Last month I wrote about how this time of the year is for R&R, raises and reviews. After discussing raises last month, this month I will address employee reviews. I used to hate raises and reviews, but for different reasons. As for raises, they cost the firm more money, and for reviews, they are time consuming and awkward. In fact, I never used to do staff performance reviews. I rationalized that I told my staff when they did something good or did something wrong, why do I need to go through a review? My feelings have changed as discussed below.
First, believe it or not, employees like reviews. It gives them feedback on what they are doing right and what they can improve. Second, the review process is a two way street. The annual review is a time to discuss the employee’s performance as well as how it relates to how the firm runs. Employees may not feel comfortable giving you feedback about the firm because you are so busy over the year, but in a review, where they have your undivided attention, I have gained tremendous insight from my employees.
You must provide structure to an employee review. Create an agenda and give it to the employee with a day and time for the meeting. My agenda is simple. First I ask them for their feedback on the firm and how they feel the firm has performed over the past year. This includes my role, other staff members’ role, and how the firm runs in general. I ask them to bring any specific concerns, which we can address about the firm. I also give them the blank written review form and explain this is what we I will go over with regards to them specifically. You need to make it clear that the review process will be honest and candid and you expect the same from them during your meeting. The more serious you take the review, the more serious the employee will take it.
The heart of the review is in the written evaluation. I googled written employee reviews and found a lot of examples, some good, some not so good. You can edit any review you find to meet your needs. But, a written review is essential. My mother was a school teacher and used to have to do 25 report cards several times per year. She confided that she wrote the same thing for many of the children so as not to have to come up with 25 separate report cards. The same advice holds true for employee reviews. I have certain phrases which I use for most employees. That way, you don’t need to write reviews from scratch on each employee.
A note of caution regarding written evaluations. You are lawyers; give thought to what you write in the review. Do not commit to writing something, which could be potentially dangerous in the future. You do not need to be an employment lawyer to know what kind of comments to avoid. I’ll leave it at that.
In addition to positive feedback through the review process, you can also use it to ease the way into letting an employee go. You can set concrete parameters, which must be met with the consequence of noncompliance being termination. A performance review is an essential tool in documenting the reasons for firing an employee. But on a less severe level, a performance review can make the employee aware of areas which you seek improvement. Your employee may be great, but pointing out areas where they can excel even more can serve as a motivation. Encouraging improvement does not necessarily mean they are performing below expectations. Use the review to encourage and motivate your employees.
Staff reviews have become an important part of the firm culture. They are an annual assessment of the employee and the firm, as to what is going right, what can be improved and what is going wrong. Instead of dreading reviews, both my staff and myself look forward to them each year, at the same time of the year. If you have questions about staff reviews, feel free to contact me.