Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Evaluating Work–You Have To Consider More Than The Numbers

Unless a job involves producing widgets on a conveyor belt or is considered successful based solely on numbers, supervisors and managers have to go past how many tasks someone is doing, if they want to evaluate work accurately. Only by being aware of the true nature of  the work being done can employees be fairly and accurately evaluated and commended, coached for improvement or corrected.

It's easy to count bottles of beer on the wall or conveyor belt.Quantity is not the only measurement of effort or value. Managers who are not fully aware of the complexity of the work being done by employees or not aware of their work habits, can be taken-in by flat comparisons. For example, at a staff meeting Kevin says he is “hammered with work” and has twenty-five project files, five of which are due tomorrow. He says they have been a hassle from day one and he may have to work late to finish them on time. Lynn reports on her four projects that are going smoothly and will be finished ahead of time. She is smiling and chats later about taking the next day off to have a long weekend. Who has the most work and who deserves the most positive recognition?

The only way for a supervisor or manager to respond accurately is to know the nature of the projects, the work habits of the employees and any other facts that are pertinent to the work. There are several explanations for disparity in the reports by Kevin and Lynn.

  • Lynn dumped some of her work onto Kevin who, being a martyr, let it happen.
  • They both had the same amount of work several weeks ago, but Kevin procrastinated on his and let the projects pile up. Lynn has worked effectively all along and has kept her work current.
  • Kevin has more tasks, but they are dinky little projects that should take him less than a half hour each to do, while Lynn is working on four very complex projects that involve many crucial details, plans, reports, meetings and outcomes.
  • Kevin exaggerates to make himself seem overworked. Lynn exaggerates to make herself seem serenely efficient. 
  • Work that didn’t seem complex when it was assigned to Kevin has had unexpected setbacks, through no fault of his, while Lynn’s work turned out to be much less time consuming than expected.
  • There has been a disparity in assigning work and Kevin is slowly burning out while Lynn is having a good time.
  • Kevin is not very competent at his work and makes it seem difficult but Lynn is highly competent and makes it seem easy.

There are probably other options, but those are the main ones. (If you were going to suggest that Lynn has a relationship with the manager, I’m ignoring you!) The issue for the supervisor or manager is this: Kevin and Lynn may both be working effectively and efficiently, neither may be, or one may be but not the other. That is why it is so crucial that those ultimately responsible for work are continually aware of what is being done and how effectively it is being accomplished.  Sadly, that sometimes doesn’t happen unless there is an hourly report on widget production being delivered to the boss–and your work isn’t like that.

 If you are a manager or supervisor: Consider your work area or your assignment, shift, sector, unit or group and ask yourself:

  • How much work is each employee dealing with now and how much in the last month? Six months? Year?
  • What has been the complexity of the work, the significance of it, the number of details involved? 
  • What has been the general habit of each employee about completing it? Is it often late, always on time, often in need of correction, always exemplary?
  • Are there some employees who are not only doing work you can tabulate but who volunteer to do other things that need to be done? Are there some who never do the tasks that add value to the organization?
  • Are you evaluating contributions accurately and responding to work needs fairly? Is there a squeaky wheel who gets an inequitable amount of your time? Are there some who rarely communicate but who might appreciate your interest and conversation?
  • Is the lengthy task list of some the result of poor decisions or time management on their part?
  • Are some working on much more complex issues than others? Is that being acknowledged and evaluated appropriately?
  • Does someone deserve to be commended for the one big task he or she accomplished recently while another should be corrected for failing to do many small tasks in a timely manner? Or vice versa?
  • Does work need to be realigned or would it be unfair to require an efficient worker to do more work to relieve an inefficient one?
  • Is work going fine, but the individuals involved just have different ways of talking about it? Would you prefer they find other ways to talk about it?

Make it your priority to know everything there is to know about the work of your group–then to respond appropriately. You not only will help the individuals involved, you will build the team and establish yourself as a manager or supervisor who knows what is going on–a rarity in many workplaces!

If you are an employee who is frustrated by what seems to be an inequity about work: Before you assume that is the case, based solely on the number of tasks you have, compared to someone else, consider the other issues that might be involved. Are you sure there is a problem that needs to be remedied? Or, could there be some other explanation?

If you genuinely think you are trying to do more than you can reasonably be expected to accomplish and there are others who could help, develop your reasoning and ask your supervisor or manager for assistance. At least maybe you can negotiate some extra time for a few things. Or, you may find he or she simply wasn’t fully aware of the situation. If your manager doesn’t agree with your assessment, try to see the other perspective. Save your documentation, keep working and try again in a week or two or more, when you have done as much as you can do during that time.

The bottom line: When work is being discussed, don’t let overworked be confused with inefficient, ineffective or exaggerated. Don’t confuse quantity of tasks with complexity or significance. If you are responsible for the work of others, make sure work is correctly and fairly distributed, that you know how it is being done, that you intervene when needed to ensure it is done correctly and on time, and that you stay part of it until it is completed successfully.

April 17th, 2010 Posted by | Supervision and Management | 7 comments


  1. Hello Tina! It was great to see you at the investiture last week. You looked great. Thanks for taking the time to talk, when I could tell you were mobbed with your former cohorts. I had no idea you had this website, just that you were consulting and speaking. This is a find for me, and I’ve spent the weekend sending links to people, especially to sergeants, lieutenants and captains who can use so much of it…not that I can’t!

    If I may comment on this…the issue of being fooled by numbers applies so much in police work, as you know. Taking a dope dealer and two or three users off the streets is more significant and time consuming that ten traffic stops, but I have heard of sergeants who will tell an officer that he wasted too much time and his traffic stats are too low and turn around and tell the officer who has ten traffic stops but has never made a quality arrest that he’s doing a great job. Also, I would rather an officer spend thirty extra minutes chatting with someone who has been in an upsetting traffic accident than for them to “get back in service” and do nothing constructive with those thirty minutes.

    Statistics are important, especially when we go to city council for budget, but judgment is important too. I fear that far too many sergeants and lieutenants take the easy way out and look only at numbers and not at quality.

    That’s MY soapbox moment for the day. Once again, it was wonderful to see you and I am so glad to learn of your post-career success after your successful career.

    Comment by R.D. | April 18, 2010

  2. Tina says: Thank you so much for reading and commenting, R.D.! It was wonderful to see you as well! And I’m glad you mentioned here about the police issue. I recall some officers who would come in talking about how busy they had been all day while others who were contributing more significantly never said anything. It’s crucial for sergeants to really know what is happening and how well the complete picture of good work is being accomplished. MY soapbox!! Thanks again, and please check in every few days!

    Comment by TLR | April 19, 2010

  3. Some people are experts at sounding like the hardest working person in the group, and way too often the supervisor believes them! I tell the whiner if he got to work on time and didn’t take so many breaks, maybe he’d be caught up like I am. What usually happens is they don’t get given any more work until they catch up, so the rest of us are actually punished for getting work done faster. It’s just like you said, supervisors sometimes don’t have a clue what is going on at work, even though they are ten feet away.

    Comment by wiseacre | April 19, 2010

  4. I just finished reading your article about the @ sign. Very interesting. This one is good too. I like your mix of topics.

    Comment by Geek1426 | April 19, 2010

  5. Hello Tina, I like your site!

    Comment by P.L.S. | April 19, 2010

  6. First, this is a good reminder for managers. Also, I was told you wrote an article about making excuses for employees. I can’t find it and wondered if you could send me the link. Thanks!

    Comment by CactusBill | April 20, 2010

  7. Thanks to everyone for their comments! I’ve responded to all of you personally.

    CactusBill, the article was this one:

    Comment by TLR | April 23, 2010

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