Every leader loves progress, and driving environment, program, event, or even leadership evolution is part of of the progress loop. Great leaders practice the art of evaluation and evolution. Individually, they are equally important, but without their counterpart, each is purposeless.

Some definitions based on my personal use: Evaluation is the systematic process of analyzing against a standard of expectation. By definition alone, effective evaluate is far from accidental. But evaluation is nearly worthless without evolution. Evolution is the process of change toward the standard of expectation.

If you want to be effective at both evaluation and evolution, make sure you:

1. Establish a clear win.

For every event, environment, or role, great leaders must establish a standard of expectation. Think of it as your stated goal. At the most fundamental level, any evaluation without a clear standard of expectation is minimally effective. This is why random criticism doesn’t necessarily provide significant learning.

Evaluation in and of itself indicates expectation. The evaluation process considers gaps between what was expected and what occurred. Therefore, the first step in any effective evaluation system is to clearly define the standard of expectation from which to evaluate.

2. Create a formal format to focus evaluations.

My experience has shown the most effective form of evaluation is varied in responders, but focused in approach. A formal feedback form allows a leader to ask targeted questions, providing for specific feedback. Without a formal feedback form, a leader will be forced to either interpret all evaluations in light of the respondent’s knowledge or limit feedback only to those who have a complete understanding of the expectations. While this is possible, it makes the feedback loop much more complicated and less effective.

To allow for maximum participation and consistency in evaluation, leaders must have a formal feedback form or mechanism where the expectation/goal is made clear and specific questions drive responders to provide targeted feedback.

3. Hold evaluation conversations quickly.

This should be obvious, but I learned this lesson the hard way a few too many times. Feedback is most fresh immediately following an event or environment, so it is always best to host evaluation conversations as soon as possible.

The best way to ensure this happens is by making it a part of the planning system. When planning any event or environment, pre-schedule the evaluation meeting and invite all relevant evaluators to attend in advance. As the leader, allow for unfiltered debate and fight the urge to defend yourself or your event. Just listen, take notes, and ask clarifying questions. If you have done your job with the feedback mechanism, then the critiques should prove very helpful.

One side note: It is natural for leaders to only evaluate and focus on what went wrong, but effective leaders evaluate both success and failure. In fact, leaders need to intentionally include questions about success as part of the feedback mechanism to promote a healthy evaluation on both sides. You can’t replicate what went well if you don’t know why it went well.

4. Allow for evolution.

Great leaders don’t just get feedback; they listen and evolve the next execution based on the evaluation. Many innovations are birthed from healthy evaluations. The best way to shut down the evaluation process is to ignore the feedback provided. Take note of what you change and allow it to be a part of the next cycle of evaluation. Personally, I like to point out specifically what evolved to my responders so they feel intimately connected and valued in the process.

Lastly, it is very easy to become hypercritical when evaluation becomes an organizational value, but remembering to focus on success and failure allows a team to recreate what worked and evolve what didn’t. Great leaders believe that everything can be made better. Systematic evaluation identifies opportunities for improvement. Evolution drives innovation for improvement.

How have you seen the evaluation and evolution process work best?

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