4 ways to add value to employee evaluations


Don't put off the tough-but rewarding-task of talking shop with veterinary team members.

Employee evaluations for Brian Conrad, CVPM, practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash., are about his needs as much as the team members': "The staff is my No. 1 asset in this hospital, and I don't want to lose touch," he says. Regular evaluations give Conrad a chance to make sure his employees remain challenged and fulfilled. Here are his top four tips for managing regular performance evaluations:

1. Eliminate the hot seat. At Meadow Hills, employees meet with Conrad and the practice owners during evaluations. Nervous team members call it "the hot seat," but Conrad works to calm them down. "We don't want team members worried that they're going to get slammed," he says. To help prevent this, Conrad tells his team what to expect by distributing the evaluation form to team members at least three months before evaluations take place.

2. Be consistent. "There's no point in saying you'll conduct quarterly evaluations and then only doing them once a year," Conrad says. For manager and employee feedback to work in practice culture, mandatory evaluations need to be predictable. Conrad meets with each of his staff members twice a year, spreading the evaluations over the year to make sure he doesn't burn out doing seven or eight evaluations a day several days in a row.

3. Don't mix raises and evaluations. This is a controversial approach, Conrad admits. Many experts in the field use formulas to decide bonuses and raises at evaluation time. But Conrad says mixing the two is distracting. "The employee doesn't listen to a thing you say," he says. "All they're waiting for is word on the raise or bonus check." Instead, Conrad gets together twice a year to talk strategic planning with the practice owners. They look at employees and consider what they've done for the hospital. Were they excited to be cross-trained? Did they take on more work and responsibility? Are they more valuable than others? If the answers are yes, the owners set aside certain days—apart from the review process—to award raises and bonuses. The evaluation is an opportunity not to talk money, but to discuss personal issues, to let employees air grievances, and to seek ways for employees to grow in their positions.

4. Don't wait for a problem. "If employees' work is subpar, it's your job as a manager to talk to them way before the evaluation," Conrad says. If he's faced with poor performance, Conrad asks the team member and his or her supervisor to go to an off-site lunch to discuss the issue. That corrects many problems. "A $20 lunch is less expensive than replacing an employee," he says.

You can glean important information about team members' ambitions and underlying problems by reaching out, one on one, to address how each team member fits into the practice. The bottom line? "You'll find out what's going well and not well at your hospital," Conrad says.

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