No more annual reviews


Annual reviews don't improve veterinary client and patient services. Get rid of them.

Managers, have you ever had anything good come of doing a performance appraisal? The answer is, of course, 'no' ... unless you count the pleasure of a few weeks of employees going out of their way to be excruciatingly conscientious and helpful. And that is what undermines the whole process—those sneaky employees being conscientious and helpful just before appraisal time.

—Dale Dauten, business author and lecturer

A decade ago, as a practitioner and employer, I undertook a project to evaluate Dauten's idea with my consulting clients and my own employees. My results revealed that Mr. Dauten is right on.

The consequences of the delayed review undermine a basic tenet of productive and effective practices: happiness. (Mike Kemp/Getty Images)

We have focused so much attention on the annual review process that we have forgotten its purpose: to improve client and patient services. So let us say goodbye to the heretofore-all-important annual review and discover a useful alternative.

What doesn't work

The annual review process is such a staple in our profession that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) includes it as part of its standards. But problems pop up in the pattern of annual reviews. Specifically, once-a-year reviews delay dealing with pressing issues.

We say, "OK, we will bring that up at the annual review," make a note of it, file it and forget it. Issues that need to be addressed continue to fester. The individual who needs adjustment continues unabated. As other team members' frustration sets in, unhappiness becomes an undercurrent. Sniping is heard, the body language of discontent emerges and eye rolling is seen.

Unaddressed stressors are one reason for high turnover at veterinary clinics. Good employees leave, while those causing problems don't have a clue. The consequences of a delayed review undermine a basic tenet of productive and effective practices: happiness.

What works

One theme of the management classic In Search of Excellence: Lessons From America's Best-Run Companies by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr. is that a successful business leader should manage by walking around. Of course, time spent observing and interacting is only useful if the work patterns—and workers—causing problems get addressed. In the pattern of Pavlovian behavior modification, the patterns needed to be corrected and dealt with in a timely manner: this minute, this day, this week, this month—not this year. Other guiding principles of the daily preview include:

  • Do not complain until you train. When an issue pops up, first take it as a training moment. Look for patterns of personal behavior and work performance, and address these when a negative pattern has been identified. Feedback, nurturing and behavior adjustment need to become a way of life—the more instant and daily the training, the quicker the learning.

  • Ask your staff daily for improvement ideas. Look for comments like, "We should revisit how we're supposed to seal endotracheal tubes." Some staff members may be uncomfortable discussing an issue in person, so provide another vehicle, such as anonymous notes for staff members to bring issues to light rather than letting them fester. Employees can type notes and seal envelopes to deliver more sensitive issues.

  • Be hard on the issue and soft on the people. Neuter discussions of improvement to make them generic. Be clear about what you want; say, "I would like (insert issue of concern) to be completed in this manner, fashion or style." Staff members will usually think they know the practice's policies and protocols, but these often change with stressors applied, and what a staff member may think is correct has undergone a metamorphosis in his or her mind. Expect that the staff members most needing to hear an issue and make adjustments are the ones who will not believe the issue involves them, so be prepared to discuss the issue with them privately at first.

  • Do not discuss pay in daily previews. Salary and benefits should not be included in the review process. Make the only issue on the table the item of discussion and specifically link the deed to how it affects patient care. My favorite way to keep the discussion on track is to say, "If this were you, or your pet, would you be happy with (insert the issue)? (Pause.) Then this is how we will improve care in the future."

  • Keep employee files current when using daily previews. Make it a habit to record succinct messages about individual performance and issues on telephone pads or 3-x-5 cards and file them in the secured employee files. However, always be sure to post the training issue—which does not discuss individual performance—for all to see.

The art of criticism

Annual reviews and daily previews are difficult for some bosses and employees. Why? For a whole generation, we've replaced As, Bs and Cs with pass or fail. We've become a society unable to take criticism. Yet without criticism, change and improvements won't happen. The positive-tone daily preview sidesteps the negativity associated with a typical annual review. It also gets everyone improving their behavior today and thinking toward the future rather than discussing the past.

I hope I've convinced you to implement a daily preview rather than continue with annual reviews. If I have, in addition to making the change in your practice, please contact AAHA officials and ask them to change the standards to include previews in addition to reviews.

Dr. Riegger, Dipl. ABVP, is the chief medical officer at Northwest Animal Clinic Hospital and Specialty Practice. Contact him by telephone or fax (505) 898-0407, or Find him on AVMA's NOAH as the practice management moderator. Order his books Management for Results and More Management for Results by calling (505) 898-1491.

For a complete list of articles by Dr. Riegger, visit

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