Click Here To Evaluate Your Employees
Software makes annual reviews easier, but it still needs a human touch
Retaining employees is a challenge for all small ventures. But in Kerry Schulz's
business -- running video rental and convenience
stores -- it's a nightmare. "In our industry, employee turnover typically
is measured at 100%, 200%, or 300% a year," he says, adding that it can
wreak havoc on day-to-day operations.
Yet Schulz, vice-president of 70-employee Vidcon Enterprises
in Battle Ground, Wash., manages to keep workers about a year and a half.
Besides treating them well, he credits his success to an inexpensive technology --
employee evaluation software. Why? Because, he says, it has made it easier to
give people consistent feedback. And that encourages them to stay on the job.
Of all the business uses of software, those that supplant human discernment
are bound to be controversial. Some aspects of these programs are innocuous enough --
such as forms that allow companies to standardize numerical ratings and categories
for evaluating workers. Most large companies have them, anyway. On
the other end of the spectrum is boilerplate text that managers --
especially those uncomfortable with words -- can use to impart good and bad news to workers about
their performance as well as suggestions for improvement.
The idea of using generic language for one of the most sensitive and
personal tasks a boss faces could understandably make many employees --
and managers -- cringe. But Schulz insists that it has helped Vidcon avoid some
of what participants hate most about evaluations: their tendency to be inconsistent and
painfully subjective -- and time-consuming.
"The main problem the software addresses is consistency," says Schulz.
"We have multiple locations. And each location has its own manager, some
of whom have been evaluating employees longer than others. Our concern
was to evaluate each employee consistently, so they knew exactly where they
stood." The feedback has helped Vidcon employees feel their good deeds are noticed,
and they have guidance for doing better, he contends.
To see how it might feel to evaluate by software, we looked at the program
Schulz uses -- KnowledgePoint's Performance Now ($119) -- and a similar product,
Austin-Hayne's Employee Appraiser ($129).
With both, you start by creating a record for each employee that includes
basic information, such as job title, salary, and last and next review date.
Next, you select a template for the general class of employee you're evaluating.
Employee Appraiser has 17 templates, ranging from customer service
to managerial and production workers. By contrast, Performance Now! has
only four templates: clerical, production, management, and sales and service.
POINT, CLICK, AND EVALUATE. Overall, we found the programs to be equally thorough.
In each job-category template, there are general criteria for evaluating people,
such as "communication skills." The programs also have additional
criteria appropriate to specific job categories. For instance, the managerial
templates look at such skills as how well managers handle employees and
develop their skills, plan for the long term, conduct meetings, and solve problems.
Those criteria aren't part of the production workers' templates, which instead have
ratings for work output and safety.
With both packages, you rate the employee and click a button
to add editable boilerplate commentary. Here, we found Employee Appraiser
more subtle. Click on a button, and the language automatically
adjusts to become slightly positive or negative without changing the
ranking. For instance, when evaluating a manager's problem-solving skills,
a click on one button generates a neutral tone: "The group benefits from
John's input in problem-solving and brainstorming sessions." Click another
button to inject a note of enthusiasm: "I can count on John to offer good
ideas and spark discussion when the group has a problem to solve."
By contrast, Performance Now tends to be slightly more standoffish:
"John often displays creativity and original thinking beyond the expectations
for his position."
We found Performance Now easier to use, however. A single dialog
box contains options to guide you to each step of the evaluation process,
such as goal-setting and writing a summary. Employee Appraiser's
interface is more confusing and requires more work.
On the other hand, Employee Appraiser offers more sophisticated advice for
helping employees improve. For instance, it suggests that a sales rep who
hasn't provided good after-sale service periodically watch customers use
the product and ask them for specifics on how he or she could give better service.
Schulz says the speed of the software evaluation process and the
consistency of the boilerplate appeals to both managers and employees.
That's a matter of debate, says Bonnie McMullin-Lawton, human resources
director at Persoft Inc., a Madison (Wis.) software developer. She has
looked at evaluation software but never seriously considered
using it at her company. "It can be useful for evaluating hundreds or
thousands of employees -- or if you're in a high-turnover situation. I don't
use it," says McMullin-Lawton. "In our business, we have a highly educated staff that is
career-oriented. They drive us to evaluate them as individual people with
specific career goals. They don't want a relationship with their
boss that's based on a structured package."
But Schulz says he can't argue with success. "Before, managers were
reluctant to do evaluations because they often weren't comfortable with
the process," says Schulz. "They were on their own. And we didn't have
a structure in place that gave them consistent language and all the elements
that go into a review. And sometimes their emotions would get in the
way of being consistent." Now, he says managers are more cooperative
about performing reviews, which occur in the first 30, 60, and 90
days of employment and twice a year thereafter.
Schulz hasn't quantified the benefits of using software to evaluate
employees, but he says that greater retention improves the bottom line. "Our
training costs are less because we hang on to employees longer," he says.
Few would argue against making the evaluation process more consistent and
less capricious. But one thing's for sure: No amount of boilerplate text can
supplant a thoughtful manager.
By David Haskin in Madison, Wis.
Back to top of story