Evaluations: They’re not for you!

How do you think your favorite sports team would perform if they only received feedback once or twice per year? Probably not so great. That is why their coaches continuously evaluate performance and provide feedback – constantly. At the end of the year, coaches review the players stats, they see how the player performed overall, whether they improved or not, and they discuss their potential for the next year. The coach uses this annual evaluation to figure out what to do with their players for the next year. You should approach your evaluations in the same manner.

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Seaman Kar Arrington and Chief Petty Officer Dennis Spring work on watch stander qualifications in the galley aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Dallas Feb. 14, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Written by Cmdr. Andrew Campen and Lt. Cmdr. Mike Teixeira.

We regularly hear complaints about the officer and enlisted evaluation systems – “it takes too long,” “they are inflated,” “they are not accurate,” etc. I believe those complaints stem from a widespread misunderstanding of the other primary purpose of the evaluation system.

How do you think your favorite sports team would perform if they only received feedback once or twice per year? Probably not so great. That is why their coaches continuously evaluate performance and provide feedback – constantly. At the end of the year, coaches review the players stats, they see how the player performed overall, whether they improved or not, and they discuss their potential for the next year. The coach uses this annual evaluation to figure out what to do with their players for the next year. You should approach your evaluations in the same manner.

Evaluations provide a summary of the member’s performance so that the organization can make decisions about what to do with the member (promote, transfer, terminate). The Officer Evaluation Report and Enlisted Evaluation Report should not be the sole tool used to provide feedback to the member; you should be doing that far more frequently by coaching and providing regular feedback to them.

Enlisted Accessions, Evaluations and Advancements and Officer Accessions, Evaluations and Promotions manuals clearly state the purpose of the evaluation system, and they both say the same thing (albeit in different orders). The purpose is to:

• Set a standard,
• Inform people of the standard,
• Capture an assessment of the members performance against those standards,
• Capture this information so the organization can make personnel management decisions, and
• It can provide a means of feedback to the member on how they are measuring up to those standards.

As described in the enlisted and officer evaluation manuals, the annual evaluation is the report card that people at OPM and EPM use to make personnel decisions. With this knowledge, you need to figure out and convey the following:

• What does the organization need to know about this member?
• How will this information affect the member’s future in the organization, and is that your true intent?

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Husler, a machinery technician at Coast Guard Station Washington, D.C., evaluates a crewmember at Station Washington during a judgmental pistol course in the station's training room, Feb. 8, 2011. The course is designed to test the member's ability to react in a hostile environment where they make the determination of whether or not they should fire their weapon in each respective training scenario. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandyn Hill.

From a more frequent coaching and feedback standpoint, you need to ask yourself what the member needs from you, what feedback they need to be successful, and what course corrections are necessary so they can get good marks on their evaluation. This coaching and feedback needs to occur just like on the sports field – constantly. Furthermore, if you are the “subordinate,” you are responsible for getting adequate feedback. You are responsible for managing your performance and obtaining sufficient performance feedback from your supervisor so you can be successful.

Most of us use evaluations as our primary feedback mechanism to our subordinates, but because we only do evaluations once or twice per year, our subordinates get feedback far too infrequently. You should approach developing your team the same way a sports coach does. You analyze performance daily and weekly, and provide immediate feedback to improve those behaviors that are intended to result in positive future performance. As shown in the sports team analogy above, the annual evaluation does not do this.

You must understand the evaluation is for the organization, as well as for the member. If you are using evaluations as the only tool to provide feedback to your subordinates on their performance, you are using the wrong tool and hurting the member. You must provide performance feedback far more regularly and candidly than the EER or OER allow. You owe it to your people to understand the whole purpose of our evaluation system, use the tools we are provided for their intended purpose, and not use them as a crutch to stumble through something you find uncomfortable…giving feedback.

There are tools out there to help you with this. I highly encourage you to listen to a podcast called “Manager Tools.”

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