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Evaluate to Motivate

It’s the one meeting most managers—and employees—dread every year: the performance review. But now, with some guidance, performance reviews can be not only valuable, but relatively painless.

To provide an effective performance review, it’s imperative that both you and your employees establish goals to meet within the year. (If you don’t have staff, see the sidebar on tips for small-board AEs.) Goals should be S.M.A.R.T., that is: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Timely.

Tying employee goals to the objectives in your association’s strategic plan ensures staff accountability and that your association’s goals are on track. For example, if one of your strategic objectives is to increase membership communication, you might create or enhance your association’s Web site. The next step is to determine who will carry out the initiative, what resources are required, and how long it will take to complete. These will be your employee’s goals.

During the course of the year, you can gauge whether the employee is on track and whether additional resources or skills are required. If there are, make adjustments immediately; don’t wait for the annual review.

You may consider conducting a review for new hires at the three-month, six-month, and annual target dates. This allows you to set your performance standards, ensure that employees fully understands their responsibilities, and offer guid-ance on their performance while employees still have an opportunity to correct course.

The Process
There should be no bombshells when it comes to the annual review—for either you or the employee. You can avoid any surprises by addressing performance issues as they arise and by preparing paperwork and gathering notes throughout the year rather than in the eleventh hour. Between reviews, encourage employees to provide input on how they can do their job more effectively and offer suggestions on ways to improve. Remember to praise often—something we tend to forget when we’re doing more with less.

Conduct the review in a private and comfortable setting. Minimize interruptions by forwarding your phone to voice mail, turning off your computer so you aren’t distracted by incoming e-mail, and informing staff that you are not to be interrupted. The simple act of giving an employee your undivided attention conveys the importance of the review as well as your willingness to hear his or her thoughts.



Start by asking the employee how well she thinks she’s been doing. This may help to alleviate the tension that often exists when an employee is waiting to be told something, rather than asked to engage in a conversation. Also, we tend to be more critical of ourselves; so allowing your employees to tell you about the ways in which they think they can improve can get the conversation off to a good start.

Some good starter questions are:
l How do you think things are going?
l What challenges have you encountered this past year?
l What do you suggest can be done differently?
l What do you think would enable you to do your job better?
Once the employee has expressed her concerns, repeat the issues back to ensure that you clearly understood. Acknowledge the performance problem and come to a mutually agreed upon solution, remembering to also offer positive reinforcement for what she is doing well.
The key to a successful review meeting is not how many questions you ask or how you ask them. The key is to listen. Be patient. Allow natural pauses to give the employee a chance to think about her answer.


Of course, a successful performance improvement process is only as good as the follow-up. Once you’ve set a target date for improvement, mark your calendar and arrange a follow-up meeting with employees. In the interim, take note of both the positive and negative aspects of their progression, which you should share with them at your follow-up meeting.

Encouraging your employees to take an active role in setting their goals, impressing upon them the importance of their input, and demonstrating to them that you are listening go a long way toward making the performance review a more positive experience for everyone.

Tips for the staff of one:

If you run a one-person office, you can use these tips to evaluate your relationships with vendors instructors, or speakers. Such annual, semiannual, or quarterly reviews let you and your leadership know when it’s time to find new service providers. Also, if your board of directors reviews your performance annually, provide them with the tips from this article in advance, along with a detailed self-review form. The principles of the performance review can also be used for collaborating with your leadership. Each year you’ll want to: 1) set mutual goals by identifying yearly priorities, initiatives, and timelines; 2) check in with your leadership to track progress; and 3) assess your progress and determine whether new timelines, priorities, or initiatives need to be established.

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