Using the Five Senses when Evaluating Employee Performance

Carrying out performance appraisals means you first gather data — and not just by crunching productivity numbers. Using the five senses is a key way to capture the less obvious yet strikingly important subtleties in the workplace. Together, your five senses — hearing, touch, taste, sight, and smell — play a key role in your managerial style. Even if one or more of your senses is impaired, your other senses still provide extremely valuable data.

One of the most important ways to gather the kind of information you need to appraise your employees’ performance is to manage by observing their work, wandering around the work areas, and spending time side by side with them.

By intermittently visiting your team, you gather some excellent firsthand performance data. Plus, you’re carrying out several key functions in the realm of performance management (for example, providing coaching, guidance, support, and feedback right at the point when your employees need it most).

Here’s how you can expand each of your senses:

  • Hearing: When you meet with your employees, don’t just listen to what they’re saying. Listen to the speed of their delivery; the length of their sentences; and their vocabulary, pitch, tone, and volume. Try to listen for any other sounds in the department, from disgruntled whispers to possibly malfunctioning equipment.

  • Smell: Most managers don’t enter a meeting with their employees thinking about what they’re going to smell, but that’s exactly what you should do. By tuning into your sense of smell, you may discover alcohol, illegal substances, mold, fumes, and even extreme perfumes, all of which could be tip-offs in terms of employee performance.

  • Touch: Carefully consider what your sense of touch is telling you when you meet with your employees. For example, when you pick up a piece of your employees’ work, ask yourself if it’s heavier or lighter than it should be. If your employee was supposed to provide you with a brief report but he delivers one that immediately feels as heavy as a phonebook, that may raise some questions about his performance, regardless of the contents.

  • Sight: The next time you meet with your employees in their work areas, take a careful look around. Look at their desks, the photos on the walls, the piles on the credenzas, the in-baskets, the junk on the floors, or the half-open drawers. Most managers walk into an employee’s office or workstation, have their meeting, and then leave.

  • Taste: When it comes to evaluating employees, taste is more figurative than the other senses. For example, when you meet with some employees, the discussion may leave a bad taste in your mouth and give you a gut feeling that something is amiss. On the one hand, you can easily ignore these feelings and refocus on the task. But, by doing so, you may be overlooking information that you should be taking into consideration. If you’re getting a bad visceral reaction, acknowledge it and try to figure out what’s behind it.

In each of these ways, the real message is to try to draw all your senses into your interactions with your employees. By combining this data with the broad array of performance data, you’re more likely to generate deeper and more useful information and insights, followed by more accurate and effective performance evaluations.

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