One truth about employee evaluations is that employees and leaders alike tend to hate them. For employees, the process can be fraught with anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt. For leaders, both at established companies and startups, employee evaluations can mean awkward or unpleasant conversations, or time taken away from tasks that seem more urgent. The other truth about evaluations, though, is that they're necessary in order to maintain a high-functioning, and hopefully happy, team. No one, employee or leader, succeeds in a vacuum.

If employee evaluations at your company are largely met with a groan, remember that rating employee performance should be less about the rating itself and more about what employees do with that information. You're not setting out to simply give someone a grade. You're figuring what they need to be successful, and that success will translate into the success of the company. Here are a few simple ways to maximize the impact of your yearly reviews.

Let Employees Speak for Themselves

At Greenleaf Book Group, we conduct our performance reviews from the perspectives of two people: the employee and the supervisor. Employees are given the opportunity to review the goals they set for the previous year and rate themselves, writing detailed feedback about what they see as their successes and failures. After the employee gives the form to the supervisor, the supervisor fills out the same form and returns it to the employee. They meet to compare their evaluations and discuss what the employee can continue/work on for the next year, as well as what the leader can do to help.

As you conduct your yearly reviews, make sure your employees have a chance to share their thoughts about their own performances over the past year. Encourage them to make their responses specific and actionable, and welcome feedback on the ways leadership/the company can better support the whole team.

Make Your Expectations Clear

Perhaps the only thing that can give a person more anxiety than micromanagement is lack of clear expectations. If you're conducting performance reviews on a yearly basis and the expectations laid out in your evaluation form are vague or irrelevant to that employee's role, the results of that yearly evaluation can erode confidence built during the one-to-one meetings your team (should) have throughout the year.

Even if your evaluation has to work for the entire company, across all departments, there is no reason not to go into detail about your expectations. Provide specific examples of top-notch performance like, "Makes self available for external client needs," or "Regularly pursues career education courses," that the employee and supervisor can address in the context of the employee's specific role. Additionally, design your rating system with clear levels to indicate whether the employee met, failed to meet, or exceeded company expectations.

Take Action

No matter how hectic day-to-day operations can become, it's important to remember that employee evaluations don't exist solely for you to collect data and say you did it. Every evaluation should end with the employee and their supervisor building a detailed, actionable plan for the year ahead. The items in that plan should include the employee's day-to-day functions, as well as goals to push them to a new level of performance. This means developing new challenges to enhance an employee's strengths, and creating clear systems of accountability to help them improve on their areas of weakness.

Employee evaluations are far from a waste of time. Instead, they're a vital part of your team's improvement year over year. By focusing on clarity, honesty, and actionability, you can design an evaluation system that empowers your employees and runs smoothly without your constant attention.