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How to measure an employee’s ‘intangible’ traits

by on
in Small Business Tax Deduction Strategies

As part of the performance-review process, supervisors are typically called upon to evaluate employees on the basis of intangible factors, such as cooperativeness, dependability and judgment. The higher up the organizational chart, the more important those traits become.

Yet most supervisors find intangibles the most difficult factors to evaluate, probably because they seem so personal.

Rather than assessing concrete behavior, you may feel as though you are evaluating someone’s personality or human merit. While intangible factors may seem personal, they’re important to maintaining effective working relationships and getting the job done. 

Match traits to the job

One key to assessing an employee’s intangibles is to ask yourself which traits are vital for each job. Cooperativeness may be critical for a staffer working on a team, but not for a security guard working the night shift. Initiative would be key for a product development manager, but less so for a payroll clerk.

Before performing an employee’s review, critically review the intangible factors included in the person’s performance standards. You should be able to comfortably answer the question: “Why is this employee rated on this measure?”

Remember, every performance measure should be rooted in a concrete operational goal.

Match traits to behavior

You can’t help being subjective when evaluating intangible factors. But you can avoid bias by focusing on concrete examples of instances in which the employee displayed positive or negative behavior regarding a particular trait.

Keep good documentation during the year, preferably by keeping an ongoing, simple performance log for each employee. It should track specific examples of the person’s positive and negative performance and behavior. Include notes on intangibles as you go.

When it’s time to discuss intangibles during feedback or formal review, do your best to tie those traits to tangible examples of workplace wins and losses.

For example, you might say, “I was pleased by your efforts to solve that customer’s problem last week. You defined the problem, considered possible causes, brought together a team and solved the issue quickly. Your actions demonstrated initiative and sound judgment; you didn’t try to do it all yourself. You took responsibility for solving the problem, but you knew when to ask for help.”

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