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Employee Evaluations? The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Many years ago, I sat down in an office for my yearly review. My manager at the time then proceeded to give me the worst personal review I have ever received in my life. Below is my story which might help self storage owners how to conduct proper employee evaluations.

I felt like a complete and utter failure, and I was devastated. After the shock of my review was over, I began to read it and discovered how completely inaccurate it was. The more disconcerting matter was the fact that the simple things that I received poor marks for had never been brought to my attention until the time of the review. I asked my manager, “This stuff was no brainer stuff. Why didn’t you just tell me?”To which she had no real response. Of course, this affected my pay for the year and ultimately, my direction in the company. 

Luckily I had a great mentor to help me stay the course, and get me where I am today. To me, this example epitomizes what is wrong with yearly evaluations. Employees are not given the tools they need. When they are, it is often a surprise and too late. The need for employee evaluations is obvious. They create a platform for a two-way conversation for the growth and change of the employee. There is a better way than the “old school” yearly evaluation. 

Hopefully, you will be able to discover some helpful ideas to create that platform for your employees. I want to suggest two performance evaluations per year and two official “feedback” sessions. The performance evaluations would be a more formal written evaluation, and the feedback sessions would be less formal. This way, the employee is getting some manner of feedback every quarter, no matter what. Giving feedback isn’t an easy thing to do as an employer or manager. 

Setting up a system like this will force you to commit to a process that ensures you will have conversations every three months with every staff member. Many companies tie employee evaluations to pay increases. This adds another level of tension to an already tense situation. The purpose of the meeting is to have tough conversations, to encourage, to help, and to engage. 

When you introduce pay increases into that mix, everything else will become white noise and what matters to the employee will become the focus. I would recommend, if and when, you have pay increases, to have them on the employee hire date.

Conducting an evaluation

The goal of performance evaluations is to have no surprises. Thanks to the ongoing feedback meetings, you have encouraged and corrected any issues along the way, the performance reviews now become a much easier meeting to have. They are now a written summary of what you have already identified. All evaluations should be documented, which will help your company if any legal action comes from a former employee. Consider the following ideas when conducting your next evaluation:

  • Prepare – Do yourself and the employee a favor and take time to put together a well thought out evaluation. The employee will feel valued and will understand the time and effort you put in.
  • Self-evaluation – A week before the evaluation, send the employee the evaluation and ask them to fill it out. They might be able to identify items they are struggling with that you were not aware of. In the meeting, let them lead this section of the conversation.
  • Lead with the positive – As with feedback, it is best to connect it with specific examples. The clearer, you are the better. Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.
  • Discuss the performance– Focus on the issues that matter. Make sure that the discussion is two way and that employee understands the issues.
  • Make a plan– We have what we call “Personal Development Plan” Each quarter we come up with a plan for the employee to work on for the next quarter. Usually, this plan ties into an overall theme of development that employee needs to work on. In the evaluation, ask the employee to come up with the plan. It puts the responsibility on them and also creates ownership in the task. Help if they need it.
  • Follow-up- Hold your people accountable. You are only as good as your ability to follow up.


Let’s discuss the importance of the consistent need for feedback. I was attending a conference, and a speaker referred to feedback as “Feedforward.” The concept is compelling. When you think about it, the idea for feedback is that we want our people to be better in the future. This is a great frame of mind to have as you examine feedback in terms of moving people ahead. Feedback is one of the biggest paradoxes. People love feedback. It gives them direction, it helps them, and when it is given correctly, it will make an organization into rock stars. 

If people thrive on it that much, why is it so difficult to give? Therein lies the paradox! While we love feedback, it’s not easy to give feedback. You fear hurt feelings, causing drama, or feeling uncomfortable. Guess what? You like to know how you are doing in your job, so buck up and do the same to someone else! You must have feedback for your people, and you need to have it often.

Consider these guidelines:

  • Don’t make it personal – Imagined slights and malice are poisonous. It is incredible how a simple statement or action with no ill objective can be taken as a malicious action. Acknowledge this and be the bigger person, even when it’s difficult. When giving feedback, focus on the behavior, not the character of the person.
  • Be specific – Tell the person how the behavior is affecting you or the team. Avoid using terms like “you always…” and “you never..” Those terms automatically put the other person on. The other person can’t read your mind, so you need to tell them how you actually feel in order to make a change.
  • Give it often – If you attend a college football game, people don’t wait until the team scores to cheer. It’s a consistent mix of celebration and hanging your head in embarrassment. The point is – it’s done over and over again. Praise good performance right away. When negative feedback is required try to talk to the employee within 24 hours. The sooner, the better. Don’t wait a year!
  • Outcomes – One of the best ways to start a feedback conversation is by putting the focus on how it affects a business outcome. Good or bad, this enables you to develop talent, better phone skills, improve customer service, or any other goals you might have. It also helps the employee save a “little face.” It makes it less like a personal criticism toward them and more of an opportunity to resolve a business issue. Ultimately the goal is to progress your business by improving your employee.

    By combining formal reviews and scheduled feedback sessions, you are forcing yourself to do the hard things. It is much easier to have a sit down once a year, give an employee 15 minutes, and be done, however, if you are like me, you see a vision of a more significant way to help your employees to be better. I know it isn’t the easy way. I struggle with keeping that vision all the time. Nevertheless, you owe it to your employees to do everything you can to help them become better.