Performance Evaluations

Recruiting and retaining staff in the public sector is a challenge unto itself; however, one of the best tools in the retention process for local government agencies is the effective use of the performance evaluation.  Local government agencies do not offer employees bonuses, and the perks of the jobs are often limited because every aspect of public service needs to be viewed through a lens of transparency and integrity.  Therefore, the effective use of the performance evaluation as a tool to coach, mentor, and provide formal feedback to your staff is a critical component in the public sector managers toolbox for employee engagement.

Unfortunately, within many organizations, the performance evaluation has become an exercise in “checking the box” and viewed as an administrative function.  Performance evaluations are seen as the necessary annual conversation where we tell employee that they are doing a “good job” and to “keep up the good work.”  The performance evaluation is much more than a necessary administrative burden to be completed semi-annually or once a year. 

Conversely, leveraging the power of the performance evaluation to communicate, commend, and motivate staff on areas well done is one critical component to employee engagement.

In addition, this conversation and feedback loop allows the manager to coach, train, and mentor staff on areas of opportunity for growth to reach their potential as public sector employees.

This often overlooked but powerful tool can serve many purposes. It is the keystone to conversations that have occurred throughout the rating period–both positive and negative–and memorializes important projects, milestones, or deliverables that can be used as examples of success for the employee when advancing through a public sector career.  This tool can also be used to challenge and provide expectations for areas where the employee needs to continue to grow to be successful in local government.  This feedback does not mean that the employee failed at any specific task or function, it merely steers him in the direction of what success looks like within the organization and acknowledges his potential to get there.

Let’s take a deeper look at how the performance evaluation can be broken down and used as an effective management tool to motivate staff members and memorialize critical feedback so that they can continue to grow as productive members of your public service team.

Work Products and Services

Take the opportunity to evaluate the employee on aspects of her position that provide specific deliverables or measurement metrics for the programs for which she is responsible.  This may include praising the employee for stellar performance, and may also open the door for those more difficult conversations that are more critical in nature, not necessarily disciplinary, but to set the expectations for the upcoming rating period to ensure the employee meets or exceeds the expectations for the next rating period and reaches her potential. Ultimately, we are training our replacements and the performance evaluation is an essential tool for us to prepare our bench for the succession planning of the organization.

Work Behaviors

This is where we get to focus on how the employee shows up in the workplace. This element is often overlooked because we expect the employee to show up and be “professional and courteous” to customers–whether internal or external.  There is so much more to this rating criteria. How does the staff member communicate in both written and oral communications?

If the employee is doing well, we need to say that. Not just make them assume that “no news is good news.”

In addition, this is the opportunity to tell an employee how well she functions on individual projects, in teamwork settings, and how she engages with the organization, both up and down the chain of command.  The biggest pitfall with performance evaluations is that assumptions are made.  "Commentless" performance evaluations are the worst! Take the opportunity to tell the employee what she is doing well and where she needs to focus on improving. Without intentional conversations and feedback, the employee cannot gauge whether she is doing a good job, and it is our responsibility as a supervisor and manager to tell the employee.  It may be obvious but leaving the employee to make assumptions is not how to operate as an effective manager.


This is the most critical area of the performance evaluation: where we set the expectation for the staff member to concentrate on opportunities for continued growth and advancement.  This can be in areas of formal education or training specific to his area of expertise or in areas he should consider improving to round out his skillsets as a public sector employee. As a public sector employee, we need to encourage continuous learning.  Most often, public sector agencies lag behind private sector agencies in several areas, and we can bridge that gap by encouraging employees to advance their processional education and experience.  This can be through public-private partnerships, professional development opportunities, or encouragement for formal education that the employee can incorporate within the workforce environment.  The possibilities are endless, if we as the managers continue to encourage and support the staff members.

How are you using the performance evaluation? As an administrative tool to check a box or to motivate staff members to reach their potential and round themselves out as they reach milestones within their professional careers? The performance evaluation is an effective and efficient management tool that is one of the only ways that we can help develop our public sector employees. Without these critical conversations throughout the rating period, culminating in the performance evaluation, public sector employees have no record of the service that they are providing to their communities.  Much of what we do as public servants is fueled by intrinsic motivation, but the feedback from an invested supervisor or manager keeps the staff member’s cup full and motivates her to keep hustling and grinding every day throughout the year to provide the best level of public service possible to the constituents of our communities.



Listen to Voices in Local Government EP16 Authentic Employee Engagement and subscribe on Apple or where ever you get your podcasts for more episodes:

EP 21 Maximizing Impact for Early Career Professionals and the Organizations that Hire Them

EP23 How to Get Your First Job in Local Government

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