Jackrabbit Tips & Tricks

Boosting Morale with Performance Reviews

Do you conduct staff evaluations?

This can seem a daunting challenge. Some think that it goes against everything they do to create a “family atmosphere” among their employees. It just doesn’t seem the place for a formal process to “assess” employee performance – especially when some of these folks have been with you for a very long time.


Dance Teacher Magazine’s article by Fiona Kirk on this very topic shares some information from Sylvia Hepler (owner of an executive coaching firm) revealing that businesses that forego an official performance review process miss feedback capture that can help to maintain goals and enhance the experience they provide to their employees. It is important and valuable. In fact, it is important enough that you should overcome any doubts about its value and do it.

Kathy Blake, owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studio and Jackrabbit customer, told her story to Dance Teacher Magazine and reveals that her experience initiating a performance review process several years ago “was extraordinary.” She believes it was key in a very positive shift in the culture of her studio.

From several studio owners the magazine found that your should:

Ease employees into the process.

Set a schedule of perhaps twice yearly reviews and have a purpose for each/ The beginning of the season review can help to set goals and expectations and the one at the end of the season can measure progress and update goals for the next period. If that works, you might schedule an extra review mid-season if an employee seems to be having difficulty meeting expectations.

There are some best practices in how performance reviews should work. Each should  last 45 minutes to an hour and be held in neutral territory (like a staff meeting room or local coffee shop) to diffuse any feelings of intimidation for employees. Inform staff members of reviews far enough in advance for them to plan. This helps their comfort level with the review and eliminates the potential that they feel ambushed.

Set up a discussion.

Before the meeting, each of you should complete an evaluation form with the review beginning with a document exchange. The review can begin with reading of each other’s forms and discussing the differences and similarities in the answers.

When asked about her form’s questions, she noted to Dance Teacher Magazine that she asks:

  • What worked for you this school year?
  • What didn’t work and how did it impact your performance?
  • How were your talents recognized?
  • How did you solve problems that arose?
  • What would you do to improve for next year?

Keep it balanced.

Your feedback should have a balance of positive and negative. The contributions the employee has made should come first and be followed up by ways the employee can improve. Remember that this is not the time for heated discussion. Rather a look at how you see this employee’s contribution to the company and what he/she could be doing differently (or continue doing the same) to progress.

Bonnie Schuetz of Boni’s Dance and Performing Arts Studio, puts each employee’s growth in their own hands, posing questions to teachers such as “How would you like to see yourself grow? For example, to be more patient or creative?” It is amazing how many points for discussion arise out of this style of review. Bonnie also notes that it is good to keep each review subject’s file on hand for reference during the session so that such items as pertinent emails or other documents can be duly noted. This also sparks your memory so that you don’t miss any topics that should be covered. After all, you’re looking back across an entire season or year. You just can’t remember everything.

Ask for feedback.

This can, in fact, be quite enlightening. Kathy Blake provides an example of this in the above noted article.  Kathy noticed that one of her front desk workers seemed to be increasingly disgruntled. During the review, Kathy realized that she didn’t want the extra responsibility that she was pushing on her. She preferred doing the basics. Kathy adjusted her job description and her pay grade and that made the employee happy. Kathy doesn’t know how she would have learned this without the review.

Some employers turn the tables on themselves and let their staff evaluate them. “What do you need from your employer to make this job better, to make this place better? What do you expect that is not happening? What can be done to make you feel supported?” These are each great questions for you to ask of your staff. It can be hard to do – pointing that finger of examination on yourself – but it can go a long way in helping you to get it right.

As a result of feedback, Kathy realized that her employees wanted more in-house education and so she quickly initiated a teacher-training program. Without their request of it, she would have considered that she was imposing on them by asking them to participate in training.

It is a big mistake if you don’t evaluate yourself.

Even if you feel like you have the best “open-door” policy in the world and it works just fine – don’t allow that to preclude performance reviews as official discussion forums that might not happen otherwise. Your staff will probably start to look forward to reviews and be better at sharing issues and problems as they arise.

Here are some tips on conducting the review conversation:

  1. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to as and how you will phrase it.
  2. Give honest feedback. Don’t skip over difficult issues for fear it will be upsetting. Likewise, don’t inflate praise. Employees will learn to trust you.
  3. Lead with the positive, the suggest areas where you would like to see improvement.
  4. Keep criticisms constructive. Restrict comments to observed job behavior and back each up with specific examples. Don’t say: “You’re sloppy.” Do say: “I’d like to see you keep your filing up-to-date. It looks bad to have personal student information on your desktop where it can be lost or seen by others.”
  5. Make it a two-way conversation. Invite the employee to suggest goals, listen to their feedback and make good eye contact.
  6. Be consistent. Your process should be the same for all.
  7. Avoid surprises. Performance review is a year-round process. Give immediate feedback, both compliments and criticisms, so employees have the chance to make adjustments before the next official review.

Source: Progress Report by Fiona Kirk, www.dance-teacher.com, December 2009 (Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist whose work has also appeared in Pointe, Dance Spirit and Dance Retailer News.)

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