Transforming the Employee Evaluation

3 Minute Read

As a supervisor, giving an employee evaluation can be dreadful. You start by staring at yet another blank form. You go through each performance category, carefully marking your choice of below average, average, or above average. And when done, you recheck your responses, making sure that the report is “balanced.” Too many low marks, and your employee might be upset. Too many high and there is nowhere to aspire. What is the answer? Rank the employee in the middle…the sweet spot! Not hanging back, not showing off. The solution is average.

As it turns out, your experience with employee evaluations is not unique. 

Many supervisors fall into the same trap.  Place everyone in the middle while identifying a couple of shooting stars, and maybe a few falling ones. We try our best to avoid confrontation and make the review experience positive for all parties. In doing so, we pinhole people into a landscape of mediocrity. Or they experience the halo effect where everyone is considered to be slightly above average. Nice…but not typically reality.

So, really, what is wrong with average? Doesn’t it show that a person is meeting the collective expectation? Maybe, maybe not. You probably didn’t aspire to be average as a child or young adult. Your parents encouraged you to be above average. Cs on your report card, while average, were likely unacceptable. You excelled in certain areas of your life. And you began to think the same. Human instinct is to avoid the rank of “average.” It carries a negative connotation: average height, average intelligence, average ability.  So, why then do we consider it an affirmation to rank an employee in the middle of the pack?

“Train your people well enough that they can leave, but treat them well enough that they’ll stay.” – Richard Branson


Richard Branson once said, “Train your people well enough that they can leave, but treat them well enough that they’ll stay.” To change the outcome, we must first change the language.  Consider the term, “Meets Expectation” as a new middle category for evaluation. This implies that a level of expectation has been communicated. It doesn’t have to be a minimum level and can be tailored by position, and even by person as needed. Once a person meets the expectation, you can establish whether or not a new expectation level is warranted. The revised level then becomes the new normal and begins to raise the bar.

Once we have built a common language, we should look at how the employee evaluation actually functions.

How do you format your evaluations? Is it a 1-5 scale with no leniency of ½ scores? Is it yes or no system? Evaluations don’t have to be a checklist where you are just ticking off boxes. They don’t have to be just about + or – on the form. Break the rules. Adjust the form to work for you. Or better yet, throw the form away. Give the employee control of their future and growth within the company. Let this evaluation be a discussion. Let the employee set their own goals and discuss how are they going to reach them. Know your employee well enough that you can discuss the areas that need improving, help them find ways to be successful in reaching that goal. Give them back the control.

To build a learning organization, we need to believe in our people.

And do whatever we can to ensure that employees have the skill, resources, and motivation to accept and meet new challenges. Give your employees honest evaluations and room for improvement. Develop them in a way that makes them want to stay and constantly learn more. A strong employee evaluation system will help achieve that goal.

What’s wrong with average? Nothing! As long as your average is your competition’s awesome.  Reevaluate, recalibrate, and reap the reward of establishing a culture of excellence.

More on starting an Employee Evaluation can be found here!

Train your people well enough that they can leave, but treat them well enough that they’ll stay.- Richard Branson Click To Tweet