely fashion. On the surface, these could seem like basic outcomes to measure, but I went beyond simply saying how well my employee did in those areas, and I came prepared with examples for each line of feedback I wrote. I also had an overall explanation of why we evaluated employees on interpersonal relationships in the first place and how it connected with our departmental goals. You want to know why your boss wants you to do something, and your staff wants to know the importantance and impact of their jobs.

2. Nothing should be a surprise- Your mid-year evaluations may be anxiety filled no matter what you do, but none of the feedback you provide should blindside your staff. Do yourself a favor and take 5-10 minutes during each one-on-one meeting to provide an informal appraisal. It will make your mid-year evaluation run smoothly, and you and your staff member will be on the same page.

3. Make the numbers work for you – We used a numbering system at one of my institutions in the way that “1” meant you were weak in an area and “5” meant you excelled. Once, I told my staff that no one would get above a “3” because they were all new, and it wasn’t realistic to have an exceptional staff member at that point. This was a huge mistake. I received backlash from staff members who felt this wasn’t fair and expressed how they excelled in some areas. Word to the wise: make sure the number system make sense, is objective, and is used fairly.

I’m curious to know what your best practices are.

Does your staff find evaluations to be refreshing and helpful? What changes have you made to your process in the past years? What are some challenges you face as a supervisor when it comes to appraising your staff? Please feel free to comment below.

Sinclair P. Ceasar has six years of experience with Residence Life, New Student Orientation, First Year Programming, and Service Learning. He is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and enjoys dancing, running 5K’s, and being a foodie in his leisure time. Follow him on twitter @sceasar1020.

* Graphic courtesy of Sigurd Decroos


How to Facilitate Great “One-On-One” Supervisory Meetings

January 18, 2012

Meeting with your staffers on an individual basis to discuss their performance is an important part of being a supervisor and a leader. However, these meetings do not only have to be a means to critique your employees from an evaluation standpoint. “One-on-one” meetings can foster a rewarding mentoring relationship as well as a means by which to engage your staffers as a true partner in meeting the mission and vision of your organization.

Here are a few tips that I have found helpful in facilitating great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings:

1. Set the Parameters for Meeting Participation – As a part of the hiring process and during staff training, set the parameters for what is expected during one-on-one supervisory meetings. By setting the tone that these meetings are important and participatory in nature, your staffers will embody this as part of the team’s culture and act accordingly. Tell them that they should come prepared with feedback, questions, and suggestions for making your organization better. As I tell my own staff, I don’t want to hear complaining for complaining’s sake; if there’s a better way to do something, I want a suggestion, solution, or plan of action.

2. Always Keep Your Appointments with Your Staffers – This seems like common sense, but it is very easy to get sidetracked by other important meetings and activities and either forgot or attempt to reschedule your supervisory meetings. By making this time important, you are symbolically demonstrating that these meetings and, more importantly, your staffers are crucial to you and your team’s success.

3. Purposely Seek Out Feedback to Enact Change – Allowing for and seeking out honest feedback from your employees is a great way to keep your employees engaged in continuous improvement conversations. People take a part in what they help create so allow them to help create team goals, policies, and practices during regularly scheduled supervisory meetings. Be a servant leader and ask them how you can better help them in their position and if they need any particular type of resource or support so that they can be more effective.

4. Have an “Activity” Planned if There is Nothing to Talk About – If there is nothing of note to discuss, do not simply cancel the meeting. Utilize the opportunity to connect with and mentor your staffers. One-on-one meetings can be used for personal development and skills building. Have a “bag of tricks” developed that you can utilize quickly and easily if you’re stuck in one of these “I-have-nothing-to-talk-about” situations. Skills building activities can include role playing and case scenarios related to topics pertaining to your staffers’ positions. Using this time for brainstorming can also create productive ideas for the entire team.

One such example of a “one-on-one” activity is the Supervisory Discussion Cards activity developed by Student Life Consultants. These handy cards contain multiple questions that are conversation starters related to personal development and teamwork. Each set of 25 double-sided cards contains 50 questions and comes complete with a four-page PDF activity handout that is downloaded immediately upon purchase.

Use the SLG032013 code to receive $3.99 off of your entire order.

What are some practices that you use with your employees to facilitate great “one-on-one” supervisory meetings? What advice can you offer to your colleagues related to what works and does not work for “one-on-one” supervisory meetings?


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