Profile of an Employee Review

Many small-business owners know that annual employee reviews are frequently awkward tasks. But the owner of a San Diego–based business recently handled one with relative ease and effectiveness—meaning, the jeweler got positive performance from a poor-performing employee.

In order for JCK to divulge the details of this review, identities must be kept anonymous to respect the privacy of the business and staff.

Subject for review: An employee of eight months who acts as a communications assistant, including writing press releases.

The review process: An employee fills out a questionnaire created by the employer. Included on the form were questions about the employee’s responsibilities, job likes and dislikes, an area to indicate where self-improvement is needed, query about the subject’s happiness in his position, what skills he gleans from the position, and whether or not he still wants to work for the company. “There’s no point in the person staying if he doesn’t like the job,” notes the employer.

Plus, the responses enabled the company owner to gain extra insight into the staff member: “I was able to identify exactly what this person does, in what areas he experiences frustration, and see that the employee thought he was doing a lot more than he was actually hired to do,” observes the owner.

Boss’s assessment of worker: The employee repeatedly makes spelling errors in written correspondence; so many that the owner took assignments away from the worker and completed them or checked every document before mailing.

After reading the employee’s form, the owner told the staffer that pieces of communication can’t go out with errors on them because the literature represents the organization unprofessionally. “I need to feel like I can trust you, but right now projects work out better when I take them back because errors are caught and fixed before correspondence is distributed to the public,” the jeweler explained to the staffer.

Employee’s self-assessment: The employee thought he made very few mistakes, but did allude to the spelling errors: When a lot of tasks pile up, things “slip,” the staffer admitted.

On the flip side, however, the employee voiced complaints. He lacked basics, such as a good computer monitor, secretarial support, a bookcase, and even magic markers. He also felt he was being left out of important decisions—an accusation that the boss says is unfounded. “I’ll share information and decision-making responsibilities that are relevant and within the scope of his job,” explains the owner. Then the staffer challenged the boss: “I could be making a lot more money elsewhere.”

Resolution and negotiation: In the end—the best time to negotiate, says the owner—the boss pledged to streamline the staffer’s workload so spelling errors would stop. The owner also acknowledged points of concern from the review form and vowed to give the employee the tools he requested and secretarial assistance, and validate the employee’s contributions by giving business cards to him. But, he couldn’t grant a raise until the staffer’s current performance improved.

Concerned that the employee might feel taken advantage of regarding the decision on the raise, the owner expressed understanding if the employee needed to seek employment elsewhere. However, if the staffer accepted the terms, the two could meet again in a couple of months to reconsider a salary increase. The jeweler also reminded the staffer of the glitzy media contact—which has some worth—that he gets from the job. “He likes that,” explains the boss about the staffer’s interaction with the fashion press. The staffer could have more of it, but work must be more clearly thought out and have fewer errors before that occurs.

Location: The two went to a nearby Starbucks coffee house to talk. At a neutral, comfortable place, outside of the office with no workplace distractions, sensitive issues and sometimes-difficult decisions can be more easily discussed. Communications are also more easily fostered when individuals sit as equals, and not one peering at another from behind a desk—in a position of power.

Final action: At press time (two months after the initial review) the boss is about to meet with the employee again. While the employee isn’t living up to the boss’s original expectations, the employer retains the staff member because he has improved and adds value to the organization. Moreover, the employer doesn’t want to train a new hire.

Plus, no one’s ever going to get “the perfect person,” explains the owner. The jeweler accentuates the staffer’s skills—research and administrative abilities—gives him small assignments to complete instead of entire projects, and has employees assist him as needed with large workloads. The owner also coaches him in the hope that he will grow into a more substantial role. The owner’s aim is to maintain a reasonable and respectful atmosphere.

Now the jeweler ponders how to fairly compensate the employee. “I’m considering an increase in hourly rate as well as compensation for education,” says the jeweler.