Bowling With Your Boss: Evaluation Cruelty

Imagine bowling with your boss… You throw the ball down the lane, but your boss has a sheet between you and the pins. You hear something happening, lots of noise, but no idea of what actually happened. How many pins are left standing? Where are they? Was that perhaps a gutter ball? You then ask how you are doing and the response is, “don’t worry about it, I will tell you at the end of the year.”

Imagine this happening every day or every week…. Would you be motivated to continue striving to improve? Would you even keep bowling?

This is a common scenario with employee evaluations every day! Employees don’t know where they stand and they do not get clarity of what is working and what is not. Although the example given may seem silly, in the real world it can actually be very cruel. Evaluations can be approached many different ways. However, as with most things in life, it is not what we do, but how we do it. If they are cruel, you will not get the results you are looking for.

1st Type of Cruelty: Not doing the evaluation:  You do not dispel the fog

When employers do not do formal evaluations, we hear comments from employees such as:
  • “I don’t get a lot of feedback.  I am unsure of what to do better…  all of us have gotten used to just doing what we think we should do.”
  • “I feel like I am good at what I do, but I don’t know what to do to go to the next level.”
  • “I have not had a formal evaluation but I must be doing ok or they would say something.”

None of these comments demonstrates a situation that you would want in an organization. This lack of clarity is like driving in fog. There is much energy spent worrying and little invested in the actual plan to safely go in the right direction. Progress is slow and there is minimal coordination of planning and improvement between leaders and employees.

What is surprising is how often discussions in the form of evaluations are avoided. Doing these evaluations sooner ensures no surprises and often serves to keep everyone on the same page and communicating honestly.

Further adding to cruelty is that not giving feedback may lead to decreased capability over time. Even if the employee maintains their capability, the environment around them changes and then they find out some time later that they are no longer valuable in the workplace. If this happens frequently enough in an organization, it will find difficulty competing effectively within their industry.

2nd Type of Cruelty: Doing evaluations negatively: A.K.A. Throwing rocks

In these cases, we hear the following:
  • “My boss talks. I listen.”
  • “I just want to get it over with. They just tell me everything I did wrong.”
  • “They scare me. I don’t learn anything and nothing ever seems to change based on them. Maybe they use them to fire people.”

Doing evaluations the wrong way will harm relationships and results. Instead of employees being empowered and clear on the actions they need to take to progress, the relationship is set back. There is no open communication, employees feel judged. Most “A” and “B” players will actually look for an organization that will not throw rocks, but instead will assist them with a clear career path.

What Do Employees Say When Asked?

When we ask employees if they would like some feedback on how they are doing, we rarely hear “no”. If we do, it is typically someone close to retirement that is biding their time and does not want change. Or, it is someone afraid of the answer.

The typical response is “Yes! I would love to get feedback and know that my boss and I are on the same page. I would like to know how I can learn and grow with the company.”


What Do Great Evaluations Look Like?

We find that great evaluations have these elements in common:

  1. The evaluator asks lots of questions and creates an open atmosphere.
  2. The person being evaluated does a lot of talking and self-evaluates.
  3. There is a good balance of focus on strengths and areas in which to improve.
  4. Actions are identified to improve results that are measurable, coachable, behaviors and skills.
  5. The person being evaluated leaves the session feeling empowered and excited.
  6. The focus is on a short and long term career path, i.e. what is possible?
  7. Reasonable time frames are used (e.g. 30 days for attitude corrections and 90 days for changes in skill sets.)

Great evaluations can be a rare commodity. If you are struggling with giving great evaluations and do not feel like the exchange between you and your employees is where it should be or if you want to upgrade your process, contact Candace at 1-800-786-4332 or email her at

For more on how evaluations provide clarity, click here to watch our video.

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