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How to Give a Killer Evaluation

How to Give a Killer Evaluation
Meeting Room

Ever gone into a performance review, had to deliver a speech or make a sales pitch and become more concerned about what the reviewer was going to say or write than what was in the presentation? It can be like going to the dentist for a root canal. This is a tough area, but it can be even more difficult for whoever is doing the evaluation.

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A badly done evaluation can cause the following undesirable outcomes:

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  • the person quits, leaves, walks out or throws coffee in your face.
  • the review becomes an demotivator for future presentations.
  • a friend becomes an enemy. An evaluation reflects on the evaluator as much as it does the person who is receiving it.

A good or great evaluation should do the following:

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  • inspire the person receiving it to new heights.
  • give the recipient specific information that can be used constructively.
  • encourage the person to seek additional input and evaluation.
  • maintain the person’s respect and build your relationship based on trust.

The “sandwich technique” is a simple strategy widely used in Toastmasters International, the world’s leading organization dedicated to helping people improve their communication and leadership skills. It can be used to give a killer evaluation that will leave the recipient in a positive state. The technique simply involves starting the evaluation by mentioning some positive aspects, followed by a couple of specific suggestions for improvement and ending with some positive comments. Better yet, end it with an positive overall impression. For example, “Betty, you had a great smile and engaged the audience well. People connected with you. I noticed though that you were taking too much time going into the discussion about product features, rather then the benefits they would be getting. But they got a lot from the customer examples you gave and the presentation didn’t get bogged down and run too long. Your passion came through great. Good luck on the closing session tomorrow.”

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As an evaluator, here are some tips that work well with evaluations:

  • Know the objectives of the performance, whether it is a speech, sales presentation or job review.
  • Don’t be a critic. This isn’t a movie. This is part of a process of building up team members. Nor is it about passing or failing – leave that in school. Act like a coach, not like a judge.
  • It is not about you, it is about the person receiving the feedback. Sometimes, especially when evaluations are not done one on one, the evaluator can lose sight of the presenter and take tangents. Going off on an inspirational, preachy rant is not going to be as helpful as giving the presenter or team member specific constructive feedback.
  • Keep it simple. Figure out which areas to emphasize and which to leave out. The guts of the most evaluations can be broken into three areas: a) content, b) organization, c) delivery. For an after dinner speech, during drinks, content usually doesn’t matter since people just want to be entertained. Not true for a technical presentation. Organization becomes critical where time constraints are tight.
  • Prioritize and comment only on a couple main points. Like the farmer who has a truckload of feed for when the cows come home at night. If only one shows up, don’t give her the whole load!
  • Create a simple evaluation form. A blank sheet of paper works well in a pinch. A single sheet of notes broken into parts with the top third being some positive specific comments, the middle third being one or two specific suggestions for improvement and the bottom third for overall positive impression and maybe a closing comment. This can help focus the discussion and also can be something the person can take away from the review for later consideration. It does not need to be like those multi-point checkbox things they use for government inspections.
  • Do not give a “whitewash” evaluation. Avoiding candor hurts more than it helps. Being honest and direct adds value. If the presentation is a bomb or if you are going to fire the person, it does not help either party to give a falsely positive evaluation. There can still be positive aspects but if the overall outcome was below par, don’t hide that fact.
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you need a forum, an easy one is one of the local Toastmasters clubs. There are also courses available. An killer evaluation should not take a long time. Three to five minutes is enough for an evaluation of a stage performance and should be given as soon as possible after the performance ends. It should not come after things have been forgotten. For a sales presentation, it often becomes a little more involved depending on the particular circumstances. It can be done in a quick 5 to 10 minute session, or over a long lunch if the sale did not close after months of work on it. Job performance reviews should be done in a pre-determined amount of time that you stick with whether it be 15 minutes, an hour or whatever. The evaluation component should be a certain pre-determined percentage of if it. The remainder used for setting performance targets, etc.

If you are not sure how well you are doing in your evaluations, get an evaluator to evaluate your evaluation. Then ask yourself, would you want to go through that again? If you are consistently receiving bad evaluations from someone, print out this article, highlight the relevant portions and send it to the offender with a polite indication you are giving feedback because you care about the process. We would love to receive an evaluation on our evaluation article! Please post comments and share your experiences giving and receiving evaluations (the good, the bad and the ugly).

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: Happy About® Not flushing Away Your Innovation Dollars now available.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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