Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I am in the process of doing an annual evaluation for one of my employees--I'll call him Carl--who has been with the company for about a year. We did a six-month evaluation at the end of his probationary period and it did not go well. Even though I felt I gave him pretty good scores (everything was "meets expectations" or "sometimes exceeds expectations"), Carl was very unhappy that he did not get anything in the highest range ("consistently exceeds expectations") and tore apart everything I wrote because he did not agree with some of my word choices (such as using the word "disagreement" when talking about how he handles differences of opinion with co-workers). At the end of the meeting, I felt like I had been evaluated.

We are now at the one-year mark and I know he will expect that his scores will be massively improved. There has been no improvement on most of the evaluation metrics (despite many meetings about his shortcomings) and, in fact, several of his scores have gone down. Everything is still in the "meets expectations" or "sometimes exceeds expectations" range, but I have a feeling I am going to have a fight on my hands, especially since the scores on the performance evaluation directly determine raises.

As part of the evaluation process, Carl was required to submit a self-evaluation of his own achievements over the past year. There is definitely a discrepancy in the way he views himself and how I view his performance. For example, he believes he is a strong team player when he has left other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions, forgotten when he agreed to switch shifts with a co-worker, missed appointments with customers, and scheduled appointments when we are short-staffed.

How do I address this difference of opinion on Carl's performance? I have had multiple meetings with him, especially addressing the problems he has caused for the department by not thinking of the whole department when making decisions. Overall, he is a good employee who makes mistakes occasionally; he just is not as fantastic as he thinks he is.

Green responds:

Well, the good news here is that it sounds like you've been giving him feedback consistently throughout the year, so a reasonable person in his shoes shouldn't feel blindsided.

Carl sounds like he may not be reasonable. But you've done the right thing by continuing to meet with him and give feedback. It's possible that you could have been even clearer in that feedback, especially given the response that you're expecting from him now, but it's hard to say without knowing the content of those conversations. However, given the history, you probably should have said something explicit like, "I know you were concerned about your six-month evaluation ratings. I want to let you know that in order to get improved ratings at the one-year mark, I'd need to see X, Y, and Z, which is different than what I'm currently seeing." But that's not mandatory, just something that can be helpful in dealing with someone like him.

As for what to do now, plan to do three things in the evaluation meeting:

1. Acknowledge that you see from his self-evaluation that the two of you have different perspectives on his work, and make a good faith effort to hear him out--to a point. It sounds like you've already had plenty of conversations about his performance and so you probably have a pretty good idea of what he thinks, but give him a chance to talk about why he sees things differently and listen to him with an open mind. Just don't let it go on so long that it becomes a drawn-out debate.

2. Know that while it's important to hear his perspective, your job isn't to convince him that you're right; if you fall into that trap, you'll be in that meeting for hours and it's unlikely to be productive.

So once you've given him a chance to share his perspective and explained your own, keep the focus on what you need from him going forward. Talk in specifics about what you'd like to see from him that's different from what you've been seeing, and be as concrete as possible about what that should look like. He doesn't need to agree with you--but he does need to be able to take the feedback and work on the things you've asked him to work on.

3. Be prepared with some key phrases to use if he becomes combative or resistant or insists that his self-evaluation is the correct one. For example:

  • "I hear you that you see it differently, but ultimately I'm not seeing what I need to in areas X and Y."
  • "My preference would be for us to agree about the ratings, but ultimately I need to make that judgment."
  • "What I'm hearing is that we see this very differently. I appreciate hearing your perspective, but I stand by my assessment, for the reasons I laid out in the evaluation. From here, I'd like us to focus on what your work will look like moving forward."

But also--make sure you're not padding his ratings out of a reluctance to make this conversation even harder. "Leaving other members of the department in the lurch on multiple occasions" and the other problems you described merits a "not meeting expectations" in at least one area, and probably more. Having to have multiple meetings about his shortcomings is another sign that he's not meeting expectations. It might be time to ask whether Carl is really right for this job.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.