Refining the Employee Performance Review
Contractors discuss the importance of regular performance reviews
The performance review process can be a headache for managers and employees alike. However, it’s an important procedure for HVAC contracting businesses, as it helps techs establish goals and career paths while managers gain further insight into individuals’ professional strengths and weaknesses.
MAKING REVIEWS A PRIORITY
Hetter Heating & Cooling in Columbus, Ohio, used to conduct employee reviews annually based on a person’s hire date. The process was revamped in 2011, when the company began conducting six-month reviews with each employee.
“These meetings are scheduled every April and November, and not having one is not an option,” said Mike Graessle, general manager with Hetter Heating & Cooling. “Employees are notified a few weeks in advance and encouraged to bring questions and ideas for self-improvement as well as suggestions on how to make the company more efficient.”
Performance reviews are a priority within the company culture, Graessle noted. The meetings typically last an hour and cover everything from communication and performance to customer service, teamwork, and training. The company also asks employees for their ideas on how the company could improve. If the idea is implemented, the employee is rewarded.
“Reviews allow management to keep its finger on the pulse of the employee. They help ensure we are all on the same page,” Graessle said. “The key to conducting a successful performance review is receiving and giving feedback as well as strengthening the bond between the employee and the company. Reviews are as important as they’ve ever been. As more calls are being dispatched from home and paperless systems are minimizing the need to come into the office, sitting down face to face and checking a person’s pulse is crucial to our success.”
KEEPING PERFORMANCE LOGS
Alvin, Texas-based Clear the Air also performs employee reviews every six months. The company is careful to tell employees that the reviews are not an indicator of a raise, per se, but instead a meeting to see where that person is in terms of job performance and also a time to get feedback about how they view the company.
“It’s kind of a two-way street,” said Jason Stom, CEO of Clear the Air. “We see it as a healthy benefit to both parties, and we take advantage of that. Sometimes, there is a raise. Sometimes, it’s just about getting them on the right path — a chance to fix any weaknesses or errors. We look at those weak spots as teachable moments; we will definitely set a course for additional training if that is outlined in the review. And we try to stay as positive as possible. We don’t ever want the interviews to be a negative situation where it makes them feel like they’re getting beat up. That’s not the point of the whole process. It’s a two-way street where we both get aligned — the company and employee.”
The entire review process for Clear the Air’s 18 employees takes about two weeks, according to Stom. Each review typically lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. Additionally, employees are given a review form so they can judge themselves.
“Our managers keep a performance log for each employee, which is pretty rare,” Stom said. “If we just wait six months for review time, and then that week put our review together, memory can sometimes be a bit shoddy. We retain a log and keep track of events and goals to make sure each individual employee is being judged appropriately at that six-month mark. The key to success is staying consistent and objective by having data and metrics to use as performance evaluators.”
SELF REVIEWS PROVIDE INSIGHT
Matt Marsiglio, operations manager for Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, and Electrical in Warren, Michigan, said his company conducts performance reviews for each of its 84 employees once a year.
“They are time-consuming, and doing these during the busy season can be tough, so we do them once a year right now,” he said. “We feel reviews allow employees to know where they stand and what they need to do to get where they want to be. They also let us know who is interested in moving into other positions or who would like to head in another direction within the company. And, they always help us with training because we actively fish for recommendations for training during these meetings.”
The company also has its employees fill out self-reviews during this time. Employees tend to be more honest when they’re rating themselves, Marsiglio said.
“When we first started these, I assumed every employee would give themselves a top rating,” he said. “But, we found that sometimes a confidence issue caused a person to rate themselves as a two in an area where they really are more of a four or five. Those give us some easy wins as managers to coach them and tell them we feel they’re rated much higher. It helps build confidence in them. Reviews also trigger some difficult conversations when you get the guy who thinks he is knocking the ball out of the park and he’s not. This could indicate you’re not communicating properly to him throughout the year as issues arise.”
Kettering, Ohio-based McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning also requires employees to fill out self-evaluations as part of its review process, according to Angie Downey, operations manager.
“We can see how they’ve rated themselves in the areas we’re measuring them in,” Downey said. “We can use it to compare what they’re saying versus what we’re saying. There are certain times where they indicate something more favorable for themselves, and it might, depending on what it is, make us raise or lower a number on our review.”
The review forms also have a space for comments, and company policy requires the comment field be filled out completely, so employees don’t just circle a number.
“We want to know why they feel they deserve or earned that number, and we, in turn, provide comments back to them,” Downey said. “The ratings trigger if there is a raise due and how much of one, but the comments are a very important element of employee engagement. It’s the comments that are really going to show and tell employees how they can improve. Since we’ve implemented this, it’s been really beneficial to the company.”
McAfee Heating & Air Conditioning began its current review process about five years ago, according to its owner, Greg McAfee.
“We used to have a sheet of paper — like a lot of contractors I’ve worked with — that had about 15 items with a scale of one to 10. It questioned if you were on time or if you did this and that. It was a very generic review, and we’d go through it once a year. But, as we evolved as a business, so did our review process.”
Now, reviews are done twice a year and take about three weeks to complete for the company’s 45 employees.
“Using that old method, only once per year, and going through a laundry list of however many questions, we had a tendency to base that year’s worth of performance on what took place over the last 30 days. So, hopefully, from the employee’s side of things, you had a good last 30 days. Our new procedures help us get a better overall performance measure of that employee over the course of a year’s time.”
McAfee said he started the new process by developing standards or position requirements for each employee. The reviews measure certain elements, such as punctuality and the ability to maintain a clean truck or work area. “Overall, it helps them get better as individuals, not just as service technicians or customer service representatives,” McAfee said.
Additionally, employees also fill out a managerial review.
“We can learn a lot from that. If they’re saying we’re not spending enough time with them or they’re not getting what they need to learn, that’s our fault,” McAfee said. “If they give it back to us and it’s rated all fours and fives, I give it back to them and tell them to get real. We have to improve as leaders. I’d rather have high threes and fours and hear from them, honestly, what we need to work on.”
AVOIDING KEY MISTAKES
It can be difficult to set the right tone during a performance review. According to Graessle, the biggest mistake a manager can make is to belittle an employee or bring up old issues that should have been addressed when they occurred.
“Any issues should be addressed when they happen, not when we have a review to discuss their overall performance. A close second on the list of biggest mistakes is not keeping the scheduled time/date of the meeting. Not having a scheduled meeting for an employee or continuing to move it around shows the employee he or she is not a priority.”
Downey agreed, saying managers shouldn’t just pull employees into a review spontaneously and they should commit to the review once it’s scheduled. “We all get busy, but that employee is expecting that review that day — it’s probably the most important part of their day. The last thing you want to do is change it last minute and make them feel it wasn’t as important to you.”
Downey also said performance reviews should line up and be consistent with the feedback the employee has been receiving throughout the year. “They should never be totally surprised during a review.”
Marsiglio said the biggest mistake is not being honest.
“The truth hurts sometimes, but everybody who is a parent knows that sometimes tough love is the best love, and you have to give that to your technicians, as well.”
Stom said it’s important to not be too negative during a review.
“I’ve made this mistake myself many times early on when I was just starting the company — focusing too much on mistakes or weaknesses,” he said. “Over the course of time, by reading, learning, and doing it repeatedly, you figure out that staying positive is important. You take the negative and turn it into a positive, that’s the best approach. If you stay negative and keep it negative, and you turn it into whipping somebody, that’s not a good way for the company or the employee to grow.”
THE TRUE VALUE
Overall, even though performance reviews are time-consuming, the majority of HVAC managers and business owners believe they still provide value to the company.
“I believe our review procedures have helped increase company morale,” Stom said. “Coworkers feel they are part of the team, and they’re not just a set of legs or hands to do labor. They know we care about them. We care about their careers and want them to move forward. It’s a win-win for everybody and definitely not a waste of time.”
McAfee agreed, saying reviews have helped the company foster better production and a better atmosphere. “We’ve seen a better work atmosphere internally, higher production, and more engaged employees. In our company meetings, people are much more engaged than they used to be. If my people are happy, then, more than likely, my customers will be treated better, which makes them happy. And that’s the bottom line. I’ve got field people seeing my customers every day. If they’re not happy, feel underpaid, or not valued, it’s going to show to the customer.”
Additionally, McAfee noted he currently has employees spanning five different generations, from millennials all the way down to the Greatest Generation.
“The millennials like to know how they’re doing,” he said. “They like a little more praise and stroking than the other generations do; they need that feedback. And since we’re starting to hire a lot of millennials, you’d better believe reviews are important. They’d like for us to do it every month. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. That’s how this generation has been raised, and it is what it is. It’s our job to motivate everyone here.”
Publication date: 6/13/2016