Performance Evaluation in 2020
By Niki Jagpal

Whether you are evaluating work performance or your work performance is being evaluated, 2020 is proving to be a different year…to say the least.  Read on to learn about some ways to approach performance evaluation during these challenging times.  

You wrapped up 2019 with a major goal accomplished – you’ve got all of your direct reports on the same evaluation cycle. Finally, you can knock out all the performance reviews before you hit the 2020 conference circuit. And then, COVID-19 emerges as a global pandemic. The important work that you’ve done to try and move the organization from ‘woke’ to ‘work’ seems thin in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor  The goals and roles that you and your staff – or manager – agreed to earlier this year have shifted because of the uncertainties created by the current moment.

Several staff have mentioned feeling over-evaluated and burned out by the constant need to deliver on activities rather than results. The evaluation process, the data, and the metrics are seen as biased. What can you do to address evaluating performance in the face of such enormous external issues? 

Here are some practical steps you can take to evaluate performance in keeping with moving your organization from being ‘woke’ to being in the ‘work’ stage. Remember to be mindful that you’re being compassionate, understanding, adaptive, flexible, and reasonable in your approach to evaluation. Keep in mind that qualitative data might be more useful given the ever-changing circumstances

  1. Clarify the purpose of evaluation. In the current context of goal and role fluidity, what is the purpose of evaluation? Rather than looking to evaluate a single employee, consider focusing on team outcomes and more immediate/midterm results. Clarify the purpose of evaluation as tied to mission/strategy and keep the evaluation at a slightly higher level. Rather than looking at hard metrics, focus on soft skills which may lead to more qualitative and relevant data for the current moment.
  2. Establish an inclusive system of measurement. Consider co-developing any interim metrics that you and the employee/team will agree to. Give space to process and build an evaluative process that is more like an ongoing conversation rather than a one-off evaluation. Because constant communication in remote settings is crucial, agree to regular check-ins that include elements of the evaluative rubric you agree to.
  3. Assess the frequency of evaluation. Reconsider this being an annual or midpoint evaluation and replace it with a more regular check-in where you can adapt to the changing circumstances from the external environment and begin to include explicit elements of equity that you’re working to embed across the organization.
  4. Begin the longer-term work to make evaluations more equitable. Analyze the systems and processes for evaluation, with an eye toward identifying implicit biases in both. A good starting point is to disaggregate data so that you can address implicit racialized elements of your organization’s evaluation systems. This is also a good time to get a sense of how BIPOC employees feel their work is being evaluated differently. Be careful to simply collect data, not expect your BIPOC colleagues to do the analysis, work, and development of solutions to these issues.
  5. Build authentic, racially inclusive spaces. Start building an environment in which your BIPOC employees are authentically included – look for bias in your systems and processes, educate your staff about the importance of reflecting an equitable culture (tie it to your mission), create safe spaces for staff to discuss the personal impact of the ongoing Movement for Black Lives and justice on them. Use these conversations to identify and address possible biases in evaluation systems.
  6. Reimagine what professional development looks like. Build in different types of professional development opportunities that advance equity into the evaluation – racial justice trainings, support for leaders of color, etc. Some of this can be done immediately to align with the adapted evaluation model and others are longer term. It is essential for senior leadership to be bought in to incorporating racial equity at the organization. Make sure that there is an explicit agreement across staff to advancing equity organizationally.