Managers rarely enjoy conducting performance reviews. However, discussing current and future expectations with employees can lead to more productive work hours. And, allowing a one-on-one forum for honest critique (about employees and also expressed by them) will increase efficiency and office morale.
So, use these ten tips to conduct your next legal professional performance reviews:
1. Prepare. Performance reviews should be a structured and consistent part of law firm management. As such, prepare for employee reviews in advance of the conversation. A little bit of preparation will go a long way in terms of implementing effective and productive changes in the workplace.
2. Prioritize. Before you conduct any performance reviews, write down three major points of discussion. What would you like to critique most in this particular individual? What would you like to praise? And, what do you hope to gain from this employee as a result of the review? Prioritizing your conversation topics helps attain both a succinct and a successful performance review.
3. Be positive. Even if your message contains negative performance critiques, look for a positive spin. For example, if an employee is excessively tardy, start with a sentence like, “The firm really appreciates your hard work and attention to detail, which is why we need you to arrive on time in the future.” At the same time, don’t let your desire to “cushion the blow” cloud your overall message.
4. Be concise. If you’ve outlined points of discussion for each employee, then you’ll likely have no problem being concise in your conversation. But, it’s still important to keep in mind that individuals rarely retain more than three essential points in a conversation. So, be direct, and be concise to ensure maximum retention.
5. Be honest. Although performance reviews should be formal, they should also be honest. Speak to your employees as a manager, and as a real person. Don’t let the process become mechanized or robotic. Personalize each review session to show your employees how much you value their presence and work at the firm.
6. Ask questions. A performance review should never be one-sided. Ask your employee questions about their happiness at the firm, how they manage a work-life balance, and what cases are of particular interest to them. Use this information to better assign cases and clients to attorneys and paralegals in the future.
7. Listen. Employees are not frequently given an opportunity to speak their mind in total confidence and confidentiality. So, listen. Find out what suggestions employees may have to improve the office environment or work efficiency. Human capital is a law firm’s best asset.
8. Respond. If an employee has an issue or complaint, address the matter immediately. If it is something you can handle during the conversation, do so. If not, make a note to respond at a later date. Respond to all complaints and questions in a timely manner to prove your firm administration’s commitment to its staff.
9. Review regularly. Don’t let performance reviews become a surprise event. Schedule bi-annual reviews that discuss performance, salary, bonuses, and changes at the firm.
10. Follow-up. Finally, follow-up with employees in a more casual way after your formal performance reviews. If a certain employee expressed some unhappiness, stop by their office and check in. If an employee expressed the desire to take on more responsibilities, assign additional casework and then follow-up with his or her supervisor.
Make sure your employees have fulfilled short-term promises to the firm as addressed in performance reviews, but—equally important—also make sure the firm lives up to its own.