Fresh Look at Employee Evaluations

I’ve always been skeptical of the “performance review” style of evaluating. I believe in a strengths-based method of casting – placing people in roles that take best advantage of each person’s unique mix of talents. Preparing for and then delivering (or receiving) a performance review seems about as pleasant as having a root canal.

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with Don Clark, who runs the Reno based architectural firm Cathexes. The name of the firm is the plural of cathexis, which is an investment of mental or emotional energy in a person, object or idea. And Don does exactly that in everything he undertakes and with everyone with whom he works. As we were talking the other day about people management, Don shared his Employee Evaluation Form with me. My first response was skepticism, until he began to explain it.

Don uses three general areas of review; each has a few subcategories along with examples of how successful performance is to be evaluated. His categories are very much an inventory of culture and values. They are not granular, nor are they work-assignment specific. Since I’ve covered many of these issues, I’ve added short-hand descriptors from some of my previous blog posts in italics.

  • Attitude
    • Assumes responsibility – set it and forget it; no need to check back
    • Work relationships – plays well with others; courteous, friendly, sincere
    • Professional outlook – takes responsibility to grow in the firm and profession
    • Attendance – shows up and works with focus
    • Image – maintains an orderly work area and projects a professional image and appearance
  • Capability
    • Analytical ability – is a self-starter in research, concise and thorough with recommendations
    • Initiative­ – takes responsibility, recommends systemic improvements
    • Mental alertness – listens carefully, responds well to changes
    • Ability to represent firm – respectful toward clients, “lives” the firm culture, inspires confidence in the firm and team
    • Supervisory ability – inspires team, develops team members, obtains measurable results
    • Stability – projects calm in crisis, is consistent in performance, adapts to change
    • Overall competence – possesses technical/design skills, adds to the skill base of the firm, is an “expert” in something valuable to others in the firm
  • Performance
    • Dependability – completes assignments thoroughly without being monitored
    • Quantity of work – is consistent with skills and project needs
    • Quality of work – is consistently organized, coordinated and accurate
    • Resourcefulness – seeks out best solutions, overcomes adversity
    • Communication – speaks, listens, writes and responds clearly and thoroughly in a professional style

You can imagine that everyone at Cathexes has a very clear idea of what the culture of the firm is. When this is the case, it fosters consistent and predictable behavior and attitude. But here’s where Don adds a unique twist that is both humorous and serious. Using a point system from 0 to 10, each person is rated in each category as follows:

0. You died

  1. You’re fired
  2. Poor; need to relearn this concept
  3. Marginal; need to pay attention and improve
  4. Good; need some fine tuning
  5. Perfect; all we ask

So where do people in the firm go from here?

  1. Perfect, and a little extra
  2. Performance is changing the office
  3. Performance is noticeable in the community
  4. Performance is changing the community
  5. Performance is changing the world

Both Don and the person being evaluated fill out the form with their numbers. The meeting is a comparison of how each sees performance. But, since the process has an aspirational character, no one is bothered by it. It’s all about expectations, and expectations like this require continual support from the firm to help people achieve their ambitions and passions to change the world. It also attracts others with such aspirations.

If people are working consistently to achieve this level of performance, their efforts affect their project work. The projects Don has on the boards right now in Reno are of a scale, scope and thoughtfulness to place them squarely in the “9” category. If they are as successful as they have the potential to be and are emulated in other communities, Cathexes will score a clear and resounding “10.”

Don adds: “When you reach ‘10,’ erase the slate and start all over again!”

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