Zoom in on a perfect annual review


Whether you're the reviewer-or the reviewee-it's time to embrace a new outlook on employee reviews. Hint: The manager may be doing them wrong.

I recently visited a practice where a manager bemoaned the fact she was weeks behind on her reviews. She motioned to a stack of papers and the current screen up on her computer. Before her bleary eyes were a series of questions followed by numbers one through five. She was agonizing over each grade. A five? A four? A three? Worse? The longer she worked on the project, the more immobilized she became. "Will a four demoralize my team member? What do I put down for her personal appearance? How can I give her less than a five?" She asked for my advice.

"What are you trying to accomplish?" I responded. And this is where she fell silent.

The reason she and so many managers struggle with even the idea of reviews is because we're often unclear of what we're trying to accomplish and why. If you don't believe me, consider the personal appearance question you see on some generic review sheets. You really waited a full year to bring up the fact that someone had a problem with his or her personal appearance? Worse, you're going to predicate their salary on their personal appearance? What is the message you're trying to send? Cleaner people make more money? When you add up everything you and your team are trying to accomplish with client service, patient care and workplace culture, you're really going to spend part of that one hour, once a year, talking about grooming and deodorant?

Now, if you're the reviewee, you're probably thinking you have no control over the review process—and that's partially true. But reviews should be a dialogue. Don't be afraid to gently redirect the conversation to the line items on your job description. Make sure that your manager understands that your actions are a response to your understanding of those bullets. An example of a redirect might be: "I'm aware that I sometimes appear frantic. During crunch times, I start to fail and I get flustered, which becomes apparent in my actions and appearance. I would love help on how I can juggle all of my assigned duties during our busiest times so that I don't look and sound like I'm melting down."

Clear the haze

Zoom out for a moment. Who are you? Who are these people you're reviewing? This isn't school and these people in front of you aren't children. These adults sitting across the table from you are functioning members of society. They're probably homeowners; they may be married and they may be parents; they are probably graduates of high school or higher levels of education; and they're probably over the age of 21. Pick some calamity: a car accident, a sick child, a flood—whatever happens to them, they'll figure it out and move on. And here's the kicker. They don't need your help to do it. They'll work their way through the problem and move on with their lives.

Now, zoom back in to the review table. You're on one side and they're on the other. Are you really going to give them instructions on how to dress? Are you going to give them hollow advice like, "Be more careful?"

What success rate do you get out of the instruction, "Be careful?" These able adults sitting across from you don't need their behavior reviewed by you or anyone else. The idea itself is insulting, and to most people it's a complete turnoff.

A review is an opportunity for you and your team members to dig deeper into your respective responsibilities as you execute your practice's mission goals. Think about it for a moment. You and 15 or more individuals gather each day under one roof, endeavor to complete any number of diverse and complicated activities and try to seamlessly dovetail your efforts into an amazing client and patient experience. That's hard. And to get it right, you shouldn't be dressing down a person's character. You should be thinking about how their actions and your actions work together to accomplish goals. That's a productive, positive experience. That's teamwork.

Focus on specifics

Use the job description as a jumping-off point. Well-written job descriptions talk about what you want people to do and how to do it. It's the "how" that you want to talk about.

Here's an example: "Client care representatives should demonstrate that they care about each client." OK, that's straightforward enough. Or is it? What do client care representatives who demonstrate they truly care about clients look like? Sound like? What do they say on the phone, to clients in the lobby or in emails? How do they fulfill their job description if they're placed at a desk with no other support, with no break, with no training, with no colleague who acts as a mentor or resource? A review is our chance to look at these concepts, talk them through and figure out how we can accomplish them together. We're not reviewing anyone. If anything, they're reviewing themselves. And we're learning how to work better together.

Additionally, effective reviews aren't connected to money. Annual raises are unsustainable anyway. Better to use the review process to demonstrate your genuine concern and support for an individual interested in growing. Give them the feedback they need to grow stronger not just as employees, but as people. Then offer raises based on the company's profitability or the increased responsibility the employee takes on based on successful growth.

And reviewees, don't take a back seat in reviews. Demonstrate you're interested in improving. Come armed with thoughts on how you fall short in the big picture of client and patient service and questions on how you can improve. Saying "I sometimes fall short on showing clients I care when the phone is ringing and I have patients arriving and discharging all at once" shows you're self-aware and eager to improve, and it underlines a service problem you need to address at the hospital-wide level.

Reviews are an essential tool, but only if they're used to reflect on better ways to work together. When you enter reviews demonstrating you're genuinely interested in helping employees—or your practice—prosper, the results are likely to be favorable. Enter the review process as your one chance to "give 'em both barrels" and you're on track to alienate and shame. Use review time to build trust and a stronger working relationship. You'll create partnerships that help everyone look toward future summits you can climb together. And it's more fun.

Bash Halow, LVT, CVPM, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Halow Tassava Consulting.

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