Effective Employee Evaluations

Take the awkwardness out of employee evaluations with written job descriptions and objective performance appraisals.

 By Rebecca Jones

Jason Dauer wasn’t sure how to respond when an employee in his father’s chiropractic office crumpled up a training memo and threw it on the ground.

“She got really angry,” recalls Dauer, the office manager, who at the time oversaw a staff of four in Torrance, Calif. “It was just some points that I thought would help her do her job better, but she responded by basically attacking the doctor’s behavior. I picked it up and told her that I was going to put it in her file, whether she chose to accept it or not.”

Eventually, that employee was fired after several more reprimands for her behavior. But when she applied for unemployment, her claim was denied—precisely because Dauer was able to document the history of written reprimands she’d received and produce her poor job evaluations.

The evaluation process with that employee made for some tense moments for Dauer, but in the end, his diligence proved sound business practice.

Fear of conflict is very likely one big reason that a recent survey of ACA members revealed that 35 percent do not conduct regular formal job evaluations for their office staff. “We want people to like us and love us, and so we don’t correct some things that need to be corrected,” says Rick Goodman of Pembroke Pines, Fla., a chiropractor-turned-business-consultant, motivational speaker and the author of Living a Championship Life: A Game Plan for Success. “We’ll see someone making mistakes, but we’re not willing to step up and talk about it because we fear they’ll leave if we do. But I would rather not have somebody there than to have somebody in my office who was not doing the right thing.”

Fortunately for most employees, job evaluations not only aren’t painful; they’re beneficial for all parties involved. Done right, they can lead to happier employees, happier patients and a smoother-running office.

“The reason we do them in the first place is to set goals for an employee, to judge the results achieved and to create performance criteria that can be met and measured,” Goodman says. “A lot of times we may find that the goals we’ve set are unreachable, and one of the major reasons for burnout is that people are given responsibilities they simply aren’t able to perform.”

Timely, regular and written job evaluations should be part of every chiropractic practice, and should include front office as well as professional staff.

Put It in Writing

Step one is creating a written job description, advises Goodman. The description can be narrow to include only those things the chiropractor wants and expects an individual to perform. (“I don’t want my front desk staff answering billing questions. Our billing manager will answer the billing questions,” says Timothy Nelson, DC, who oversees a staff of 13 at Heritage Health, an integrated healthcare center in Centennial, Colo.) Or it can be broadened by including a catch-all clause such as “and any other duties deemed necessary.”

The key point is to put it in writing and have employees sign it. Over time, as office personnel and duties change, keep updating job descriptions. “We have our staff write their own job descriptions,” Goodman says. “Who knows better than them what their job is?”

Once the expectations for an employee are clear, appraising performance becomes much more objective and quantifiable.

“Focus on performance and not personalities,” Goodman says. “Focus on valid, relevant concrete issues rather than just subjective emotions or feelings.”

At a minimum, employees should receive such evaluations yearly. Goodman does employee appraisals twice a year. Dr. Nelson does them every 90 days. Whether the reviews are frequent or infrequent, the person conducting the evaluation should follow certain rules for effective interviewing:

1.      Listen to what employees say.

2.      Acknowledge their feelings.

3.      Repeat back to employees what you’ve heard them say, so there’s no misunderstanding, and have them do the same for you.

4.      If a problem arises, focus on the problem, not the person.

“You want to stop, look and listen,” says Goodman. “Stop the interaction before it can become argumentative or unproductive. Make sure you don’t get angry. Don’t get defensive. Don’t blame others. Don’t lecture. Look squarely at the problem and describe it as you see it to employees. Then listen to their suggestions and explore ways to solve it together. A lot of times, employees will give me solutions that I didn’t have in my head.”      

Turn the Tables

Dr. Nelson believes it’s equally important to allow employees the chance to assess their own performance and working conditions.

“I ask them how they think they’re doing professionally and what they see as problems,” he says. “I give them three days to think about it before we meet. I tell them, ‘Don’t tell me I don’t like working with so-and-so.’ But I have them tell me what they do and don’t like about their job and what could be done to improve the job. Over the years, I’ve discovered that what I may think is important really isn’t important to them, and things they think are important would never have occurred to me.”

Finally, discuss any plans for improvement and set new goals. Goodman suggests focusing on three to five written goals for the coming year. “If you give them a lot of things to improve, they won’t be too motivated, and they’ll end up leaving. We want to quantify specifically what’s expected. Say, ‘I expect us to hit this goal, and this goal and that goal. What do you think is the best way to go about that?’ Different people may have different ways of achieving the same goal.”

 ACA News Extra...

If Worse Comes to Worst

As in the case of Jason Dauer’s recalcitrant employee, having job descriptions and evaluations in writing is always useful.

“If you talk to an employee about his performance, you need to memorialize that,” advises Myra Creighton, an employment attorney with the Atlanta law firm of Fisher & Phillips. “It needs to be reduced to writing. If there’s a problem later, and the chiropractor says, ‘I talked to him about his performance and about these issues,’ the employee will say, ‘No you didn’t.’ They don’t perceive a comment such as, ‘You need to be more careful with your filing,’ as an evaluation of their performance. Something in writing tends to make it very real to them.”

If it becomes apparent that an employee cannot meet expectations and must be terminated, do it face to face, Creighton says. “If you treat people with dignity and respect, they’re less likely to come back and sue you. If you don’t give them an opportunity to explain themselves, they’ll look for another forum in which to have that opportunity. So have them come in and talk. Don’t terminate over the phone, and don’t mail them a letter.”