As employers, we need a better way – meaning, an effective way – of evaluating how employees are performing. The purpose of evaluating your employee’s past is, ironically, improving their future performance, but there has to be some kind of bridge between the two.
The trouble is, most of us use evaluations to focus backwards, criticize, and provide “feedback” with little or no buy-in from the person being evaluated. So here’s a new direction for thinking about evaluations: First and foremost, evaluations need to be about the immediate future, and your employee needs to learn to create them with you. Once you have shared goals, you have a blueprint for the next quarter and then the year. And that is something you and your employees can get excited about.
❝So here’s a radical thought: let’s use the evaluation process not just to look backwards, but to move the employee and practice forward, together.❞
After testing several methods, I’m now convinced that the best way to evaluate an individual is to enlist them in setting mutual goals and developing a plan for their role within your practice. This plan isn’t just about their past performance, it’s about their future role in your business – and that’s your hook for getting and keeping them engaged. To understand how to get there, though, let’s first look at the problems within typical evaluation processes.
What’s Wrong with Traditional Evaluations?
Let’s face it: most dentists and managers, and ESPECIALLY employees, dread evaluations. Here’s what’s wrong with the most common types:
The useless chat-disguised-as-meeting. Here’s the typical conversation: “Oh! It’s time for your eval. Well, last year was pretty good. No one died. It would be nice if you weren’t late so often, and if you’d get those TPS reports turned in on time. [Insert random nice thing here.] Did you have some feedback for me? Thanks, this has been awesome. Don’t forget those TPS reports!” No passion to be had. It’s a backward-looking conversation with no forward thinking.
The fill-in-the-blanks method. These evals start with forms (we have them) listing categories such as Job Knowledge, Teamwork, Communication, Dependability, and so forth. You give the employee a set of ratings in little boxes. In most cases, you do this about one minute before your meeting. You stare across the table while they skim for anything less than a 5-star rating, and that becomes your focus. Again, it’s a backward-looking conversation with no forward thinking component.
The overdue coaching session. I see this one all the time, too: “I have a problem with Employee X, but I’m too angry or uncomfortable with confrontation to bring it up as the issue occurs, so it’s time to do an evaluation.” This never works, because an evaluation is not a substitute for, or an escalation of, a progressive corrective coaching process.
The self-evaluation. Alternatively, you may give employees a form and let them rate themselves so you don’t have to (what a novel idea!). Typically, they rate themselves as excellent in everything, so now you need to find a way to crush them. Problem? You gave up too much power to begin with, so you’re forced to work through your employee’s defenses and your own reactions and emotions before you can even begin a constructive (still backward-looking) conversation.
The “about my raise” evaluation. I admit it: For years, I asked employees to remind me when their evals came due, knowing they wouldn’t miss that “time for a raise” conversation for the world. But this meant I was temporarily abdicating my role as leader by not even putting in enough effort to schedule something on my calendar. It also meant I placed the same importance on the evaluation process as vacuuming under my patio grill once a year. Perhaps worse, I had let the evaluation be connected by default to the expectation of a raise, placing focus squarely on that one (optional) component. I now discuss raises in a separate check-in conversation about one month later.
I give all of these evaluation processes 1 out of 5 stars. All of them require you to focus your energies on the past. But if evaluations offer a valuable, untapped chance to discuss the intersection of your employee’s past and future at your business, then there must be a better way. Evaluations provide a framework for summarizing where improvement should occur, and a rare opportunity to stop everything and prioritize the ongoing relationship and expectations we are creating with each other.
It’s the check-in point for that working relationship, more than the one-off filling out of any form, which provides an opportunity for your employee to self-actualize and prioritize their own improvement. After all, we cannot really improve others. We can only choose to prioritize our own improvement.
So here’s a radical thought: let’s use the evaluation process not just to look backwards, but to move the employee and practice forward, together.
Charting new Territory with Employee Evaluations
At its most useful, an evaluation isn’t something you do to someone. It’s a method by which you engage and enroll (and re-engage, and re-enroll) your employees in their individualized shared goals.
Here’s how that works:
1) You and your employee create expectations going forward, and define goals which are the end result of those expectations. This continues the process that should begin upon hiring, with the expectations and goals in the employee’s job description—but you can also start this with any employee at any time!
2) Consider those goals to be a blueprint for future checkins. As you and your employees get better at focusing on and accomplishing shared goals, you will probably use a combination of scheduled and informal check-ins.
3) Goals should reflect not only what you need from your employee and what you want them to achieve (although that’s part of it), but also include their personal-professional goals. These are goals you set together, in which the employee has reasonable input on their work, growth, and future within your practice.
Because this method emphasizes the goals you create with employees, you stand a much better chance of engaging them in the outcome of those shared goals. For more about “personalprofessional” goals (including how they’re different from “personal AND professional” goals), and a one-year planner that will transform your employee evaluations, visit www.cedrsolutions.com/tpd.
Although this process focuses on one individual at a time, it ultimately works to engage and energize your entire team.
Smarter Evals: An “Overneath” leadership Strategy
As planning and goal-setting become shared enterprises, you’ll be amazed at how well your employees start to run your practice. I call this the “overneath” approach to managing employees. Managing “overneath” someone, as a concept, combines being a leader (the “over” component) with being someone who leads by supporting others (the “underneath” component) in their personal-professional goals.
This lets you maintain your big-picture focus, managing your business, and keeping your vision, mission, and core values in mind, while also supporting your individual team members in ways that lead to extraordinary results. It’s essential to increasing the effectiveness of your evaluations and raising the level of your leadership skills.
Paul Edwards is the CEO and Co-Founder of CEDR HR Solutions (www.cedrsolutions.com), which provides individually customized employee handbooks and HR solutions to dental offices of all sizes across the United States. He has over 25 years’ experience as a manager and owner, and specializes in helping dental offices solve employee issues. Paul is a featured writer for The Profitable Dentist, Dental Economics, and other publications, and speaks at employment education seminars, conferences, and CE courses across the country. He can be reached at pauledwards@ cedrsolutions.com or (866) 414-6056.