Performance Reviews Done Right: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

by Stith Keiser / December 13, 2018


Holiday festivities. Family. Friends. Good food.

Year-end inventory counts. Annual budgeting. Performance reviews.

To some, the above two lines may seem as polarizing as a lump of coal and a shiny new present. Fortunately, for veterinary managers and owners alike, exercises that many designate to the end of the year are in fact, when done right, gifts that keep on giving.

Take performance reviews, for example. At a bare minimum, many of us talk up their value during the interview process and reference them in our employee manuals. Yet, they have a tendency to get quietly shuffled to the backburner or, probably worse yet, burned through during year-end frenzy. There’s a lot of research and articles on the value of performance reviews done right. You can find as many articles on Google regarding the cost – not only financially, but to team morale, culture, client experience and yes, even patient care – to reviews performed poorly. I won’t hold your time hostage by quoting statistics a quick internet search can readily provide. Instead, let’s explore what it takes to develop a gift as valuable as a performance review, executed well.

Which ingredients are crucial to employee satisfaction and productivity?

a book called 'drive' that explores what employees crave in their jobAccording to Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, employees (at least the level of employee most of us want in our hospitals) crave three things – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. As leaders, we have the opportunity, even the responsibility, to set the stage for these three ingredients so crucial to employee satisfaction and productivity. These drive the economic engine in our hospitals, set the stage for providing an exceptional client experience and allow us to practice a level of medicine of which we can be proud. While I’m not aware of any one tool that can provide these ingredients, performance reviews rank as a one of the top tools in our toolbox. How do we wield this tool? It starts by understanding what a performance review is and is not.

What is (and is not) a performance review, done right

A performance review is not just an occasion to deliver punishment. A performance review is not a monologue. A performance review is a coaching activity. A discussion. An opportunity to identify short and long-term goals. Click To Tweet

If done effectively, performance reviews allow us to:

  • Provide feedback to prompt expected behavior
  • Document performance
  • Allow team members the chance to clarify expectations and discuss any issues
  • Motivate and build upon Pink’s autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • Plan the upcoming year and develop goals
a vet writing in her office with a cat on her lap

You have options.
Which type of review works best for your hospital?

With those objectives in mind, we have a variety of review formats we can choose from. Three of the most common include:

Traditional Reviews –

typically utilize a rating system based on technical & professional skills, reviewed in a one-on-one conversation

Employee Self Evaluations –

place the employee in the driver seat, encourage self-accountability and the assessment of personal goals. Our job, as manager, is to supervise the process and review the self-evaluation with the team member.

Anonymous 360 Evaluations –

involve a written list of questions – often focusing on collecting feedback on strengths, opportunities for development and relationship dynamics – completed, anonymously, by the team on one another. A quick word of caution, this method can be very eye-opening and effective, but it can also blow up in our face it not presented and administered properly.

a woman pointing to sticky notes lined up on a wall

Like with most things, there are pros and cons to each method. After conducting further research and choosing what you believe is right for you, your team, and your hospital, make sure that whichever method you decide on provides for:

  • Coaching
  • Accountability
  • SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-based) goals
  • Big picture ideas and feedback

The right way to give constructive feedback

When recently teaching these concepts to some of our second-year veterinary students at WSU, the conversation morphed into discussing what can be one of the most challenging components of a performance review—delivering specific feedback. After establishing that feedback should be geared toward behavior, not personality, one of the students posed what I thought was a very insightful question – “How do I actually deliver feedback in such a way that allows me to achieve the points you’ve mentioned?”

I responded honestly that I didn’t have a perfect script, but I’d developed—from personal experience conducting performance review as well as through researching theories and strategies—a method that worked for me. When it comes to the feedback portion of the performance review, I recommend the following:

  1. two coworkers shaking handsState the purpose of your feedback
  2. Explain the problem as you see it
  3. Describe the impact of the problem
  4. Allow the other person to respond
  5. Explore and discuss potential solutions
  6. Summarize an action plan and express support

As managers or owners, this strategy allows us to directly get to the heart of an issue, relate it to what matters to the individual, gain agreement, develop solutions and leave the meeting with an action plan in place.

The optimal frequency for performance reviews

This blog is timed to coincide with one of the most popular times to conduct performance reviews, but I encourage us to not limit ourselves to annual reviews. Studies suggest that increased frequency of reviews decreases stress and turnover. Research aside, it’s not hard to imagine the advantages of more frequently celebrating successes, identifying issues and creating solutions. I’ve seen some practices move to shorter, quarterly reviews or bi-annual traditional reviews. “Flash feedback” is a relatively new strategy that features a conversation structured around a form, completed monthly by each employee and submitted to the owner and/or manager, with only a few key sections:

  • Our/Their Why
  • Points to review (i.e. dental awareness month, new info or processes)
  • Projects, skills or goals on which to focus
  • General comments
  • Employee concerns/comments

The range of performance review formats and frequency options allows us the flexibility to cater to our team, our hospital and our goals. Whatever method you opt for, use this holiday season to transform that lump of performance review coal into a gift that keeps on giving.


Stith Keiser is the Chief Executive Officer for Blue Heron Consulting. He and his team of veterinarians, hospital owners and managers coach new and seasoned practice owners alike to improve their lives and the lives of their team members while simultaneously enhancing client experience, building sustainable practice profitability and elevating the quality of care for pets. You can reach Stith at skeiser@bhcteam.com.

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