Performance reviews: Get ready to shine


Sweaty palms, twitchy eyes, gritted teeth: These are sure signs your performance review looms on the horizon. Banish that dread. With a little forethought, your review will be a ray of light in your glowing career.

Click. The door closes, and it's just you and your manager. Your mind races as you mentally file through your duties. Answer phones. Check. Provide estimates. Check. Work as a team. Sort of. Improve on last year's weak spots. Hmm, what were those? This is scary territory. You're not sure what your review will be about, let alone how to come out shining.

There's no reason to suffer through the unknown when it comes to performance reviews. When I talk to managers about how to conduct reviews, I always tell them, "No surprises." But the same doesn't hold true for team members. Surprising your manager by actively participating in your review is a good thing. Involving yourself sends the message that you care about what your manager thinks, and, more importantly, that you value the opportunity to be a successful part of the practice team. So use this advice to help you prepare for, take ownership of, and maximize your review. When the office door opens, you'll be sure to emerge with a sunny career outlook.

Dr. Christine Merle

Review your job description

First, think about your main responsibilities and the skills required to accomplish them. Are you both knowledgeable and proficient? In other words, do you know what it takes to do your job, and are you able to do it? For example, let's say you're responsible for restraining patients. You probably learned how to do this on day one. But knowing the physical steps and being able to carry them out are different. If you're proficient, you might be able to predict which restraint method will work best for the specific patient in front of you. And you'll be able to restrain that patient without much effort.

Be honest with yourself about your skills. It's important to realize you might not be the best at everything, especially if certain duties aren't part of your regular repertoire. For example, if you're the only surgical assistant, you'll exercise your restraint techniques more frequently and achieve a higher level of expertise than an exam room assistant whose daily responsibilities likely require greater proficiency in client communication.

Also understand that the time it takes to perfect skills varies a lot between individuals. Some people possess innate talents in certain areas. So during your review, emphasize the tasks that you successfully perform as a regular part of your job. And be ready to discuss the techniques you haven't mastered—yet.

Highlight your attributes

Do you have the reputation of being the practice cat whisperer? Do clients who need reassurance about their pets' care seem to flock in your direction? All veterinary team members possess personal characteristics that allow them to bring value to the practice beyond their job descriptions. But people often shy away from talking about their additional talents because they're afraid it will sound like bragging. It won't. You must help your manager glimpse your positive reputation, especially when he or she doesn't get to witness it firsthand. How?

In short: Provide examples. Gather specific cases from your co-workers in which your forte for defusing conflict resulted in a happy client, for instance. Take note of how often team members and clients seek you out based on that extra something you bring to the situation. Better yet, start a work diary and write down the events of each day. When you look back at your entries, you may even discover a talent or reputation you didn't realize you had.

How often do practices hold reviews?

But don't get carried away with your list. Providing 25 examples of how your client-education strategies improved compliance, along with the names of patients and the dates of appointments, won't always win points with your manager. A couple statements about your good works allow your reputation to speak for itself in terms of your contributions to the practice. If you aren't sure whether your special talents are valuable or if you haven't been able to pinpoint your reputation, ask your manager. She'll be happy to tell you.

Remember, reputations can be positive or negative. If you fear a negative reputation follows you, use the same process to tackle it head on. Gather information from your co-workers to identify any instances that were problematic. During your review, take ownership of your reputation. Share what you've uncovered with your manager, and seek her advice on ways to turn it around.

Develop a plan

While examining your talents, you'll probably identify areas where you can improve. Help your manager help you by brainstorming a possible action plan for accomplishing these improvements.

Your blueprint for change should include timetables for completion, as well as potential training opportunities. As you develop your strategy, consider the time and expense the practice might bear. Then present the plan during your review. Be prepared to refine it based on your manager's input.

Performance reviews shouldn't be a source of anxiety. When you attend yours, be sure you're armed with your own job assessment and improvement plan. As a result, you may just gain a reputation as a rising star with leadership potential.

Dr. Christine Merle, MBA, CVPM, is a practice management consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. She shares her home with a husband, dog, cat, and horse. Send comments and questions to

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