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Team Member Performance Reviews

If I focus only on improving overall team performance, can I really expect every individual's performance to improve as well?

Phoenix: Following the workshop that I mentioned in the last issue of Practice Management, I had an interesting conversation with Rhonda, who is also a team leader. Referring to Carl's description of his team's weekend getaway, Rhonda said, "When you asked Carl to describe the measurable team performance improvement he had observed since that weekend, my thoughts immediately went to one individual on my team who I'd describe as a 'questionable performer' at best." She paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then asked, "If I focus only on improving overall team performance, can I really expect every individual's performance to improve as well?"

It was clear that Rhonda wanted me to say "yes," but knew I would say "no." She was right -- about two things, actually. Team members can influence and hold others accountable for their performance, but rarely does that adequately address the real reasons for an individual team member's poor performance. Second, Rhonda had avoided dealing with this performance problem longer than she should have, and she knew it.

Scheduling Individual Performance Reviews

Individual performance reviews should be regular and consistent. Conduct a formal review with each team member at least once a year. Also, provide reviews for new team members after 90 days and again after six months.

When you have someone who is a 'questionable performer,' review their performance at shorter intervals to provide needed feedback, support, and accountability for improvement. Each time you meet with them and assess their progress, agree on specific improvement goals and actions, and schedule the next check-up meeting.

Determining The Performance Areas To Be Reviewed

When conducting a formal performance review, two categories of responsibilities should be addressed ...

  • General responsibilities related to being a member of the team.
  • Specific responsibilities related to the individual's role on the team.

Here is a list of basic areas to cover. You will no doubt think of others.

General Team Responsibilities

  • Overall contribution to team goals.
  • Cooperation with and support of other team members.
  • Contribution during team meetings.
  • Overall contribution to team problem solving and innovation.
  • Absenteeism and tardiness - if these are issues.

Specific Team Role Responsibilities

  • Knowledge relating to their specific Area(s) Of Responsibility.
  • Productivity -- planning, organizing, and getting things done.
  • Quantity of work.
  • Quality of work.
  • Connectivity -- understanding who depends on them and how well those team members are being served by them.

Defining Your Performance Rating Scale

It's amazing how complex and complicated performance rating scales can be. As you address each performance area above, I suggest using a simple three-tier rating system:

  • Performs above expectation.
  • Meets performance expectations.
  • Performs below expectation.

The important part is what you talk about when you evaluate performance as being above, meeting, or below expectations. I suggest the following.

ABOVE Expectations

  • Identify what they are doing that is exceptional.
  • Explain the specific contribution their performance is making to achieving team goals.
  • Encourage them to continue performing at that level.

MEETS Expectations

  • Identify what they are doing and how it meets expectations.
  • Explain the contribution their performance is making to achieving team goals.
  • Encourage them to perform at an even higher level -- and talk about ways they could do that. Ask them to agree on what they will do.

BELOW Expectations

  • Identify what they are doing and why their performance is not meeting expectations.
  • Explain the problem(s) their performance creates for achieving team goals.
  • Ask them to explain why they believe their performance is not meeting expectations. Help them to list specific knowledge, skill, habit, and support deficiencies.
  • Work with them to define the specific action they will take to bring their performance up to expectation.
  • Describe how you, and other team members, will support their efforts.
  • Determine a specific date and time when you will meet to discuss their progress.
  • Encourage them in their efforts, and, again, promise your support.

Using Individual Performance Reviews As A Motivator

Your team members will be motivated by performance reviews when the review is objective, contains no surprises, and emphasizes growth and development.

  • Objective. Focus on behavior, not their personality traits. When you discuss why they are not performing up to expectation, focus on such things as knowledge and skill deficiencies, lack of adequate information or support, and bad habits. Once identified, any of those can be corrected.
  • No Surprises. The truth is, an accurate and effective performance review cannot be accomplished in a couple of hours once a year. It should be an ongoing, yearlong process. If you rate performance in a specific area as below expectation, it should have already been addressed back when the problem actually began, and possibly a number of times since then.
  • Growth & Development. People who are performing below expectation will respond best to efforts to help them grow and develop so they can make a significant contribution to your team -- as will those performing at and above expectation. Don't assume that any team member "has arrived." Growth and development is a great source of self-motivation to everyone.
A performance review can be a pleasurable experience that positively impacts the team member, your entire team, and yourself. Approach each review as an opportunity for you and your team member to discuss ideas, concerns, behaviors, and responsibilities in a safe, one-on-one setting. Your mindset going in should be to inspire team members to set and achieve higher goals and standards for themselves, and for the team as a whole.

To further help you with this challenging task, we have created guidelines for conducting a performance review and a sample form to help you organize your notes during each review. If you would like a free PDF version of the Individual Performance Review Guide, go to:

If you have any topic or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at [email protected].
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