Sorting the good, the bad and the in between


Over the years I have worked with all types of performance evaluation systems. Most were way too complicated.

And I have worked with many companies that had no performance evaluation system in place. But that doesn’t mean managers weren’t evaluating the employees; they just weren’t telling the employees what they thought of their performance.

Now, if I ask a supervisor to identify the top, average and weak performers in her work unit she can immediately identify the best and worst employees. Everyone else will fall in the middle — the “good enough” employees.

If I ask supervisors to explain why Joe or Jane was in the group of “best” employees rather than with the middle bunch, they will talk about the best employees as the reliable, highly skilled problem solvers.

And that group of employees at the bottom? When I ask for an explanation of why these employees were considered weak, the supervisors would explain that these employees had marginal skills and often didn’t realize they were causing problems. They might be new employees developing their skills, but too often they are the barely productive employees — not great but not so bad that the supervisor wants to go through the hassle of a termination.

One of the biggest challenges supervisors have is defining and explaining the difference between a “good enough” or “great” employee. They know it when they see it, but can they describe it?

Many years ago a group of managers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory put their heads together and came up with the descriptive matrix graphic that accompanies this column. The gentleman who presented this at a workshop I was attending told us that it was the first step in helping the managers think through how to explain the difference between a weak, good enough and great employee.

I hope you find it enjoyable.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910.


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