As a Laboratory Manager, my responsibilities include the CLIA required annual employee competency and our organization’s Human Resources required annual performance evaluation.

As laboratorians, we are aware that there is a significant difference between competency and performance.  CLIA makes certain that we are.  I have had the pleasure to attend several presentations on the competency assessment. But I have not seen anyone offer their suggestions on the dreaded PERFORMANCE EVALUATION.

The evaluation criteria set forth by my organization has a numeric grading system. The grading structure runs from zero (0) to five (5).

(0) Unsatisfactory – Performance which is consistently below standards.
(1) Does Not Meet Standards – Performance is less than expected
(2) Meets Minimum Standards – Performance meets minimum standards but does not consistently meet expected performance levels. For New Staff: Progress in learning the job is steady & meets current expectations, but improvement is needed due to a short time in the position.
(3) Skilled – Performance which is fully acceptable
(4) Exceeds Performance Standards – Performance which exceeds standards and is noticeably better than the level of full performance.
(5) Exceptional – Performance which is consistently and significantly beyond established standards

With each of my new employees’ 6-month evaluations, I focus on the two (2) and three (3) scores, because this is where the new employee will typically fall. Many are not used to receiving grades this low.  I often hear, “I always got 4’s and 5’s at my last job.”  And I am sure that is true.  But to be fair, when an employee has only been with an organization for a few months, and the first several weeks were in orientation and training, it would be difficult to believe that this employee is operating beyond the level of skilled.

I have been very fortunate that most of my employees rise to mostly fours (4’s) by the time they are at the 2 year anniversary. In the course of many years of management, I have had the pleasure of working with a few people who routinely grade in the five (5) range.  These individuals are truly exceptional, handle everything that is thrown at them with grace and dignity, and often before it is actually thrown.  They are the super-stars. And every manager wants a team of super-stars.

But what about the employee who routinely grades threes (3’s) with just a few fours (4’s)?  Often, this is the person who comes to work every day, performs their expected tasks efficiently, and the end of the day cleans up and goes home.  This employee is skilled at the job.  This employee reports to work on time and leaves on time.  This employee makes very few mistakes, if any. This employee is a valuable member of the lab team.  But when evaluation time comes along, this is often the employee who is also the most vocal about getting a “bad” performance evaluation.

This employee will argue for a higher rating because mistakes are not made and scheduled hours are worked. This employee will argue about the value brought to the team.  But these are stated job requirements, not exceptional performance.

I am not in favor of giving out high evaluation marks just to keep employees happy and pad the statistics.  I favor acknowledging a team member who is skilled.  I favor a team of technologists who perform to an acceptable level consistently and without question.  I favor a team who can produce quality laboratory testing every day, for every patient. And if that means they rate at three (3) and four (4), then so be it.

Trophies and participation ribbons should not be given out to employees who show up and do their job.  This is not little league.  It’s the real world.  The paycheck is issued for that purpose.

This doesn’t make this employee less valuable.  Quality work translates to good laboratory medicine and solid patient care.  It simply means they are not exceptional. Their performance is acceptable, and that is okay.