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A Kinder, More Compassionate Way to Evaluate Employees

Employees find evaluations demeaning. Employees begrudgingly sit through the employee evaluation, nod their head in seeming agreement with your critique and leave the meeting wanting to kill you. This, my friend, is counterproductive.

Employee evaluations should help your employee—not antagonize them.  It’s not about judging—you should provide kind and caring counseling.   But how can you compassionately guide your employee through a critique of their performance without making them your enemy?

4 Questions for a Compassionate Performance Evaluation

There are 4 questions for a kind and caring performance evaluation.  Begin the evaluation by asking your employee for their feedback.

“I need to know what you’d like to accomplish and I’d like to get your input. Reflecting back on last year:”

Question #1: What are you most proud of? (your employee will tell you things you did not know)

Question #2: What are the things you should have accomplished, but did not?

Question: #3: What 3 or 4 goals do you want to accomplish in the coming year (or 90 days)?

Question #4: What can I do to help you?

Your employee will be talking non-stop, but what have you accomplished?  Rather an uncomfortable meeting that creates resentment toward you, you’re getting feedback about the obstacles facing your employee and you discover things you can do to make their job easier. Your employee will be grateful that you took the time to listen and offer help.

At the end, tell your employee that you have a few things you’d like them to think about, e.g., “I want to get you into a trial this year. I want to help you get there.” Do not tie compensation to the goal.

Simple Criteria for Evaluating Your Employee

Your employee has to show improvement toward specific goals.  What are the top 3 criteria for evaluating your employee’s performance? For a case manager/paralegal, the criteria might consist of:

  • Drafting litigation documents, e.g., summons and complaint, discovery demands and responses, subpoenas, etc.
  • Legal research and analysis of legal issues, 
  • Communicating with clients to keep them updated on the progress of their case.

The employee is judged according to whether they are meeting expectations (“M”), exceeding expectations (“E”) or not meeting expectations (“N”). Document the employees performance on a quarterly basis.

Parting Ways with Non-Performing Employees

Is your employee showing progress, e.g., Is this “C” employee ever going to be a “B”? If there is no progress, you may need to coach the employee out of your law firm, e.g., helping them find a position better suited to their skills.

“It’s rare that someone is let go too early.”

Michael Smith, SBC Associates

The most common mistake is taking too long to address the employee’s issues. Things will only get worse. Talk straight with your employee and let them know if they aren’t meeting expectations. The goal is to part ways with your employee with their dignity intact.

Thank you to Michael Smith, legal consultant extraordinaire with SBC Associates, for his special insights about employee evaluations.


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