Keeping Employees Performing at Their Best

When it comes to employee evaluations and performance appraisals, managers have a slew of different approaches from which to choose. Management needs to find the optimal approach for their O&P business to effectively communicate to employees their strengths and weaknesses and keep employees motivated to deliver optimal customer care and service.

“The more employees we get, the more difficult it becomes, and I think businesses have been working on that throughout history,” C. Ralph Hooper, Jr., CPO, president of Carolina Orthotics and Prosthetics, told O&P News. “Good managers have to constantly work on it.”

Formal performance reviews

At Carolina Orthotics and Prosthetics, Hooper and his management team utilize a formal performance review policy. Reviews can occur on a daily basis depending on the needs of the particular facility, but typically the company conducts performance appraisals on a monthly basis and then on an annual basis when employees project their performance for the coming year.

“Criteria are objective and include discussion on sales volume, handling complaints, operating within a budget and meeting deadlines,” Hooper said.

During the monthly meetings or reviews, management and employees look at the previous month’s performance as related to goals and objectives and determine the tools, including personnel, equipment and capital, needed to reach objectives.

“We give our people objectives; we tell them what we expect of them, clear and upfront,” Hooper said.

Creative Technologies OPS uses the structure for annual performance evaluations from its parent company, BCP Group. The management team annually reviews employees’ current competencies, provides feedback on performance and establishes individual development goals for the upcoming year, according to Eric Neufeld, CPO, FAAOP, regional managing partner at Creative Technologies.

Eric Neufeld, CPO, FAAOP
Eric Neufeld

The annual review also includes a self-evaluation tool for employees to rate themselves. “A corresponding evaluation is completed by the supervisor,” Neufeld said. “Meaningful conversation and feedback during the review are usually generated by any discrepancy in rating between the supervisor and employee.”

At Hanger Inc., managers follow a system that establishes individual objectives, and employees receive an overall performance rating at year end that is determined by both the employee’s results against those objectives and how the employee behaves in accordance with the company’s six Core Values, according to Mike Phelan, Hanger’s director of human resources. Personal objectives for the calendar year are typically set in February or March. “The objectives are finalized after a collaborative discussion between employee and manager and confirmation that they are aligned with broader business objectives,” Phelan said.

Keys to effective communication

One of the keys to effective communication and optimizing employee performance is ensuring that employees know what is expected of them. Carolina Orthotics and Prosthetics utilizes policies and procedures to establish requirements and provides employees with detailed job descriptions. “Job descriptions are always fluid documents as needs may change over time,” Hooper said. “Employees are told what is expected of them at time of hire, if not before or during the interview process.”

At Creative Technologies, employees sign a job description each year along with their performance review. “It reinforces the specific expectations,” Neufeld said. “Time is taken to tailor each job description according to position and specific expectations for each employee.”

Hooper said the most effective standards and goals are objective and fact-based. Subjective standards can lead to vague answers that cannot be quantified, thereby leaving the topics open for interpretation. “Our partners and employees should never be surprised by where they are in the process due to the amount of feedback we initiate constantly on an informal basis and monthly on a formal basis,” Hooper said. “Lack of surprise in effective feedback and evaluation is foremost.”

To ensure consistency throughout the corporation, at Hanger, at the end of the year, “managers compare their proposed performance ratings for their staff members with the proposed ratings from other managers about their employees,” Phelan said. “In this way, a level of consistency in the application of the ratings is ensured.”

Consistency and clarity are also ensured through Hanger’s top-down approach of delivering individual objectives that tie into the company’s broader goals. The senior leadership team establishes the strategic objectives for the organization each year; each business unit leader is then responsible for translating the broad company goals into tactical action plans and objectives for each of their organizations, Phelan explained.

Each employee’s objectives are also listed in an online application for performance management so the employee and manager have access to the employee’s records at any time. “They can track progress against the objectives, capture notes and feedback and make adjustments,” Phelan said.


Providing negative feedback

Providing specific examples of instances in which the employee has excelled or failed also allows for more effective and relevant delivery of feedback, according to Neufeld. “I would provide two to four examples,” he said. “For example, ‘You should have been a bit more thorough with that person, that appointment, that documentation.’”

Phelan echoed this point. “We encourage employees and managers to keep notes and make updates to the employee’s performance management profile in our online tool,” he said. “A positive rating with no specifics feels hollow to the employee; a negative rating with no specifics feels unfair to the employee.”

Feedback should also be timely. Phelan suggested that an event or outcome should be immediately addressed and then addressed again at the year-end review. “Feedback that is a surprise at an annual review discussion likely will not be as effective as it should be,” he said.

In the event that management has to deliver negative feedback, they should remember to show respect for the employee, according to Hooper.

“It is also important that the context is conducive to growth and that the employee is receptive to the feedback,” he said. “Our managers reinforce our policy that we will never grow and learn without making some mistakes.”

Neufeld also suggested delivering negative feedback along with positive feedback. “Recommendations for improvement and giving the employee the opportunity to request resources in order to improve seem to be effective and productive,” he said.

Motivating employees during the appraisal or any time should be based on their individual desires, needs and abilities. While monetary bonus programs are motivational for some employees, others may be motivated by more time off or a promotion. “Understanding what motivates each individual is helpful in determining the style of performance reviews,” Neufeld said. “Getting to know and understand employees is important in all aspects of practice management.”

Challenges to providing feedback

Regardless of the performance appraisal technique that a company uses, Hooper said, there will be challenges and times when the employee is not a good fit for the company.

“No matter what you do, sometimes it is just not going to work,” he said. “We have a lot of different personalities, a lot of different skills and different goals.”

In addition, it is not uncommon for an evaluation to become emotional, and some employees may even become defensive. “This makes progress and real communication very challenging,” Neufeld said. In these cases, he suggested again that supervisors focus on both strengths and weakness and even consider holding an additional meeting with the employee at a later time to come up with an improvement plan once they have had time to process the information.

Finally, Neufeld suggested that managers allow employees to review the management during their review. He asks employees what they would like to see: 1) stay the same, 2) be eliminated and 3) changed or added. “This makes it more of a conversation back and forth where we are evaluating the whole situation,” he said. “I try to get their evaluation of the management and the company as a whole, and it has provided a lot of good overall information.”

Hanger utilizes a similar approach. “Our performance management process is a two-way conversation between managers and employees, contributing to the success of the program,” Phelan said. “We believe for the process to be successful, it is imperative that managers ask questions and listen to the employee’s feedback.” – by Tina DiMarcantonio

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