by Lexi Mahari
January 10, 2022
Past performance reviews may be a dreaded annual event for managers. Primarily, they can provide a line of sight into your employees’ work ethic. In this installment of the New Manager Series, I will explore the potential benefits of taking a look back at your employee’s past performance reviews. One of the things new managers may not know is that gaining access to an employee’s past performance evaluation at their current organization can help provide a degree of insight into their work behavior patterns.
Why is Past Work Performance Important?
Understandably, you might be weighing the value of looking back. Past work performance can sometimes serve as a window into the behavior you might expect to see in your employees. Often, as new managers, we join a team with a pre-existing foundation. As new managers, we have no real insight into the performance of our subordinates. Even an internal promotee may have a blindspot. It is plausible that you too are missing details about your team or their performance capabilities.
How Can You Use Performance Reviews?
So, how should you use your employees’ performance reviews?
- Review productivity levels
- Accomplishments and achievements (personal and professional)
- Evaluate workplace behavior
- Gaps in performance
- Stretch opportunities
Work performance review forms contain work quality performance review comments. Ideally, a good evaluation involves assessing an associate’s performance for a specified period. It should present statements that evaluate the department or organization’s targeted goals. And, there should be relevant phrases that link the employee’s performance back to the goals.
How Should You Not Use Past Work Performance Evaluations in the Workplace?
Next, work performance evaluations are just a source that can help you gain insight into your team. Ideally, you should not use them as a pigeon-hold for your team. This statement is true for those who are not “high performers.” Unfortunately, multiple influencing factors can impact an individual’s performance on the team. Examples of influencing factors include:
- Workplace environment
- Management style
- Leadership changes
- Ambiguous policies and procedures or;
- Rapidly changing policies and procedures
- Personal issues
The History of Your Employees Journey Matters
Understanding the history of the workplace environment and other factors listed above may be critical to helping you recognize the accuracy of the past performance reviews for your employee. Please allow me to share a story with you. I had six different managers in 18 months. First, I went from having evaluations that rated me as being an “Exceptional Performer” to that of an “Average Performer.” Unfortunately, my new did not fully understand the service my team delivered, the significance of the accomplishments my team or I achieved, and the problems we solved. It had a substantial effect on my rating.
Next, I was shuffled to groups where 20 other people reported to my “new” manager. These were people who had pre-existing relationships with my new manager. The likelihood of me standing out within a three to six-month window to retain my rating as an “Exceptional Performer” is impossible. It is not likely to happen. Sadly, each time I established a relationship with my new manager or schooled them on the service I provided or significant accomplishments, I was shuffled off to a new manager.
It is best to only use the written performance evaluation as a starting point. You will not use the information as the final determinant of performance for the individual you are managing.
How Many Workplace Performance Evaluations Should I Review?
Your approach to reviewing performance evaluations should be purposeful. Review as many of these documents as you can. Ideally, you do not want to be lazy in this endeavor. If your employee is like me, it is plausible they might have a recent evaluation in their file that does not paint an accurate picture of their talent or skillset. Managers are often task mules. Performance evaluations can sometimes be an item on a checklist to meet a requirement. If they have only managed the employee for a few months, they may not have an accurate picture of who this person is. Go back as many years as you can to gain insight into your employee.
You won’t have anything to review for newer employees if they have not been with the company for too long. That’s okay. You will have to do the work to assess the performance of these individuals.
Word of Mouth Feedback about Past Employee Performance
In the People Are People Podcast, Life Lessons Learned in Real-Time, I discuss leveraging word of mouth feedback. Word-of-mouth feedback is tricky. You never know the motives of those sharing negative feedback about their co-worker. This feedback may accurately depict your employee, and sometimes, the feedback is more representative of a personality clash in the workplace. You should not ignore the input. I do not recommend soliciting feedback from subordinates on your team about their co-worker. It has the potential to blow up in your face.
In closing, performance evaluations in the workplace are a fantastic tool for assessing the potential behaviors in individuals on your team. They can be an excellent source of information for identifying high performers and those who may require a bit more support from you as a manager. Remember to take care in how you use this information and always consider the influencing factors for the ratings and feedback regarding your subordinates.
Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to the New Manager Series: Getting to Know Your Employees on the People Are People Podcast.