Building on Thoughts from Experts: What are You Evaluating?

Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.

This is part six of a multi-part Blog series on strengthening your team by building on thoughts from experts. The foundation for these articles derives from comments made by writers in the Harvard Business Review over the years to which I add my expertise and experience.

EVALUATIONS. We all have them. We know that they are coming. We have filled them out. We have submitted our inputs. But what do they really say about our total contributions and value to the organization? Unfortunately, they most often catch only the easy metrics–those that can be represented by a number or letter grade…but this may miss the mark unless you are simply a statistician keeping track of data for project management or Six Sigma tracking.

Although some organizations have evolved in their evaluation techniques and instruments, the reality is that most still rely on quantitative factors and marginalize qualitative characteristics. From the point of the individual, this short-changes them in terms of a holistic assessment of their performance and characteristics. In other words, they are being evaluated on the what but not the why and the how of the performance. It is a look into the past without consideration for future potential.

Organizational Need

But what does this mean for the organization? Simply put, it means that the organization misses the opportunity to understand what capabilities, activities, and attitudes led to past successes and may be leveraged to improve opportunities for success in future endeavors. It makes no sense for an organization to do evaluations and assessments looking only in the past–it is like driving your car forward while looking through the rear window! Understand, however, that the past is still relevant, as is the present–but you cannot do anything to change that. You can only change the future based on the past and the present.

So, let’s revisit the car analogy. When I discuss business skills with both individuals and organizations, I use the car analogy to paint a picture of the big picture. Imagine this:

The Car - Life Analogy

The Life – Car Analogy

Learning Through Evaluations

Perhaps the most important point of evaluations for an organization–other than statutory or regulatory requirements–is the ability to learn about your own organization and what makes it work. You see, evaluations are a two-way process–not just a view of the employee from above. As a leader, it is your responsibility to understand the behaviors that led to the successes [or not so successes] for the employee and the organization. If you do not capture the behavioral aspects of employees’ actions you cannot find best practices that can lead to sustained successes, growth, or capability for the organization. 

How does a leader gain insight into these behaviors? It requires an evolution in evaluation methods.  Instead of a focus on results and statistics (quantitative), evaluations need to capture the behavioral factors (qualitative) that led to the results. The challenge is how to evolve evaluations to capture both of these types of factors without using positive aspects of one to justify negative aspects of the other. Unfortunately, many organizations make the mistake of combining the quantitative and qualitative evaluations into a single process. This presents the opportunity for unwitting justifications in the evaluation process, such as dismissing behaviors with negative traits in light of high production numbers, profits, or other statistical indicators.

So how does a leader evaluate behaviors of their employees without falling into the trap of balancing or justifying behaviors against results or outcomes? One way is to–as I say to people who I coach on job seeking–get up, get out, get going! In other words, don’t sit in your office all day and assume things are going well–even if you have middle-level managers who report to you and with whom you stay in touch during the week. Actually walk around in your organization, view the production environment, take the time to go to onsite events or workspaces, and observe your people in their work environments. Talk with them from time to time (making sure, of course, that your middle managers understand that you are not leap-frogging their authority) and see what the attitudes are among employees. 

When leaders are in touch with their organization’s employees, they gain a better understanding of the way the organization accomplishes its mission and strives toward its vision. There is a place for quantitative evaluations–in fact, it is essential to retain these types of metrics for an organization. However, accomplishing separate behavioral evaluations provides the how and why the organization’s results are the way that they are now…as well as what prospects for the future may be. It provides a focused look at behaviors without the distraction of comparing behaviors to an individual’s results as justification. It also provides the opportunity to evaluate–and help grow–the individual as a human being, which can pay immeasurable dividends for the organization, the individual, and their families. 

In Closing…

People are a variable that act beyond the numbers. By understanding them, leveraging their strengths, and growing them beyond their weaknesses, the organization and its employees may realize a more productive and satisfying way ahead.

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Join me next week for the seventh post in this series: Managing & Leveraging the Best.


Want to know more about executive leadership? I facilitate a half-day executive seminar that brings concepts to the table for collaborative exercises and application to your organization’s needs. Check out our offerings here or call 866.399.8287 to find out more from a representative today!


Harvard Business School. (2011). Management tips from Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

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