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Employee evaluation: Is it worth the effort?

Article

"What frustrates you most about your job?"

"What frustrates you most about your job?"

My boss asked this question of me during my first review. At the time I was a sales manager, supervising five employees who provided nutritional consultation to dairy farmers. Later in the review he asked another question: "What do you do really well?"

Good questions; and believe it or not it was the first time anyone had asked. For most of my career I was self-employed as a dairy consultant. In a previous job that last four years, my boss never gave me any formal feedback regarding my performance. This was all new to me.

Can the employees in your practice say the same? Have you taken time to give them meaningful feedback about the work they do for you? I'm not referring to comments you make on the fly or in the heat of the moment. Do you invest time in really reviewing their work, and then schedule time to meet with them to discuss their strengths and weaknesses? I have one more question: Do your employees know how they fit into your organization?

In truth, most of us do a lousy job leading our employees. It takes time to do a good job, and time is always in such short supply.

Given the fact that it takes time to provide good leadership to staff, should an employer even bother? Yes! Dedicated employees who are actively engaged in their work will help your practice grow, make your job easier and allow you to get great satisfaction from practice. Disgruntled workers with a "so-what" attitude do just the opposite. Remember as the practice leader, it's your job to determine the type of staff you have. If you want great employees, you must invest time and energy to develop them.

Nuts and bolts

Employee leadership starts when you decide to create a position. Do you have a written job description explaining how the person holding that position will contribute to the success of the practice? Do you interview people carefully and check references?

Once you have hired the person, do you have written protocols on how to do the procedures they are expected to perform? Do you quickly explain the process or delegate it to someone else to explain? What are your performance expectations? Do you expect him or her to retain everything and do it correctly the first time? Do you monitor them while they are learning?

After an employee has worked for you for six months, do you conduct a performance review to provide affirmation of what they do well, and facilitate their improvement in areas that need it?

Getting results

I remember my first review well because it was clear that my boss spent a lot of time preparing for it. He was very critical of my performance as a sales manager. It was fair; I was a lousy sales manager.

While he was critical of my performance in my existing role, he also was clearly interested in helping me succeed. That's what prompted the open-ended questions about what frustrated me versus my strengths. By the time we finished the review, we had created a new position for me, one that allowed me to use my strengths to serve our customers and grow our business.

Review how-to

When you do a performance review, orient yourself to helping your employee grow and succeed. Prepare some open-ended questions that will help you see their job through their eyes. Make it clear that you appreciate honest feedback, and you intend to provide the same. Listen to what they say, and take notes. Make it clear that you take them seriously. Avoid instantly defending yourself or the practice without really thinking about their comments.

Start by recognizing the positives in the employee's work. Denote specific examples where he or she excelled. Providing those examples shows your employees that you notice and care about what they do. Create a long list of positives, and limit your concerns to two or three important areas.

Before you move on to the negatives, ask the employee where he or she can improve. Ask what can be done better in those areas. Let the employee take the lead. If he or she overlooks something you feel is important, identify it and let the employee comment on your observation. Record a list of objectives that the employee needs to complete before your next review.

With some employees, significant performance deficiencies might exist to the extent that their job is in jeopardy. Make this clear, but also outline how they can rectify things. Issue clear timeframes and schedule a follow-up review.

Advantages of review

While I mentioned that in my previous job I never had a review, my employment with that company ended with its bankruptcy. My present company has a long history of profitable growth. Company officials emphasize employee leadership at all levels. Supervisors are expected to devote significant time to developing staff. Performance reviews are a key part of this process.

Good employee leadership requires time, energy and caring. It is worth doing. A well-trained and dedicated staff will provide a tremendous return financially and in career satisfaction.

Dr. Gardner is the business development manager for Cargill Animal Health in eastern Pennsylvania. He also consults with dairy practitioners regarding practice management.

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