To be truly effective, evaluations should go way beyond those tried and true, but nevertheless tired old principles, such as having measurable standards. The process should never be treated as a perfunctory exercise, but rather as opportunities: first, to value the person being evaluated; and second, to share and engage the employee in the firm’s vision and goals.

People are valuable; a reputation for competent and timely work can also make rain. In many of my 30 years managing organizations, I have observed a reduction in overall operating costs by investing money and time in the people who are producing the ‘product;” in their salaries, benefits, and training. See the concluding discussion on where best to make that investment.

Some of my thoughts:

  • The evaluation form itself should be derived verbatim from the position description, which should contain no more than 6 essential duties. Position descriptions are a topic for another discussion.
  • In addition to the essential duties, the evaluation form should also contain firm-wide values to which all employees should be held accountable. Examples are teamwork, client service, and adherence to code of ethics (discussed in a previous article).
  • An evaluation should include specific goals for the coming year or other evaluation period as well as the training that may be necessary to achieve those goals. Again, the concluding paragraph offers some guidance as to where to invest in training.
  • For larger firms, having a “skip-level” signature, where the direct supervisor of the person doing the evaluation also signs the evaluation, has several benefits. It provides an opportunity for the “boss’s boss” to make positive comments that can bolster the employee, and it assures that evaluations are being done equitably across work groups.
  • Whenever possible, as close to a 360° evaluation should be done. At a minimum, the employee should prepare a self-evaluation for use during the meeting between the manager and employee. Having input from subordinates where applicable, from peers, from superiors, and from clients where appropriate, provides a wide angle lens on an employee’s performance.

When essential duties (technical competence) and values (attitude) are placed on horizontal and vertical axes, a quadrant is created that results in four categories.

  • Number 1 is the employee who rates high in competence and high in attitude – the employee we all treasure. He or she is also the one that, other than doling out praise and reward, demands the least amount of a manager’s time.
  • Number 4 is the employee who lacks the skills and has a poor attitude. This is the employee who should be encouraged to find his or her happiness elsewhere.
  • Number 3 is the employee who may be highly competent but has a poor attitude. This is the employee who will consume most of a manager’s time and that investment in time and energy should be closely guarded, since attitude is nearly (although not always) impossible to change. Rewarding or enabling bad behavior is demoralizing to other staff as well.
  • Number 2 is the employee who may lack some of the technical skills but has a good attitude. This is where the manager’s firm’s investment in time and energy, and in training, is prudent. Skills can be taught, and more importantly, a demonstration that the employee is valued will result in his or her increased commitment to performing competently.

Thoughtfully conducting a performance evaluation does not have to be unnecessarily time consuming, but doing it well has far-reaching benefit. It just makes sense, especially in professions that are people-oriented. A law firm does not robotically produce widgets and it exists not just to produce documents; it is about people. Take care of those taking care of your clients. ©

Jan Friedlund Henderson
RJH Consulting

1555 Clydesdale Dr.

Jackson, WY 83001