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Getting to Know Your Employees

With a formal performance-feedback process, you get motivated employees who can help enhance your business success.

By Kirk J. Hulett

Surveys report that 90 percent of managers strongly dislike giving employees formal performance feedback. Despite the reluctance you may experience, the feedback process is essential to retaining good employees and helping them improve their job performance, as well as critical in addressing the issue of poor performance.

The feedback process works best when it is formalized and standardized. Formalizing the process holds you accountable for providing your employees with valuable performance feedback and creates a history of the employee's job performance. If you need to discipline or fire an employee, this performance documentation will be essential in justifying your actions in any employment-related legal action.

Providing accurate feedback to your staff gives you the opportunity to develop specific goals and create a plan for achieving those goals. By accurately assessing the employee?s strengths and areas for improvement, you can work with him to identify improvement efforts.

Here are some best practices for implementing a performance-feedback process in your organization:

Use a performance-feedback form. This form should describe five to 10 performance areas to be evaluated, such as attendance, quality of work, attitude and customer-service skills. These dimensions should correspond to the job requirements on the employee's job description. The form should include a numerical rating scale and a space for comments about the individual's performance. The form should also list the date of the review and have space for you and the employee to sign. Keep a signed copy of the form in the employee's personnel file. You can find sample forms by searching human resources sites online or in the business section of your local bookstore.

Have a feedback discussion. After you have filled out the feedback form, schedule a meeting with the employee to last at least 30 minutes with no interruptions. Practice what you are going to say, and during the meeting, give the employee an opportunity to respond to your feedback.

Be specific. Give your employee specific examples of behavior to support your performance ratings. These examples should be recorded in writing on the form and be described verbally during the feedback discussion. For example, it is better to tell the employee that he makes very few errors when completing application forms for clients than to say he is doing quality work.

Give frequent feedback. The more frequent the feedback, the better. Ideally, you should conduct a formal discussion and complete a feedback form for each employee every six months. Remember also to offer positive and negative feedback to your staff on a daily basis.

Keep a performance diary. Do this to remember specific examples of your employee?s job performance. I have a page in my planner with the employee's name at the top. When I observe an instance of positive or negative behavior, I make a quick note of the date and the circumstances. Then, when it is time to complete the formal feedback, I can cite those specific examples.

Link performance to pay. Set a schedule for salary reviews, such as every January. Link the number of the employee?s annual merit-based raises to the ratings on the performance feedback form. For example, an average rating equals an average raise while a superior rating equals an above average raise. A low rating results in no raise. This lets your employee know when to expect raises and what level of performance is required to get a raise.

Avoid bias. Biases can unconsciously influence your feedback. Being aware of common evaluation biases can help you avoid them. First, there is the ?halo effect,? which influences you to rate an employee highly in all aspects of the job because of the one great aspect of his performance. For example, you may have a staff person who is beloved by your clients. However, she has problems arriving at work on time and takes off too many unplanned days. If you give this employee a strong positive review and do not address the attendance issues, you have fallen victim to halo bias.

The evil cousin of the halo bias is the pitchfork effect, which influences you to rate an employee poorly on all aspects of his performance because of one glaring deficiency. Finally, the recent effect occurs when you only consider the aspects of performance that have taken place in the days and weeks preceding the performance review and not the performance during the entire evaluation period. Use of a performance diary will help you avoid making this mistake.

Kirk J. Hulett is senior vice president of strategy and practice management for Securities America Inc. in Omaha, Neb. Hulett leads an internal consulting firm that assists financial advisors on practice-management issues and is author of Hiring to Grow: A Practical Workbook. For more information about Securities America, visit


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