Be Ready for the Three Questions

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A landscaper from Missouri contacted me the other day to talk about the performance evaluation process in her company.  The conversation touched on myriad points including:  how to structure the feedback meeting, the role of Company values in a performance evaluation, Company culture, and the best manner for delivering feedback to employees.   An interesting discussion to be sure.

As our Zoom session was winding down, I reminded the landscaper to be ready for the three questions from her subordinates that she must be prepared to address.  At that point, her comfortable eyes became pensive and direct, demanding direction.  Not a problem.

Whether asked or not, every employee being evaluated in a performance appraisal wants an answer to the following three questions.

  1. “Why did you give me a rating of #?”  For the sake of example, let’s presume the supervisor gave the employee a rating of “3” (i.e., “Meets Expectations”) on the performance dimension of Employee Safety.    This is a credibility crossroad for the supervisor.  In essence, the employee is demanding justification from the supervisor to validate the rating of “3.”  If the supervisory does not provide illustrative, compelling, and satisfactory evidence for the rating, the supervisor, the rating, and indeed the entire performance appraisal will be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the employee.  In response, the supervisor must confidently present multiple behavioral examples supporting the rating (e.g., “you attend all of the safety tailgate sessions,” “you are always in proper PPE,”  “you comply with the Company’s Code of Safe Practices”).  Each of those examples certainly illustrates behavioral evidence for a rating of “Meets Expectations.”  
  2. “What do I have to do to get a rating of 4?”   This is another thinly-veiled test for the supervisor by the subordinate, one in which the subordinate wants to see if the supervisor has a type of Development Plan indicative of a clairvoyant path tailored for subordinate improvement.  The supervisor must always have this response ready.  For  example, the supervisor could list the following behaviors that indicate the next level of performance (i.e., “Exceeds Expectations”):  “Volunteer to be a spotter every time your vehicle is backing up in the morning,”  “Before you begin working at a job site, walk the job to identify any potential safety hazards,” and “Double check that all equipment is securely positioned, fastened, or locked in the trailer or bed of the truck before leaving the job site.”  Each of those examples clearly conveys extra effort implied in a rating of “Exceeds Expectations.”
  3. “What do I have to do to make more money?”  Don’t be indignant, judgmental, or hypocritical of this implied or expressed question; everyone of us has this same thought in mind every day, and you know it.  To be succinct:  The answer must include goal achievement; the answer should only include goal achievement.  The capitalist assumption is if all employees reach the goals assigned to them, the company will then necessarily achieve its goals, which inferentially culminates in reinforcement being distributed throughout the company.  To that end, there must be a clear connection between the organization’s goals, the department’s goals, the work crew’s goals, and the employee’s goals.  If a management team cannot identify the specific goals and performance expectations connecting the key performance indicators threading the entire organization vertically, they should not be managers.

Thus, to answer the question at hand, the supervisor should be able to articulate the specific goals for each employee at any moment (e.g., “you have to ensure that all of your jobs are completed within the established labor hours standard which helps the company achieve its gross margin goal,” “you have to ensure that each job is completed according to its job quality standards which helps the company achieve its job retention goal,” and “you have to recruit # of new employees during the next rating period to help the company achieve its staffing goal.”  If the employee does that, and all employees follow suit, the company will make more money, and by derivation, so should the employee.  But keep in mind:  It all starts at the top.  For all three questions.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.