Evaluating Employee's Performance

How Do I Evaluate an Employee's Performance?

You need to create a performance plan for a new position or get a "snap shot" of a current employee's performance.


As a supervisor, it is most important to establish performance requirements for each employee, and manage employee performance. Performance appraisal ratings are very important to the career of a Federal civil service employee. They are used in a variety of critically important ways. For example, performance ratings have an impact during a reduction-in-force (RIF). A performance rating is also a factor in making promotion selections and in determining who will receive a performance award. A performance rating provides a basis for taking adverse action because of poor performance, which can mean a reduction in grade or even removal from Federal service. In short, the performance rating that you give an employee can have a major impact on the employee's career. Further, employees have a right to know how they are performing. Consequently, establishing performance requirements, and appraising employee performance is a job that must be taken seriously. See specific guidance under Performance Management.

Where Do I Start?

Performance requirements must be stated in a performance plan tailored to each employee's position and work assignments. Since all employees are required by Government-wide regulation to have a performance plan, plans may already exist for the positions in your organization. However, even if plans do exist, they need to be reviewed and reissued every year even if no changes are necessary.

If there is no previously established plan, work with your human resources management specialist who can help you develop a plan, often by drawing on existing performance plans for similar positions elsewhere in the organization.

Since this document is meant to clarify for both you and the employee the work to be accomplished for the year, obtain as much input from the employee as possible. Greater employee input leads to greater employee "buy in" of the goals and tasks to be accomplished. Some organizations have specific or suggested procedures contained in policy issuances or collective bargaining unit agreements that provide guidance on obtaining employee input. Check with your SHRO to see if any exist for your organization.

Rules and Flexibilities:

Government-wide requirements and USDA policy provide that employees should be rated on an annual basis. The results of the appraisal process are to be used as a basis for training, rewarding, reassigning, promoting, reducing in grade, retaining, or removing employees. Employees must perform their duties under established performance elements and standards for a minimum period of time before they may be evaluated. USDA agencies have some flexibility to set this minimum time, but under no circumstances can it be less than 60 days. Time frames can also be negotiated and included in the collective bargaining unit agreement. The standard time frame in FFAS agencies is generally 90 days but check with your SHRO to see what the minimum time is for your agency in your location Also see specific guidance under Performance Management.

Basic Steps:
  • Identify the major responsibilities of the position known as performance elements. (See "Glossary"). Generally, two to five performance elements are appropriate. Some agencies have generic and/or required elements for you to use or adapt.
  • Determine which performance elements are so important that unacceptable performance in one of those elements would constitute overall unacceptable performance by the employee. Those elements are considered "critical." Some critical elements may be required. For example, the Department may require that a diversity element is required for all SES and management and supervisory employees. Check with your SHRO for any requirements in your organization.
  • Develop or review existing performance requirements (known as performance standards) for each element. These describe how well an employee must accomplish each performance element in terms of quality, quantity, manner of performance and timeliness. In USDA, for non-SES employees, agencies are authorized to have performance standards at either five or two rating levels. For agencies using five rating levels, the standards are generic and cannot be changed. However, a manager may supplement them with more specific standards. Agencies using two rating levels have developed generic standards tailored to their own unique appraisal systems. Some of these latter agencies allow for supplemental standards. Consult with your SHRO to see which system your agency uses.
  • Communicate final performance elements and standards (performance plans) to each employee. Ensure that you and your employee understand what is expected and the procedures of the appraisal process. The plan must be signed (maybe electronic in some agencies) by both the manager and employee, even if it has not changed from the last appraisal cycle. In most agencies, plans also must be approved by the second-level supervisor.
  • Plans should be provided to employees within 30 days of the beginning of the appraisal period, or within 30 days after transferring into a new position.
  • Conduct progress reviews at least once during the appraisal cycle (mid-year) and document the meeting on the appraisal form. Some organizations require more than one progress review.
  • At the end of the appraisal cycle, evaluate (rate) each employee by using the established standards to assess how well each element has been performed. Ratings below "fully successful" (or "meets or exceeds expectations" in two-level systems) always must be justified individually.
  • Provide the completed appraisals for review and approval by the appropriate reviewing official(s) (normally one's second line supervisor). Some agencies with two-level systems require only ratings below the "meets/exceeds expectation" to be reviewed. When required, the final rating cannot be presented or discussed with the employee until it is reviewed, approved, and signed by the appropriate higher level management official(s).
  • Perform additional reviews throughout the year to facilitate communication with your employee. At any time during the appraisal period when performance on any critical element falls below "fully successful" or "meets/exceeds expectations", you should discuss the performance with the employee and take the necessary steps to provide assistance. However, at any time an employee's performance is determined to be "unacceptable" or "below meets or exceeds expectations" in one or more critical elements, special requirements exist and assistance in improving that performance must be provided. In this situation, refer to Section, "How Do I Deal With An Employee's Unacceptable Performance?" and consult with your SHRO.
Forms Needed:

Performance elements and standards are recorded on standardized performance appraisal forms or in i*CAMS.

Time Frames:

Most agencies have an October 1 to September 30 appraisal cycle. New performance plans should be developed and communicated to employees within 30 days of the beginning of a cycle. Each employee should receive at least one mid-year review and receive a final appraisal within 30 days after the end of the cycle. Check with your SHRO to find out your organization's time frame for mid-year reviews.

Good Management Practices:
  • Maintain an ongoing file documenting an employee's work throughout the year.
  • Give employees regular and frequent feedback.
  • While managers are only required to give employees progress reviews once a year and conduct one mid-point progress review, quarterly mid-point reviews are recommended.
  • When developing supplemental (additional, more specific) performance standards, to the extent possible, ensure they are measurable and address performance instead of conduct.
  • Modify the performance plan whenever work requirements warrant. Remember, before you can evaluate your employee, the employee must have performed under the performance plan for a minimum period of time (usually 90 days).
  • Identify performance elements
  • Develop or supplement existing measurable performance standards
  • Communicate elements and standards to employee
  • Conduct progress reviews during the appraisal cycle
  • Evaluate employee at end of cycle
  • Present and discuss appraisal with employee
  • SES performance standards are pending final review and approval.)
  • In addition to the performance elements that you develop, all SES employees and employees in comparable positions are required to have a "diversity critical element" in their plans.
  • SES performance appraisals must be reviewed by a "Performance Review Board," (See "Glossary") comprised of agency or Department officials, before ratings are finalized.
  • Every third year, career SES employees are also subject to a process known as "recertification," whereby performance over the preceding three years is evaluated and a decision is made to retain or separate the employee from the SES. Recertification is handled at the same time the annual performance rating is given using criteria prescribed by OPM (These criteria are described in a Department-wide recertification plan made available to supervisors of SES employees near the end of the rating cycle in recertification years.)