ANALYSIS <b>The Agency Business</b>: When evaluating employees, it's important to stick to specifics

At many agencies, spring is the time for employee performance reviews. When done properly, these reviews can help employees set goals, while also including feedback from clients. Spring may be when a young man's fancy turns to love, but for many agencies, it's also employee performance-review season.

At many agencies, spring is the time for employee performance reviews. When done properly, these reviews can help employees set goals, while also including feedback from clients. Spring may be when a young man's fancy turns to love, but for many agencies, it's also employee performance-review season.

While approaches vary by agency size and management style, there are several overarching dos and don'ts when it comes to handling employee reviews. Relying on HR professionals to craft review forms is one recommendation. Another, and perhaps the most important, is that review forms and criteria used to judge performance need to be as specific as possible to keep evaluations from deteriorating into bitter debates between managers and workers. "Don't make it personal," advises Agnes Gioconda, EVP and chief talent officer with Fleishman-Hillard. Managers should talk to employees about performance throughout the year. "By the time you get to the annual review, there really shouldn't be big surprises," Gioconda says. If done correctly, employee reviews can help build team spirit and provide employees with specific goals for the coming year. They also can incorporate client feedback and ensure that clients and employees are on the same page. "I love working with people on their goals; I don't like filling out the forms," says Kathryn Morrison, president of SunStar, a 13-year-old, 10-person shop in Alexandria, VA. Morrison tried to muddle through reviews on her own, but then about six years ago, she hired a human resources consultant to craft her review forms and establish her firm's annual-review process. Reviews are done in the spring. The paperwork includes a job-specific form and a second one called the citizenship form. Citizenship deals with topics such as "treats coworkers, clients, and visitors with dignity and respect." Morrison speaks with clients on a regular basis. Employees at the financial communications firm are given very specific goals for each client, such as number of stories and specific publications to get coverage in. At RLMpr, a 40-person New York agency, employee reviews are used "as a tool to help people get to the next level," says David Feder, SVP. Employees meet with managers for reviews annually, based on starting dates. Client evaluations of employees come from report cards. The quarterly report cards ask clients to rate agency personnel in five areas, including knowledge of media trends, ability to bring clients timely media opportunities, and creativity. Client feedback "plays a pretty big part in" reviews, says Feder. Stanton Crenshaw Communications used the start of the recession three years ago to do a quality review of the agency and its people. "When things were booming, there was margin for error. Now there's not," says president Dorothy Crenshaw. One of the outcomes was employee-review forms that are much more specific than those the agency had used in the past. "Rather than say 'bring in new business,' we say 'generate 10 business leads,'" Crenshaw gives as an example. Clients are asked to fill out a questionnaire about agency performance every 12 months, and that information is used for employee reviews, which are done after six months for new hires and then annually. Stanton Crenshaw ties reviews to salary increases. Employees and managers fill out the same review forms and then compare the results. "We try very hard to use non-defensive language, and we try very hard to come up with specific examples" in discussing performance, Crenshaw says. Fleishman has let managers do employee reviews on employment anniversary dates in the past but expects to shift to April reviews next year to gain consistency across the agency, Gioconda says. It has a formal annual review tied to salary and less formal six-month reviews. To stay on topic in annual reviews, the firm has created lists of key qualifications for every position that revolve around specific skill areas, such as client service and creativity, Gioconda says. The key to effective reviews is manager preparation, she adds. She encourages managers to keep employee folders and add comments throughout the year, otherwise, "they end up in a review covering events of the last month," which can frustrate employees, she says. Fleishman holds training sessions for managers on how to prepare for and conduct reviews. Handling employee performance reviews Several rules should be adhered to when doing employee reviews:
  • Use a human resources professional to help create review forms.
  • Stick to specifics about job performance and goals. Don't get into personal issues or vague generalities.
  • Seek client feedback either formally or informally. Find out how clients' expectations match or don't match employee performance.
  • Give employees the opportunity to discuss their goals for the coming year.

  • Have you registered with us yet?

    Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

    Register
    Already registered?
    Sign in