The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

Staff Evaluations

You both sit down to the table for a chat. Well, it’s more formal than a chat. Your employee looks at you with wide eyes. At present, they are more attentive than they are at staff meetings, and you feel pressure to say everything with a smile – even if the information is negative at times. Why do we have to go through this? Aren’t they self-aware enough to know how they’re doing at their own job? You refocus your attention on the mid-year evaluation before you and begin.

Evaluations Can Be an Ordeal

Many of us are gearing up for mid-year evaluations with our supervisors, our staff members, and ourselves. We tell ourselves we won’t get lost in the rubrics and number valuations, but at some point we trip up during the evaluation process especially when we appraise our own employees. For me, most the anxiety around assessing my staff stems from me not wanting to hurt feelings or turn staff off from the work they do. At the end of the day, I’ve hired competent individuals who work to improve the lives of students. Alas, those same individuals are imperfect and need coaching, mentoring, and feedback.

Feedback with a Purpose

At some point in my career, I decided to view one-on-one meetings as opportunities for improvement and relationship building, rather than just simple check-ins with my staff. Reframing my meetings changed my line of questioning. I became more interested in the life of my employees outside of work. I wanted to know about how their interpersonal relationships were with their teammates. And I questioned their thought processes when reviewing situations they’d dealt with since our last meeting. I wanted to affirm their decision making skills and let them know where they could improve as well. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric said to “make every meeting an appraisal.” Sure, I could have a staff that dreads criticism each time they enter my office. Or, I could have a team that values my perspectives because they know my intentions are to build and strengthen instead of belittle and weaken.

By the time we reach evaluation season, my staff is knowledgeable about their progress and areas of growth. The formal appraisal meeting becomes a space to exclusively converse about what they need to do to take their positions to the next level. We focus on actionable steps and end the meeting with goals and deadlines. The result: we have an account of their progress, written steps to better performance, and an entire evaluation packet to help me keep them accountable throughout the next half of the semester.

Putting it All Together

Here are 3 ways you can kick up your staff evaluations and make them less scary and more meaningful:

1. Show them how what they do matters – One section of my evaluation focused on interpersonal relationships. This section contained phrases like: staff member effectively communicates with others and staff member updates supervisor in a timely fashion. On the surface, these could seem like basic outcomes to measure, but I went beyond simply saying how well my employee did in those areas, and I came prepared with examples for each line of feedback I wrote. I also had an overall explanation of why we evaluated employees on interpersonal relationships in the first place and how it connected with our departmental goals. You want to know why your boss wants you to do something, and your staff wants to know the importantance and impact of their jobs.

2. Nothing should be a surprise- Your mid-year evaluations may be anxiety filled no matter what you do, but none of the feedback you provide should blindside your staff. Do yourself a favor and take 5-10 minutes during each one-on-one meeting to provide an informal appraisal. It will make your mid-year evaluation run smoothly, and you and your staff member will be on the same page.

3. Make the numbers work for you – We used a numbering system at one of my institutions in the way that “1” meant you were weak in an area and “5” meant you excelled. Once, I told my staff that no one would get above a “3” because they were all new, and it wasn’t realistic to have an exceptional staff member at that point. This was a huge mistake. I received backlash from staff members who felt this wasn’t fair and expressed how they excelled in some areas. Word to the wise: make sure the number system make sense, is objective, and is used fairly.

I’m curious to know what your best practices are.

Does your staff find evaluations to be refreshing and helpful? What changes have you made to your process in the past years? What are some challenges you face as a supervisor when it comes to appraising your staff? Please feel free to comment below.

Sinclair P. Ceasar has six years of experience with Residence Life, New Student Orientation, First Year Programming, and Service Learning. He is currently an Assistant Director of Residence Life at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, and enjoys dancing, running 5K’s, and being a foodie in his leisure time. Follow him on twitter @sceasar1020.

* Graphic courtesy of Sigurd Decroos

24 thoughts on “The Things We Dread: Evaluations (Guest post by Sinclair P. Ceasar)

    1. Idaliana Medina

      As a graduate student, I wish I had more of these types of evaluations. The only evaluation I remember getting in one of my internships was nothing like this suggested. I remember leaving the meeting and feeling extremely down and not wanting to be there anymore. However, I don’t think that’s how my supervisor meant for me to feel. I think an approach like this would have been better for the both of us.

      Great piece!

  1. Arney (@ndarney)

    A great post, evaluations should always be for building the relationship.. I might recommend having your staff members self evaluation be front and center. It allows them to remind you of what they are most proud of (which may be different from what you feel they did best this year) and also lets you see where they have a blind spot that you can help them work on in the future.

  2. Courtney


    I feel that your approach is much needed, especially in a field where it involves both social and leadership approaches. I took a class in my graduate studies that deals with appraisals and assessments and having both an informal and formal assessment appears to be effective. I see that you are using a likert-type scale to measure he growth of your employees. Perhaps, conducting a test-retest of the same assessment could solidify his/her personal growth while employed under you. Informal assessment could be as simple as a conversation. Obtaining that great rapport skills that you possess, along with the eagerness from the employee will yield such great responses for you. Employees should not be scared of criticism; this proves that the employer is overseeing your thoughts and behaviors while suggesting methods to be better at the desired career choice. If an employer says to an employee, ” you are doing great,” where does the growth come in for that employee to sharpen his/her skills within that career. I enjoy receiving feedback. I want to know where I am doing good and where the is room for growth. Conversely, these mid-year assessments could also demonstrate if someone want to pursue this as a career. In my school, we have a site where we can find out more about assessments and if that particular one would work best for that population. Of course, my topic yielded the Myers-Briggs assessment, but maybe you should consider exploring other assessments online and see if you can use them for your mid-year assessment. Best of luck Sinclair, I know you will rock!

  3. MSullivan

    Liked the refreshing, positive approach you use with staff evaluations. We know how scary they can be for our employees. Your three points on how to make staff evaluation more meaningful were spot-on! MSullivan.

  4. Jack Port

    Great thoughts on the evaluation process. I recently did my first ever evaluations as a supervisor and it was more challenging than I anticipated. I like the idea of making every meeting an appraisal and plan to do that in the future. Also I agree it is so important to emphasize the positive impact of the work that has been done. Thank you for some great insight Sinclair!

  5. danielbw

    This is great. We used to have a 1-5 system for our RAs. However, we have since then switched to a 1-3 system. 1=needs improvement 2=met expectations and 3=exceeds expectations. It made it much easier than a 5 point system and it limits the evaluator to vacillate between a 1 and 2 or a 4 and 5.

    It basically comes down to: does the RA “have it” or not. If they receive a 2 on a criterion and a 1 on another, I have noticed the RA work extra hard on the criterion they received a 1 on as opposed to working on the criterion they received a 2 on–when in all actuality, they needed to really improve on both criteria. If you just make it a little bit more broad, I think it allows for RAs not to rank their gifts and next steps as much.

  6. danielbw

    This is great. We used to have a 1-5 system for our RAs. However, we have since then switched to a 1-3 system. 1=needs improvement 2=met expectations and 3=exceeds expectations. It made it much easier than a 5 point system and it limits the evaluator to vacillate between a 1 and 2 or a 4 and 5.

    I have noticed that some RAs will work more on improving the criterion they received a 1 on, as opposed to the criterion they received a 2 on–when in all actuality, they could improve on both criteria. Making the numbers more broad, I think, helps the RAs have a clearer understanding of their gifts and next steps.

  7. Tynesha

    The importance of point two cannot be emphasized enough. My principal used to always tell us that parent teacher conferences are follow up meetings, not places to drop major bombshells. I think keeping that in mind motivates you to constantly provide your employees with feedback rather than waiting until formal evaluations.

  8. scaddenfnl

    Thanks for sharing. “Nothing should be a surprise” – ever, unless it happened the night before! Employees should be encouraged to come with examples as well as we often don’t see all and have presumptions based on perception, not fact. And Comments, comments, comments, numbers are effective for some or to fill out a form, but constructive comments to build on make all the difference in the world – and not just one people cut and paste to get through 20 evaluations.

  9. Michael Rath


    This is a fantastic article. I think it is so valuable to be constantly coaching up your workers. If you are only telling them once a year how well they are doing and what they need to work on, it may seem like you don’t care. I personally like constructive criticism constantly so I can be the best I can be.

  10. Mika Karikari

    Thank you for writing this! Our field can benefit from taking a page out of your book! I especially like the point that nothing should be a surprise, especially when most supervisors meet with staff on a weekly basis.

  11. Dave Gardner

    Evals can be worrisome for anyone at times, so the less stressful you can make it and focus on strengths while suggesting ways to help them work through weakness (instead of just calling it out) would be beneficial to the team member

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  14. Samson

    See sometimes I have this believe that some supervisors are just mean. Or rather many of them simply mean especially for the rookies i.e graduate students


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