Volume 10, Issue 1 - January/February 2008

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Getting Set for the New Year
by Carl Tompkins

As you are moving well into a new year of business, answer these questions: How would you rate last year’s business? Did you reach your goals? Based upon last year’s outcome, what goals have you set for this year? Have you considered how each employee fits into your game plan in reaching those goals? Most importantly, what are the attitudes and beliefs of your employees as they pertain to last year’s business and this year’s goals? There are two very important elements of effective business management that need to take place early each year to help answer each of these questions.

Annual Reviews
The first and most important element is conducting annual reviews with each employee. Most all managers, having direct-reporting employees, would answer that they do conduct some form of review. For those who do not, this is an unacceptable situation and needs to be remedied immediately. 

The majority of companies that I’ve been around do conduct some form of review because their human resources department requires it. Many times there are forms to complete, used in an effort to be official and legitimate in process. What is unfortunate is how little training goes on in how to conduct reviews in order that the employees and company benefit from the occasion. Note the following instruction on how management can conduct effective employee reviews:

  1. Be prepared: Employees like to know that their boss is paying attention to details and has a thorough set of observations of how well goals and assigned activities were accomplished. While goals and assigned activities observed may pertain to a written job description, effective reviews go further to include such performance topics as reliability, decision making, communication skills, administration, relationship management, technical competence, time management, etc. In summary, have significant record of these subjects in your pocket and ready to call on as a resource.
  2. Treat employee reviews with priority. The subject of priorities is one of the most important topics for management. I’ve yet to meet a manager who doesn’t swear an oath that people are their number-one asset and priority. Yet, when it comes to doing the right thing with their people, they use the excuse, “Sorry, but I’ve been too busy.” To help break this trend, prove the importance of reviews with each employee by planning in advance and committing to an acceptable appointment time and place. Considering that the employee has given you a year of their life, blood, sweat and tears, they deserve ample time for review. I allow four hours to review each of my employees; they deserve nothing less and we use every minute covering every detail. I recently received comment from a divisional vice president of a company who claimed in 28 years to have only received about five total hours of review time from his own supervisors. I asked, “How do you feel about that?” His response, “Robbed!” I’ve heard of annual reviews being sent in the mail, conducted during a coffee break or not done at all. When it comes to the proper care and attention to people, I consider such scenarios shameful!
  3. Make reviews dialogues, not monologs. The reason why most employees shun the thought of going into the boss’s office is that they think their going in to hear how they are screwing up and why all of the company’s problems are their fault. How sad. This feeling results from boss’s doing all the talking and none of the listening. When it comes to reviews, complete the required performance appraisal documents as a team of two. Foster this notion by first asking the employee his feelings on what went well, making notes of the comments. Make sure to add to the list from that set of records in your pocket. Within each topic of measurement, then ask the employee to share what things could be improved on and set these as goals for the following year. If needed, add to that list. Note that when you approach the review in this manner, it takes the pressure away from the process. A two-way discussion leads to joint agreements on ratings and, above all, keeps the employee involved providing a real sense of worth. Managers gain much as well in that they can sense attitudes and commitments by the tone and words used by employees.
  4. Make ratings count. Ratings usually take on the shape of a numerical value. An example might be a 1 to 5 rating per topic of assessment, with 1 meaning “unsatisfactory” and 5 meaning “superior.” If word values are used in lieu of numbers, this is okay. Make sure that each rank of value is well-defined so that the employee understands the meaning of each. As you discuss each category of assessment, ask the employee to assign and justify a rating. If you disagree with their rating, do so by adding things from your notes for their consideration. Such notes may be good things or bad things. Either way, this allows the employee to assess while you simply add considerations. Most often, the employee is going to change his mind, either up or down on rating, when you are able to provide substantiated points of consideration. The term “substantiated” is critical. I had a boss once provide me a rating different than what I felt deserved. When I asked him for the reason of his rating he said, “Oh, I don’t know anything specific. It’s just a feeling I have.” When it comes to something as critical and important as performance appraisals, feelings don’t count! Whether a rating is a 1 or a 5, all must be substantiated by fact and by record. If this cannot be done, then the rating is unfair regardless of it being either a compliment or constructive criticism. This rule promotes objective verses subjective reviews. Be careful; I’ve seen companies lose phenomenal employees over the boss playing favorites. A final thought on creating meaningful ratings is to compare this year’s ratings to that of last year’s ratings. By considering specific accomplishments either being higher than, less than or the same as last year, this aids in the ability to assign a fair and acceptable rating.
  5. Make annual reviews futuristic in outcome. While the annual review is to evaluate what has happened in the past, make sure that each topic measured includes specific goals and activities for future improvement for the sake of greater business results. For example, “Sam, we agreed that a quality rating of 3 was earned this past year. Let’s make sure to add a few things that you can do to qualify for an excellent rating of 4 for this coming year.” Discuss, agree to and add the new assignments. This certainly will make next year’s review much easier while allowing you the ability to monitor progress and the outcome during the year.
  6. Include yourself in the review. The final concept of effective reviews is to ask the employee how you, as a boss, can improve. Specifically, learn and write down what things can incorporate as activities and goals that will support their ability to succeed. By doing so you’ll be serving those who are expected to serve your outside customers, which, according to all business experts, is the job of management.

Applying the SMART Rule
The second and final element for management is to apply the SMART rule to goal setting. The reason why most goals are not met is that they fail the SMART test. Make sure goals are “specific,” meaning that they are worded in a manner in which anyone can understand what should be accomplished. The “M” represents “measurable,” meaning that there are numbers incorporated within the goal statement that allow for objective assessment. Move then to the required element of all goals being “agreeable.” It usually requires a team approach to attain goals and if you are the only one thinking the goal is important, the goal will not be met. By meeting the “R” requirement, standing for “realistic,” this goes a long way in helping the goals to be agreeable. Stretch is important but not to the degree of making the hurdle so high that no one can clear the jump. Finally, put a start and finish time on every goal so everyone can pace himself accordingly. This allows for the “T” to be met, standing for “time-bound.”

Whether you are a department manager, a small independent business owner or chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company, you’re still a person that has the common requirement of providing and receiving feedback and full two-way communication. Incorporate these two vital management elements and watch your bank account grow. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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