Report cards are due

Jan. 24, 2011
Performance reviews are the “report card” for adults.

By Denise Ciardello and Janice Janssen

Performance reviews. It doesn’t matter if you are the owner, office manager, or employee, performance reviews are a daunting task that most people hate. Think back to when you were a kid and it was time for report cards – remember that pit in your stomach? Performance reviews are the “report card” for adults. The idea behind the review is not merely to scream at an employee, nor is it the time to praise someone undeservedly. The idea is to give an honest assessment of an employee’s past year of service to the company, and to set goals for the coming year. Typically this review is conducted somewhere near the employee’s anniversary date.

Some managers like to walk in the office in the morning and announce to an employee that today is the day for his or her review. The manager feels that the element of surprise will favor his or her side. This is unfortunate for everyone, and it will probably be a waste of time. Consider preparing and allowing the employee to prepare also.
The performance review process should be streamlined and impactful. It is a time for the manager to agree on goals and skills with the employee, and then deliver constructive feedback on the employee’s progress. Since you can't get out of doing an annual performance review, do what you can to make it a useful tool.

The conclusion of the meeting should have the employee feeling acknowledged, appreciated, and valued for the year’s performance, and motivated to focus on new and brighter goals for the coming year. These goals are to ensure success for the employee and company.

Remember that the most important asset you have within your company is your people, your team. Henry Ford once said that if you repossessed all of his factories and burned all of his warehouses to the ground and all that was left was his people, he could rebuild everything that had been lost.

To make your performance reviews as productive and painless as possible, here are some things to consider:

  • Be prepared — Know what you are going to say before you are in front of the employee. Give the employee some tools to be prepared as well. A week before the meeting, hand out a form and ask the employee to complete and bring it to the meeting.
  • Remain positive — Accentuate the good. Praise is a form of leadership that is often overlooked. Be professional and upbeat during the review no matter how it's going; do not argue or make personal attacks. Give specific examples of the employee's impact. It is human nature to become defensive when being criticized.
  • Be truthful — Everyone has areas that need a little work. Point these out and discuss how together you can solve any shortcomings.
  • Listen — This is the time for both sides to talk about what’s going on with the business. Understanding body language is an active part of listening.
  • Consistency — If you use a performance review form for one employee and give that employee a week to prepare for it, do the same for all employees. (Don’t have a form? Contact us for one.)
  • Stay on topic — This is not the time for the employee to gripe about all the other employees.
  • It’s a discussion — Both sides should share, not just you.
  • Be real — Take a moment to share some personal time. Talk about goals, both professionally and personally. Determine if there is a need to help with balancing the two.
  • Ask for ideas — This is a great time to ask in what direction your employee sees the company going. You might be surprised at the ideas that come from asking or listening to others.
  • Be regular — Put it on the books and make it a date long before anyone has the chance to complain that they have never had a review.

The only thing hated more than performance reviews is the dreaded salary review. Combining the two is up to the discretion of the employer. This review is usually conducted following the probationary period, and then annually at a specified time.

As mentioned, all employees need to feel that they are appreciated and acknowledged. To some that may only come in the form of money, either by choice because the employer doesn’t readily give out kudos, or by preference, since money is one of the strongest motivators.

Here are some suggestions for a productive salary review:

  1. Put it in writing — What are you going to write down? Start with the job description, and then move on to all the benefits. Benefits all have a monetary value, so add them up. (If you need a form, contact us.)
  2. Explain overhead vs. production — Although this is often answered with “that’s the cost of owning a business,” it is also the way to a raise.
  3. Bonus plans — If there are any, these are also to be discussed at this meeting.
  4. Are there benefits that you offer that the employee is not taking advantage of? — Mention these and explain the value. A 401K is not too enticing to a 22-year-old, so a little education could go a long way.

Ideally you don’t want the performance and salary reviews to be at the same time because they cover different areas. One is based on the employee’s performance, and the other is based on the company’s performance. However, keeping the two topics separate often proves challenging.

Denise Ciardello and Janice Janssen are respected professionals in the dental consulting industry and cofounders of Global Team Solutions, a practice management consulting firm specializing in team building and team training. They are the authors of the highly acclaimed book “OMG! Office Manager’s Guide.” They can be reached at [email protected].