How to conduct clear, effective staff evaluations

December 1, 2008

Here are some smart steps physicians and managers can take to make performance reviews easier to conduct and more effective, ultimately paving the way for higher productivity.

Performance evaluations are an important vehicle to communicate with staff members one-on-one when you have their undivided attention. It's a time to set expectations, understand employees better, and identify ways to motivate them to put their best foot forward.

Here are some smart steps physicians and managers can take to make performance reviews easier to conduct and more effective, ultimately paving the way for higher productivity.

Begin the process by establishing a performance evaluation system that provides an equitable measurement of an employee's contribution to the work force, an opportunity to discuss performance issues, and a method to achieve the desired level of work habits, attitude, and technical skills.

A review is not just about rating an employee's performance and setting expectations; it's also about helping the employee succeed. He may need coaching, more training, or clarity about his responsibilities as they relate to completing primary tasks, problem solving, and understanding what is required to support the practice's mission.

The performance review must be supported with standardized tools such as the following:

Be timely, consistent, and thorough when you conduct performance reviews. Plan each review ahead of time, and be sure to dedicate sufficient analysis to how the employee fits into the entire practice, starting with his or her position, and including how well he or she supports other team members.

First, determine the method for conducting the appraisals. Some practices do all employee evaluations at the same time of year; others conduct them within 30 days of the anniversary of hire. It is generally more effective to conduct the evaluation within 1 month of the anniversary of hire. Manager and physician enthusiasm can wane if you do them all within a short time frame. Those at the end of the line will get the short end of the stick, as you are likely to spend less time preparing and conducting the appraisal.

Regardless of when you decide to conduct evaluations, be consistent and always meet your deadline. An employee will quickly feel devalued if her evaluation is overdue and management is ignoring it. This will contribute to deterioration in morale and performance.

Be sure to dedicate adequate time for reviews. Each employee deserves an hour of management's time once a year to talk about her position, performance, and personal feelings about the work environment in a setting that allows for open dialogue and feedback.

When conducting evaluations, don't be overly ambitious about covering every detail of an employee's performance. Keep it simple and straightforward, offering constructive criticism and meaningful recommendations. By being specific in a few areas, the recommendations have greater impact on both the employee and the organization.