It happens to every manager: You sit down to prepare a staff member's review and realize you can remember only what the person has done the past few weeks. Or you allow only a single incident (good or bad) to color your assessment.
If you're relying solely on your memory to evaluate employee performance, you're making appraisals far more difficult than necessary. That's why it's best to institute a simple recording system to document employee performance.
The most useful, easy-to-implement way is to create and maintain a log for each person. Performance logs don't need to be complicated or sophisticated. They can simply be sheets of paper in a folder or files on your computer. Choose whatever means you're comfortable with.
The key is to establish a system that you will use regularly. No matter how you take notes, make sure to keep them confidential.
Recording performance: 6 tips
To begin the process, create a file for each employee you supervise. Include in each file a copy of the employee's job description, job application and résumé. Then follow these steps for recording performance:
1. Include positive and negative behaviors. Recording only negative incidents will unfairly bias your evaluation. Make a point to note instances of satisfactory or outstanding performance, too. One way to ensure a balanced reporting is to update employee performance logs on a regular basis, instead of waiting for a specific incident to occur.
2. Date each entry. Details such as time, date and day of the week help identify patterns that may indicate an underlying problem before it becomes more serious.
3. Write observations, not assumptions. In all log entries, be careful about the language you use. Performance logs can end up as evidence in a lawsuit. Your log comments should focus only on behavior that you directly observe. Don't make assumptions about the reasons for the behavior or make judgments about an employee's character. Keep out any comments that border on personal comment or that show personal prejudice.
Many employee lawsuits can be quickly dismissed if performance logs can clearly demonstrate a history of performance problems leading to the firing.
4. Keep out biased language. A good rule of thumb: Any statement that would be inappropriate in conversation is also inappropriate in an employee log. That includes references to an employee's age, sex, race, disability, marital status, religion or sexual orientation. Don't suggest reasons for employee actions or make connections between events without direct evidence.
For example, you may know that Dan's wife recently filed for divorce, but don't suggest in the log that his personal problems are the reason his work performance has slipped.
5. Be brief, but complete. Log entries should use specific examples rather than general comments. Instead of saying, "Megan's work was excellent," say "Megan has reduced the number of data entry errors to fewer than one per 450 records."
6. Track trends. If you begin to see patterns, make notes in the log or flag prior incidents of the same behavior. You don't need to discuss every entry with your staff members. Bring your observations to the employees' attention only after you've defined a specific problem.