What a performance

Put yourself in the shoes of your employee and think about how you would like to be given direction and spoken to about your performance.
Put yourself in the shoes of your employee and think about how you would like to be given direction and spoken to about your performance.

Some management experts claim staff performance reviews are among the most valuable times of the business year. So, why is it that as few as 10 per cent of clinic bosses get it right? John Burfitt investigates

Ask any management consultant, corporate trainer or commerce academic for their thoughts on workplace appraisal reviews, and then stand back for the chorus of positive responses about how vital they are.

Among the many attributes credited to performance reviews are keeping staff on track, building a focused workforce and creating a strong work environment.

Now try asking most managers and employees actually in the workplace for their views on the same procedure and be prepared for a very different response.

“There is a very good reason why most people groan at the mention of performance reviews, and that is because they are done so badly,” says Julie Parker of Melbourne’s Julie Parker Dental Management.

“If they are done effectively, a performance review is something that both sides would actively look forward to as one of the highlights of the business year. If they are not looking forward to it, it means they are not being handled effectively and that is a wasted opportunity for everyone.”

The Victorian Government’s Business Victoria website offers a guide to employers on how a performance review should be conducted in five simple steps.

The steps are listed as: “ask the employee to rate themselves, provide a written performance review to the employee, make sure you can back up any positives and negatives with specific examples, conduct a review meeting within 48 hours of the written performance review and finally, note and file any employee comments and then ensure that the final version goes on file.”

What sounds so straightforward can become a minefield of dramas when put into practice, Parker claims. “The moment you run the risk of doing the review ineffectively, you run the risk of damaging your team,” she says. “In some cases, you would have been better off not doing it at all.”

Although there is no hard data, Geoff Parkes of the Australian College of Dental Education believes as few as one in 10 dental clinics might be effectively managing performance reviews. It is an anecdotal figure repeated by many training experts.

“What it comes down to is many dentists have never been taught how to do this,” Parkes says.

With the amount of resources currently available, not only with management consultancies but also through the Australian Dental Association and various online sites, there is now a wealth of information readily accessible on how to get the procedure right.

“There is no need to feel ill-equipped or unsure of how to do this when there are guidelines and advice available in so many places,” Parkes says.

“Another simple approach is to put yourself in the shoes of your employee and think how you would like to be given direction and spoken to about your performance. Everyone wants to feel worthwhile about the part they play within their workplace.”

Julie Parker adds, “If you are the boss, then you have a responsibility for being as good as you can be in giving advice, direction and criticism to your staff.”

“This is the opportunity to further the working relationship and find out where you are both at. And it has to go both ways—you need to be heard by the staff but you need to be listening as well.” Dr Vas Srinivasan, Invisible Orthodontics

She says a successful performance review should be specific in its feedback, should acknowledge the areas where there is room for improvement, and should never lose sight of what’s the purpose of the review. “Just keep asking yourself, are we doing this only because we have to or to get the best out of both of us,” Parker says.

“The outcome should be some kind of clear action plan to follow of how that employee can continue to do what they do well, and improve in the other areas you discussed together.”

Dr Vas Srinivasan of the Sunshine Coast’s Invisible Orthodontics claims he achieves better sessions of open communication and feedback in biannual staff performance reviews at his clinic than in general staff meetings.

“A performance review is a better way for staff to express openly one-on-one what they really want to say,” Dr Srinivasan says.

“It is a case of letting the staff talk about what they do and what they want to achieve within their role, and then working directly with them on that.”

A structured guideline for the review to follow with a set agenda is an essential to work with before ever commencing the meeting.

“I always couch the review in terms of the three things about their performance I am really positive about and the three things I would like to see improvement on. It is about moving that person forward, not about telling them off,” he explains.

“This is the opportunity to further the working relationship and find out where you’re both at. It has to go both ways—you do need to be heard by the staff but you need to be listening as well.”

Development manager Louise Davis, of On The Bus consultancy, is a true believer in the worth of performance reviews, but insists they must be just one part of the communication strategy within the business.

“The review can not be the only time of the year you are giving feedback to staff. That should be happening regularly across the 12 months,” she says.

Positioning the annual session as the main occasion at which to dispense all positive and negative criticism can stifle the development of the continuous feedback culture.

“There needs to be regular conversations throughout the year as a check-in about how they are doing, how they are progressing and the areas they need direction to work on,” Davis explains. “Time must be blocked out to do that regularly.”

Review time should not, Davis says, be a time for presenting an extended list of long-held grievances about what the staff member has done wrong.

“There should never be any big surprises in a review, as you should be talking to the staff about the same things all the way through the year,” she says.

“In that way, the review just becomes part of a regular dialogue between the managers and staff members, rather than this potentially explosive confrontation about all the things you are both not happy about and have been sitting on for months.”

The way a performance review is conducted can reveal a great deal about the overall culture of a clinic not only to its staff, but also to the clients.

“If you want your staff to deliver great patient experience, then that also has to happen internally with how they are managed,” Davis says. “If staff are not getting that from their managers, they have no motivation for them to pass that on to the client.

“Take care of the team first if you really want to achieve customer loyalty.”

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