Team evaluations reimagined

Performance evaluations can provide positive feedback and help team members see where they can grow

Performance evaluations can provide positive feedback and help team members see where they can grow. It does not have  to be a negative or punitive experience.
Performance evaluations can provide positive feedback and help team members see where they can grow. It does not have to be a negative or punitive experience.

Evaluations. The word instills an immediate reaction the moment you read it! Did it cause you to take a deep breath, sigh loudly, or roll your eyes? Was your response, “Oh yeah, I need to get around to doing those?”

That five-syllable word provokes quite a range of responses and is rarely ever positive. If you are feeling this way, imagine what your team is feeling. Most likely everything from, “Do they even care what I am doing day to day?” or perhaps extreme fear when you blow through the clinic and announce evaluations will be held next week.

What is missed during this flood of emotions centered around an evaluation is the impact an evaluation can have on someone’s life, including your own. Evaluations are not a one-sided endeavor where you sit and list the issues you are having with a team member, or the skills they cannot seem to conquer. To me, an effective evaluation is a way to bring awareness to oneself, and help employees reach their goals and dreams. The cool part is you get to help people achieve them! An evaluation done with this intention is life changing.

The purpose

An evaluation should provide self-awareness for a team member, identify any areas they may need to hone, celebrate the victories, and make a clear path for the future. In turn, the outcome will be a more valuable, committed, and loyal team member.

Notice there was nothing mentioned about identifying wrongdoings. If your purpose during an evaluation is to tell people everything they are doing wrong, the outcome is not going to be what you are hoping for.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You catch more flies with honey”? The same applies here. You can certainly provide direct and honest feedback, but it needs to be constructive and delivered in a way in which no one throws their guard up. Your purpose should be to inspire them to make changes within themselves.

Skills assessment or evaluation?

There is a time and a place to evaluate the skills each team member exhibits, and it is not once a year (or when you remember) during an evaluation! Don’t get me wrong, accessing skills is a very critical part of what we as managers should be doing, but it should be done on a very regular basis with coaching provided on the spot.

If your practice prefers a more standardized skills assessment there are countless checklists available based on the job duty you can utilize. Reach for these and keep them going throughout the year.

Each member of the team, however, is more than a robot performing a set of skills specific to our industry. They are part of a very dynamic culture within your practice that can make the difference between a healthy practice that retains a great team, provides exceptional pet care, and an environment the clients love coming back to over and over again. These are the very reasons I prefer to evaluate my teams based on their alignment with our core values and culture instead of just a skills assessment.

360 evaluations

I prefer to put the days of printing an evaluation with a column for you and a column for the team member to check “always,” “sometimes,” or “needs improvement” in our very distant past. After all, I certainly hope you are not working side by side with every team member on a daily basis while juggling your management duties. (I know sometimes this is only what dreams are made of!)

How can you possibly give them valuable feedback? Instead, consider utilizing a 360 evaluation. This format allows every member of the team to provide feedback to the team member being evaluated.

Don’t stop reading just yet! If you have tried this in the past and it failed miserably, or you have heard horror stories, these were not performed in a way that garnered success. I have performed hundreds of 360 evaluations—some legacy teams that have been together for decades and have never had an evaluation, brand-new teams that just met 90 days ago, and everything in between.

No doubt you will have a one-off team member who takes this opportunity to hide behind a keyboard and just roast someone—this is great! It helps you identify who needs coaching or needs to get off your ship because they do not align with your core values and culture. I will help you set your team up to avoid the armchair commandos, but first a review of some of the benefits of performing a 360 evaluation:

  • Allows direct and constructive feedback from every “zone” inside of your practice. Maybe you have a technician who is always super rude when she interacts with your client service team. This is a great place for the CSR to provide constructive feedback, bring awareness to the behavior, and open the door for some coaching.
  • The team will start providing constructive feedback in the moment once they get more comfortable.
  • Allows you to evaluate the team member on their alignment with the practice’s core values and culture.
  • Identifies any areas that might need bolstering.
  • Uncovers who is potentially in the wrong seat within the practice or potentially is not the right fit for the practice.
  • Offers a chance to correct misperceptions. If four out of six technicians are complaining the technician being evaluated comes in and sits at the computer every morning instead of helping prepare for the day, you can explain the technician was tasked with reviewing lab work by the lead doctor. This clears up the confusion, but also identifies a need for better transparency and communication within the team.
  • Send the evaluations in the form of a survey. You can use platforms like Google forms or Survey Monkey, to name a couple. Most survey platforms compile the data in graphs that are customizable based on your needs, which makes presenting and sharing them super user-friendly.

The frequency in which you provide feedback in the form of an evaluation is crucial to seeing results within your practice. I recommend performing a full 360 evaluation yearly for the entire team—doctors included. For a new team member, it is vital to check in after the initial 90 days, and then get them on the yearly schedule.

The first few may feel a little uncomfortable because you have never presented an evaluation this way and your team has never received feedback in this manner. Ultimately, what happens is the team starts learning it is okay to give direct, honest, constructive feedback to help each other be the best version of themselves.

It also teaches everyone (you included) to receive feedback and not feel attacked, but reflect on it and make changes or ask for the tools needed to make those changes. It really is a beautiful thing to watch the culture shift from everyone “out to get everyone” to everyone identifying an issue and investing in helping each other correct it.

Preparing the team for evaluations

If your team has not been nurtured to give constructive feedback and you ask them to evaluate each other, this could end up as a super negative “bleep” session. Schedule a team meeting prior to launching the 360 evaluations, share the vision, as well as set some expectations. Specifically,

  • 360 evaluations allow team member within the practice to provide each other with feedback.
  • This is a platform to help each team member become the best they can be with our help.
  • If you have negative feedback to share, this is okay, but I expect it to be done in a constructive manner.
  • What not to say: “You are so rude to me every time I tell you a client is on the phone checking on their hospitalized pet.”
  • What to say: “It seems to increase stress levels when I share a client is on the phone checking on their hospitalized pet. I would like to re-evaluate how the CSR team could make this less stressful for everyone and provide a more positive interaction for me.”
  • Avoid using the word, you.
  • Avoid using specific examples. Instead, use the example above because isolated events should be handled in the moment. During the evaluation, we should focus on improving not only the team member, but reflect on how we can make the practice stronger as a whole.
  • Be honest and constructive.

Once these guidelines have been given, start sharing the evaluations and  embark on this new journey. Don’t be surprised if there are some shockers at the start of this process.

At the next team meeting use some of them as examples of what not to say and share ways to change it up a bit to be more constructive. There will most likely be some feedback that is so sweet it will make you tear up, too. Don’t forget to celebrate this feedback, as well. As I always say, be patient with your team as this is new and will take some time to learn.

You can’t grade your own work

Someone once told me you can’t grade your own work and when it comes to evaluations. I strongly agree. I much prefer the individual team member being evaluated to work through a set of “evaluation questions.” I want them to share their vision for the practice and the role they play in the following: the team, the core values, practice culture, client experience, and pet care.

The irony is most of the time the 360 evaluation performed by the team and the evaluation questions completed by the individual come together perfectly. I have been able to pick out future leaders based on these evaluation questions.

Some individuals are not as forthcoming with their opinions or ideas. With this platform they can share “safely” and there have been times my jaw has dropped and I question why I have not spent more time with this team member because of their incredible insight. It can also be quite the opposite and you may be changing up their seat within the hospital or potentially addressing their role within the practice altogether.

Compensation expectations

A really big pet peeve of mine is creating a culture where it is an expectation that an evaluation is tied to a compensation increase. I have had managers tell me someone was asking about their annual raise so they have to perform evaluations.

Consider increasing compensation on a merit basis whenever you deem it necessary. I have been known to increase compensation more than twice a year if it is deserved! What happens if their evaluation does not warrant an increase in compensation—do you tell them they won’t receive their raise this year? In my experience, they still see an increase on their paycheck, and their behaviors don’t improve. Don’t back yourself and your practice into a corner by tying your evaluations to an increase in compensation. Break the habit now!

If you have not performed evaluations in the last three years, this year is your year. Put a deadline on your calendar and start planning to perform your team’s evaluations. It will take some preparation, but once you deliver a few you will see the impact they have on the team.

If you are like me, you will become addicted to changing people’s lives one evaluation at a time.

In next month’s column, I will be covering setting career and personal goals with each team member that should be done during the evaluation process.

Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, CVBL, is a certified veterinary practice manager serving as the Florida regional director of operations for Family Vet Group. Her passion is creating and maintaining positive, successful workplace cultures, as well as helping practices increase revenue and the client experience. Shiver enjoys every aspect of inventory and strives to help practices meet and exceed their inventory goals. She and her husband reside in Lakeland, Fla., with their two Patterdale terriers and a few other furry family members.

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