Reviewing Employee Performance Is More Than Checking Boxes: It’s About Creating A Fundamentally Sound & Comprehensible Structure With Them

How many of you have ever received a performance review? Now, bearing that question in mind, how many of you feel that you actually benefited from it in a non-monetary way? Of those who did, how many feel that the company benefited from it also?

I’m betting not many hands are raised just now (which is good, because I never once told you to raise them in the first place, weirdos). When it comes to performance reviews, there really is no ‘benchmark’ or ‘gold standard’ to which we can attribute a set of solid, procedural, rules. As a result, most companies feel the inherent need to do them, yet few ever really comprehend why they’re actually important – to both parties.

Allow me to, once more, tap my finite personal resources to tell you a story. It’s a very long one, but it also has a great many important points to offer up as to what not to do. See if you can pick up on them as the narrative flows:

When I was 17, I had graduated from high school, and had applied for a job at a major, national insurance carrier’s claims office. I was invited back for a second interview, and was then required to complete several, in-depth, aptitude and psychological tests. As the weeks wore on, I received word that I had not been selected for any of the open Medicare Claims Processing positions that I had applied for.

Two days later, I was notified by Human Resources that I had been bumped out of that queue of candidates intentionally, to be considered for a top-echelon, as-yet unadvertised, Major Medical Claims Processing job instead. I had no idea what this meant, but learned quickly that I had been selected to process the most labor-intensive and complex of all the policies that the company offered. Apparently, my test results were to their liking.

With the promise of a 25% higher entry-level pay grade than the position that I had applied for I, of course, took the job. Before I processed a single claim, I was put through the rigors of a six week, intensive, training experience that – truth be told – was no walk in the park.

Upon successful completion, I was put in the trenches. I very quickly went on to be the top producer in claims processing volume on the entire floor of some two-hundred and thirty individuals. Not only was I the top producer, I was the top producer even against those who were processing the less complex policies (my numbers, when they needed help on those policies, actually broke daily processing records). On top of this, I always took the extra time to set up the back-end, tracking, pages for each customer’s account I accessed that did not yet have them done. This was viewed as insanity by my co-workers, as it sapped time from my bottom line numbers. It made sense to me, because it was just good etiquette to do so for the sake of ‘ease of use’ for the next Claims Processor to access the account. Couple that with the fact that we had been asked to specifically do so in training, and I had no intention of not complying with this reasonable request.

For a year, I continued, week after week, month after month, hitting my quality quotients, and being the top producer on the floor by a wide margin. Before the year was over, I was the only non-supervisor who was allowed to process – without oversight – a claim valued at up to $25,000: $15,000 more than any other non-supervisor on the floor. So, when the time came for my first performance review, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I expected to be rewarded.

Here is where my first point of advice comes in: As an employer, make certain that your expectations of performance are outlined up front, at the time of hire. Identify what criteria will be used to evaluate the employee, what will and won’t count against their ability to receive a raise, etc. This takes some time and thought but, it also gives your employees some known benchmarks to shoot for, with the goal being to please you, and better themselves monetarily and experientially.

Here’s how my first performance review went down: I was told that all employees in Major Medical Claims were entitled to a maximum of a 3% raise that year. This was the first time that I had heard this, but shame on me for not having asked before then (my early working life was full of valuable learning experiences like this). I was told everything about my performance that I already knew. I didn’t get to speak. My supervisor went over my production numbers, quality percentages, and attendance record with rote efficiency congratulated me, and told me that I was to receive a 2% (out of a potential 3%, recall) raise.

Readers: Short of my wife saying, “I do”, this was the most shocking thing I have ever heard in my life. To say I was taken aback is a grave injustice to the gravity I felt the situation imposed upon me: I was literally floored by what had just left this woman’s lips.

So, I did what anyone who was seventeen would do: I promptly asked why, and let my indignation show. Her response floored me further. Part of the raise criteria was based upon how well an employee was socially adapted to working with other employees. I asked how that worked, as we each had individual cubicles, and were encouraged to listen to music while we worked. Her response was that while I did superior work, it was her impression that I didn’t go out of my way to commiserate with my fellow employees during break times. In fact, I often was seen not taking them at all. On random, potluck, days, I chose not to participate. This was seen as an alienating of comrades in the workplace and, therefore, anti-social behavior. To be fair – it was just that.

Here’s the problem: I was seventeen, fresh out of high school, not a lunch eater, and a broke kid who still lived in a home where ends barely met. I had three changes of dress clothes to my name. My co-workers were predominantly in their late twenties to late thirties, with families, and a great many of them were females who were – or whose husbands were – well-off. I was made fun of by some of the most self-professed religious members in my group about my clothing, and really had no social desire to connect with such shallow and, to me, boring and pretentious creatures who often went out drinking socially. At seventeen, I was the lone individual in my group who could not join them. So – no, damn it – I did not socialize. Point well noted.

That, my friends, is how I found myself in transition. The 2% was a done deal, and I was told that I could take it up with  the VP if I wished further action to be taken. Being a rebellious teen, I did just that. That meeting was worse, because I was – once more – lauded for my performance, and told that the original decision was up to the supervisor, so no overruling would be forthcoming. Then, I did something that decidedly showed my tender age: I asked, “So, what’s my motivation?”

The answer from the VP? “I don’t know.”

That tore it. I applied for the next open position in Customer Service – a semi-lateral, step down. I was granted this move and went through a further four weeks of intensive training. I was told that I was the only employee – at that time – who had made this move. Most, in fact, had made the opposite move: beginning in Customer Service and then transferring to Claims. I was also the only employee on the Customer Service floor who had the claims system accessible to me, as I had been told to feel free to work all the overtime I wanted upstairs in claims when my normal workday in Customer Service was over, to continue to address the more than three-month backlog that remained due to acquisitions the company had made in past years. Which sort of boggled my mind further.

During live call training I found, on several occasions, cases where >I< had to correct the individuals training me from making a mistake in their interactions with an upset customer.*
I actually got excited, once I was put on the phones. Why? Because, here, I could make a difference. Here, someone on the other end of the line would appreciate my help. Granted, many were cranky (who isn’t usually cranky with customer service?) but I considered their situations and, more often than not, ended the call amicably.
*(At one point, I had to fight with the ‘trainer’ that a claim wasn’t about drugs being denied – it was about durable medical equipment – and that that code wasn’t an arcane drug reference but was, in fact, an HCPCS code. I received a very blank stare for my efforts.)

In Customer Service, when claim a was executed incorrectly, we were to route it through Claims anew, with an addendum citing what we wished them too look at for reconsideration. Except my callers: Mine, I could sometimes switch into the claims system to fix, and have it done before we disconnected. I made a lot of people very, very happy. I actually liked coming to work. Life was good.

While many of my callers were thrilled, my supervisor was unhappy. I was written up a week later for having done the above on numerous occasions, as it was cited by him as a breach of protocol. I argued that it was, in fact, no such thing as I had access to claims for a reason, and why drag these poor soul’s misery out longer, when I could fix the problem then and there?

This only served to single me out further, and I was written up a second time a month or so later. The reason? I was ‘coming to work late’. What I was, in fact, doing was signing on to my phone later than 8:00 AM. Their expectation was that I would punch in on floor one, come upstairs, open all of my software, log in to my terminal, check my mail, and get my day ready to rock, and be signed on to my phone and taking calls at precisely eight. I mentioned that I only got paid from 8:00 on, regardless of when I signed on to my phone. As such, all the time from when I punched in, until I signed on to my phone (much of which was spent doing work-ly things) was, then, free to the company. I didn’t understand how this was fair to me.

Two weeks later, I quit. It was the only job I ever just walked away from. My Mother and friends thought I was nuts for walking away from a job that paid so well. Perhaps I was. I’d just like to think that I was the right kind of nuts. In hindsight, it was one of the most astute decisions I’ve ever made.

All right, story’s over. Now: Remember those points I asked you to look for? Here’s my tally of them:

– The company lost its record-setting, top claims producer
– The company spent a cumulative total of ten weeks training me – with pay
– The company lost a high-dollar claims releaser, who could ease the burden
upon the supervisors by processing these without bothering them
– The company lost a person who gave up break time to simply continue working
– The company lost an individual who wasted ZERO time on potluck chatter,
eating, and general participation
– The company lost a potential candidate for a supervisory role
– The company lost a Customer Service Agent who wielded more ability to help
than anyone else, save one of the four supervisors in that department
– The company lost the recouping of valuable time and resources by keeping
the claims reconsideration lanes a little clearer

To me, this is an outrageous injustice to the company. They spent so much money and time in me, and then drove me out via inaction, ineptitude, and inflexibility. Maybe I’m in a minority for thinking this. The reason for this long, self-aggrandizing, story is this: Performance reviews are important.

As an employer, it is incumbent upon you to create an environment of checks and balances that make sense to all parties involved. Create clear and concise criteria for your employees to be judged upon, and then follow through and do so. If an employee’s actions are not as desired, correct them, and make note of it. One thing that I can’t stress enough is that a performance review is like a crime scene: In the end, it will require good evidence to make your case. Likewise, your employees can be a phenomenal resource for learning about shortcomings or areas for improvement in your business. I treat my performance reviews like a courtroom battle: I come in prepared to explain to my employer why I feel I deserve a raise, what I have done to deserve it (that he may or may not be aware of), and so on. And he, being an employer who understands the value of this input, not only listens but, on occasion of agreement, acts upon my suggestions or information. Can you say the same for yourself as an employer?

If you want your employees to work as you wish, give them goals and benchmarks. Then, come review time, hear their side, as well as voicing your own. Explain what helped or hindered their raise – or level of raise – so that they have a clear idea of what they should be working on for future reviews.

Another fallacy is that a performance review should be given annually. Sometimes, this isn’t enough. I – personally – find that quarterly reviews are a much more intelligent method to employ, as they allow for faster action on potential problems, more knowledge gleaned about the parts of your business that goes unseen by you, and so on. I would recommend keeping the raise aspect annual but, by doing quarterly sit downs with employees, you can continue to offer suggestions on how they might attain the greatest return by pleasing you, and meeting your needs.

In conclusion: Take the time to formulate and execute a plan for reviews. Share it with employees. Be prepared to back up your findings during the review process. Be open minded with their suggestions and, if you can’t act on them, you don’t always have to explain why – but doing so can often have no negative impact on the situation. Consider the investment of time and capital that you have placed in an individual when considering evaluations as well. The last thing you want to do is alienate, frustrate, or upset them to the degree that they seek employment elsewhere. At that point, the new employer wins, because all of those resources that you allocated become theirs for nothing, in the form of the experience taken with the individual upon departure.

If you’re not doing performing reviews with these thoughts in mind, then I strongly encourage you to take a serious look at your business model. Above all else – change that. Make a plan to succeed – for both you, the business, and the business’s employees by making the employees that you already have accountable, rewarded, feeling valued, validated, heard, and happy.


~ by digitalninjasmedia on March 18, 2012.

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