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Effective performance reviews ... Betty gets ugly, Part 2

Feb. 9, 2012
By Richard TrainIn Part 1 of this article, we discussed how important it is to communicate and document all important employee/employer interactions; therefore, when a situation arises, you are prepared. Remember, the focus should always be to improve a situation rather than go to battle with anyone on your team. This is exactly what I told Betty, the doctor’s wife and practice manager, when she expressed her dislike of the employee performance review process.In fact, if you have done all the proper communication/documentation, it will be a rare day that there should EVER be a confrontation. Even if you find yourself needing to let someone go due to any performance issue(s), you shouldn’t even need to raise your voice – regardless of what the employee does. It really doesn’t matter what they did; when you stay in control of your emotions, you will be in control of the situation.Here is an excellent case in point.One of my favorite mentors was a sales manager who had a very simple but effective method of correction that he called the “velvet hammer.” (We’ll call him Don for the purpose of this article.) Don used to say, “If you tell someone exactly what you expect of them and they do not perform, it should not be a surprise to anyone, least of all the employee. Raising your voice is a waste of your time and energy.” He’d also say, “The main trick is to keep them from trying to BS their way out of it!” Remember that he managed a large team of top-notch salespeople who could “read people” well, so Don’s BS meter was finely tuned.Don believed in a philosophy that I adopted and fervently follow to this day. It is simply that there are two ways to motivate people to respect you: love and fear. No, I am not referring to romantic love, but a true appreciation of your abilities as a manager, and the sense that you care about their success and professional growth at least as much as your own.If employees respect you out of fear, they will often try to get away with things any chance they get. If they respect you out of love, they are not only eager to succeed, but also to please you. Personally, I’d rather be loved than feared, and that management style has served me well over the years.Let’s turn that thought process toward Betty’s dilemma.When I shared this philosophy with her, Betty asked me a common question. “If we are all getting along so well and then I have to correct someone’s behavior, how will they take me seriously as a boss?”My answer was that any good relationship should include the ability to speak directly and honestly to each other. There should also never be sudden and drastic changes in corrective communication. If the correction is done when anything significant happens (and with sufficient tact), then the staffer should be used to it as one of Betty’s constructive tools. However, if there has not been anything significant to discuss, or it was simply never done, she will need to depend on the power of documentation.Especially with corrective action, just remember the “Three T’s,” which stand for:• Timeliness• Truthfulness• TactfulnessLet’s say Betty has done all she could to provide her team with clear policies and expectations, both for each individual and for the team. When issues arise, Betty has been timely and tactful when correcting the behavior. In my experience, the best way to tell someone what you do and don’t like about their actions is to be truthful. Most people can sense when someone is dancing around a subject, and it creates more awkwardness in the conversation. Step up, look the employee in the eye, and speak plainly – but not emotionally.Therefore, when it is time for Betty to give the hygienist a performance review, the first thing she must do is remove almost all emotion from the situation. This should be a simple retelling of the documented positives and negatives of that employee’s performance. She is not calling the hygienist either a bad person or a saint, but the employee’s own actions should justify the outcome of the conversation.Those outcomes should also be clearly defined in Betty’s office manual that has been reviewed and approved by her labor attorney. Each member of the team should have signed off on it and a copy of that signature page kept in the employee file.In this case, Betty should have no problem stating the facts and allowing the employee to become a part of solving any problems. The attitude behind Don’s “velvet hammer” is one of allowing the plain facts to lead the employee to clear action. The most obvious effect of the “velvet hammer” is that:1. Betty does not have to be the “bad guy.”2. Employees take responsibility to either change their unwanted behavior or even continue it.3. Either way, Betty has done the right thing and can document it.4. Should she need to later praise or fire that employee, it will be the result of documented behavior, and Betty is totally justified in her actions.So, how exactly do you document these things? You cannot fix what you don’t measure or record, and your practice must put a system in place to track all critical issues. That’s why I have always used an extremely plain but effective form to do just that, which I call a “critical issues log.”A critical issues log is simply a Microsoft Word document table with three columns. The column headers are: “Date,” “Issue description,” and “Solution/status.” Anything out of the ordinary that happens during an employee’s time in your employ should be noted. NOTE: There are three absolute rules when using this format.1. Only state facts, never opinions.2. List both wanted and unwanted behaviors.3. Dates MUST be included.When I sent a sample copy of a critical issues log to Betty, she was very thankful and knew that this attitude and documentation tool would be very helpful. Soon, we will work on her actual process for the performance review interaction itself (i.e., what to actually say), but that is a topic for a different article.In the meantime, Betty doesn’t have to feel like she is being “ugly” anymore.Make it a great day!
Richard Train is a graduate of the California State University at Northridge, but his “real” education started from his family’s multigenerational, midsized business, and carried him into senior management positions in other companies. Richard spent decades learning successful business skills from some of the best, and teaching hundreds in several industries. Richard and his business partner, Hogan Allen, have been working in dentistry for several years and began Get Results Marketing and Business Coaching to share their knowledge. Their goals have always been to help dentists and dental teams learn and grow in any economy, and their weekly free webcast show, “The Whole Tooth,” on was created for that very purpose. They can be reached via their website at, or by phone at (800) 275-2350.