I am sitting here at my desk, contemplating the previous twelve months as I begin to prepare for upcoming staff evaluations. Despite feeling pretty good about things in the last few months, I now realize that it is mostly from lowered expectations; not necessarily from better staff performance. Clearly, a Dilbert(tm) moment occurring here.
Annual evaluations are tough as there is a natural human tendency to put more emphasis and recall more details from recent events. However, to be fair to the employee, it is important to take the entire period into account and mention their improved performance where appropriate. I guess it is a lot like the Oscars, where movies released closer to the voting tend to get more attention than movies released earlier in the year. I therefore dub this "the Oscar effect".
Where this has a more profound effect is where an employee has had a pretty good year, but the last month or so has not been that great. There is definitely a risk of lowering their overall evaluation although they performed well for 9 - 10 months. You have to take it all into account and also ask, "Is this a temporary thing? Or is it a sign of change in this person?".
A bit tough if you ask me. Another thing that makes evaluations turn into morale dampeners for the person writing the evaluation is that most review formats focus on improvement and advancement. This forces the reviewer to concentrate their efforts on finding errors that need improvement, rather than on the more positive aspects of the employee's performance over the year.
This is why the process of regular feedback to staff is so important. They should not be hearing of a problem for the first time in their annual evaluation (unless it happened right at the time of review). This goes for praise as well as "suggestions for improvement".
Now that I have sufficiently talked myself out of starting on these at this moment, I will leave you with the final thought; a quote from a one of my favorite personalities.
The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.- Billy Joel