This Old In-house: Performance Reviews That Perform

Rewriting Reviews

by Bri Malaspino

For the past couple of years I have been responsible for evaluating the performance of my company’s in-house design team. I’ve struggled to create a meaningful review out of the documents provided by HR yet for each employee I’ve had to fill out a form that evaluates skills I mostly don’t care about.

For my employees, this hasn’t been much of a problem. My expectations have been clear; they’ve known when they were doing well and when they’ve needed to improve. The trouble has occurred when I’ve needed to prove to HR that an employee has performed above expectations and deserves a promotion, or conversely, someone has performed poorly and some sort of corrective action is required. The items dealt with in our formal review never touched on critical design skills and behaviors. I knew I needed the support that proper documentation would provide and I also knew I was going to have to create it myself.

The first step in developing a creative evaluation document was to explicitly list the job descriptions for each type of creative role in my team – even if that position wasn’t currently filled. This exercise gave me a good idea of the skills and behaviors I cared about and also provided me with an opportunity to explain to the HR department what we do in the design department and what aptitudes and attitudes are most valued.

In redesigning my team performance review I had the assistance of some fellow in-house designers who generously shared their review documents or processes but I based my document on the structure of our company’s HR form. I wanted to make sure my evaluation included the performance criteria that they considered important. In addition, I looked at this form as an opportunity to formalize for my company what skills and habits would be considered to be important contributors to an effective internal design department.

I pinpointed the skills and habits that I thought were important and I filed them into subsections, starting with the subsections HR used on their form: “Job Knowledge,” “Job Administration,” “Communication,” and “Other.”  As I started defining the appropriate skills and habits, my subsections changed to ” Job Knowledge,” “Creative Process,” “Use of Resources,” “Collaboration,” “Communication,” and “Development”. Though I ended up with more subsections, I didn’t actually add much more criteria. Each section now deals with a specific area of skills and each criteria is precise and relevant. For each criteria, an employee will now be scored with one of three options: Exceeds Requirements, Meets Requirements, Requires Improvement or the item will be marked Not Applicable. After designing the layout in InDesign I made a form in Acrobat so that it would be more accessible to the HR department.

This new form may seem like a small improvement, but I know it will help my department become more effective.

Bri has generously offered to make her evaluation form available. Click here to download.

6 thoughts on “This Old In-house: Performance Reviews That Perform

  1. Michelle

    Hey Andy,

    Thanks for sharing the evaluation form! From my last review I walked away scratching my head as far as not completely knowing what was expected from me, although my ratings were excellent. Communication is not my supervisor’s strong point so it’s really difficult to understand what she really expects from us. Running through this evaluation I feel like I would be able to pinpoint certain areas where I can improve on. I’ll be presenting this to my supervisor for the next round. Thanks!

    1. Andy Epstein Post author

      Bri deserves all the credit here. I hope this encourages other in-house designers to share their successful strategies with the greater community.

      Good luck with your supervisor, Michelle.


  2. Michael Guy

    So happy I stopped to look at InHOWse Insights today! After realizing that my design interns have little experience in a professional setting and are not always clear on what is expected of them, I have been putting together an evaluation so we will both be on the same page. Bri’s evaluation is a huge help. Thanks!

  3. Rusty Borkin

    Bri and Andy,

    I think the form you’ve created is great. A key question, though, is who fills it out? The supervisor alone? Is there a self-evaluation? Peers? Usually, the more perspectives the better.

    Also, another point to consider is the review process itself. Is there a meeting to discuss the ratings? Are improvement plans developed as part of the process? Are salary increases tied to the ratings (if so there is an entirely different dynamic going on)? All these have a huge impact on the success of the performance evaluation.

    Companies have different philosophies and approaches to reviews which are good to know before you expect too much or little from them. Most people hate reviews since they focus on judgement, not development. One suggestion is to do them often, say quarterly or after a big project, so there are no big surprises and inappropriate reactions.