Performance Review Time Again

I have written blogs and articles in the past on ways to better handle performance reviews by spending a few minutes each month throughout the year.  These techniques result in less time spent completing performance reviews at year-end when time is already in short supply and better evaluation of your staff’s performance throughout the year.  After people read these articles at the end of the year I get questions from people asking – OK, I’ll use your techniques next year, but what do I do this year when I didn’t spend a few minutes regularly throughout the year?  I still have a performance review to finish and I want to do a better job this year as well as next year. Over the years, I’ve come up with three suggestions for this plea for help.

One – One of the most common failures in annual performance reviews is that the reviewer focuses only on the work performed most recently instead of throughout the year.  In order to overcome this bias, perform a search on your email for emails sent to you or copied to you from the staff member.  If you are like most CPAs you probably don’t delete any email for a long time (the legal and retention issues of this is a topic for another time), so there is a treasure trove of information in your email files.  Once you’ve done the search, sort the emails in date order and select a few from each month for a quick review.  This should give you a great idea of what your staff member did over the past year.  It will also help you remember if that work went well or there were issues.

Two – If you use a time reporting or project reporting system in your business, run a report on what the staff member did over the past year.  This is a great way to see where you staff member spent their time.  Were those projects a success?  Did customers or the business benefit from that work?  Even if you don’t have a formal time reporting system, maybe you can do a search in your calendar and see the project meetings you had with the staff member.  Once again this will help you remember not only the work performed, but your lasting impression of how the staff member performed in doing that work.

Three – Have your staff member write-up their accomplishments for the year and use that as a base for beginning your evaluation.  I often get protests on this last one because people say you are asking the staff member to grade themselves.  That is true for some people, but I also find that members of our profession can be very hard graders, even on themselves.  When I have used this technique myself I have had to talk to staff about how significant their accomplishments were for the year just as often as I have had to ask a staff member if their accomplishments were really as important as they were making them out to be in their write-up.

So if its performance review time and once again you are grasping for help because you didn’t keep up with the evaluation all year-long, try these three techniques out and see if they help.

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Performance Evaluations

It’s that time of year for many in business and industry – time for those annual performance reviews.  After completing these reviews for 20 years at AT&T I have learned a few things that work and a few things that don’t.  Rather than talk about the whole theory and strategy of evaluations, I’m going to cover what I consider the more tactical things that have worked for me over the years.  For many of you reading this blog it may be too late to incorporate these ideas for your 2012 evaluations, but it is a great time to start doing them so that 2013 will be a much easier year for you.

  1. Take notes regularly.  Twenty years ago I had a file set up for each of my direct reports and I added hand written notes to the file each week.  Now I maintain my notes electronically, but it is the same idea.  I set up a reminder in outlook for me to write up notes on my staff each week.  Sometimes it occurs in the middle of the week when I get a great email complimenting one of my staff on something they did, or maybe something didn’t go right and I write it up after discussing it with my staff member.  Other times it is just something I think of on a Friday afternoon.  With eight direct reports I don’t write something about ever person every week, but I write something about someone each week, and if I haven’t written anything down in a month for a person then I need to think about why that has happened. When it comes time to fill out the evaluations you have a treasure trove of real examples to use in the evaluation from your notes.  Believe me, your staff will notice the difference – and so will your colleagues and boss if you have to defend your ratings to them.
  2. Complete the evaluations before the end of the year.  If your financial year-end occurs at the same time as your performance year-end it is imperative to get those evaluations done before the end of the year.  Once year-end hits you will (and should) be spending all of your time on the annual financial statements, completing tax filings, issuing W-2’s, loading budgets, or whatever else you need to do.  You won’t have time to do a decent job on the evaluations once that happens so the best thing to do is complete them before the end of the year.  I make it a policy for my staff to complete their self-evaluations before they leave for the holidays.  I then complete my evaluations of their performance as they come in.
  3. Set a meeting with yourself before the meeting with your employee to go over the evaluation.  As I already said, this time of year is extremely busy.  You don’t want to be fumbling through the evaluation as you go over it with your employee.  The best way to prevent this is to be prepared.  I do that by setting aside some time to review the evaluations I am covering during the day before the evaluations occur.  It works best if I can do it immediately before the performance review, but it also works if I do it any time that day before the review.  I find it most effective to set a ½ hour meeting with myself, if it is an especially busy day I might even take a paper copy of the evaluation to a conference room somewhere so I can concentrate on it without interruption.

Those are my three tips.  There are many others, but these basic steps have stood the test of time in making the evaluation process a success for me.