The First Rule Of Performance Evaluation

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.

A landscaper from Georgia called me the other day to talk about a host of human resources issues, most of which ultimately veered toward employee accountability.  While the topic of accountability within the scope of human resources will undoubtedly be the topic of a future Tuesdays with Steve posting, suffice it to say that if your company’s current human resources program does not identify accountability as its top priority, your company has the wrong human resources program; more on that in a future posting.

Back to Georgia…

Cue the dueling banjos from Deliverance.

Issues like goals, attendance, policy compliance, customer service, and safety are key points of accountability that should be discussed and documented in monthly one-on-one meetings between a supervisor and his/her direct reports.  These one-on-one sessions, supplemented by ad-hoc coaching sessions throughout the year, serve as the pretext for the formal accountability metric:  the annual performance evaluation.

Unfortunately, in more cases than I care to admit, the supervisor will oftentimes present a low performance rating to the subordinate that completely catches the subordinate off-guard.

The First Rule of Performance Evaluation:  A subordinate should NEVER be surprised by any performance rating given by a supervisor.


Surprises such as this, transmogrify the performance evaluation process from a collaborative employee development event into an interminable adversarial game of “Gotcha!” 

If any employee is ever surprised by a low performance rating, off-hand comment, or out-of-left-field incident during the formal performance evaluation meeting, the supervisor is completely accountable.

The supervisor must never introduce new documentation to an employee during a performance review.  Indeed, the performance evaluation process should represent the natural culmination of the preceding one-on-one meetings, periodic coaching sessions, and ongoing conversations between the supervisor and subordinate throughout the current rating period.  All aspects of the employee’s performance must be discussed sequentially as they occur, not squirreled away, waiting for the right time to share them.

The supervisor should have fulsome evidence of previous feedback given to the employee regarding underperformance; evidence that is merely being recounted during the performance evaluation.  I said, recounted, not revealed.  It’s not new; it’s been shared before.  Refer to those meetings where substandard performance was identified, where action plans were devised, and where follow-up sessions were conducted to monitor employee improvement.  

In case those meetings never happened, or were never documented, yet the subordinate was surprised by a low performance rating, don’t be surprised if the employee files a lawsuit against the company for “a negligent evaluation of an employee.”  Parenthetically, heed my advice:  Make sure your EPLI policy specifically mentions that aspect of coverage.

Accountability obviously applies to both directions.


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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.