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Small Firm Performance Review Trends

  • 1.  Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-23-2018 08:14 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-23-2018 08:14 AM
    In discussion with other friends who have also worked at very small firms (10 or <g class="gr_ gr_2868 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar multiReplace" id="2868" data-gr-id="2868">less</g> people), I discovered multiples of us who had worked in an environment where no performance reviews at all were done. That discussion made me curious if that experience is unusual. So, engineers who work at small firms or owners of small firms, what do you do (generally speaking) for performance reviews? What tips would you give to other small firm owners on how to give useful reviews?

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC
    State College PA

  • 2.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-25-2018 01:36 PM
    Performance reviews are necessary to prevent worker exploitation (gives them a feedback opportunity) and a formal opportunity for the employer to provide constructive criticism and goals.  I know a practice (not engineering) that consists of 1 owner, 1 associate, and a handful of support staff.  Small by any definition...  and yet staff is jumping ship and the associate is increasingly disgruntled.  The owner does a great job of kicking the can and shrugging off employee concerns.  The review does not need to be a strict grading system, but does need to offer 2 way conversation on performance, pay, policies, and benefits.  It should be the one time of year that manager and subordinate are allowed to speak freely.  It is business, not personal.  If you make this an annual discussion, you will not have ongoing tension and talk among the crew throughout the year.  They will know their time to speak up is coming.

    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI

  • 3.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-27-2018 02:51 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-27-2018 02:51 PM
    I work in State Government, so we are a big organization. However, I think that what we do is a good practice.  Rather than wait all year to have an appraisal session, we have a mid-appraisal at the 6 months point.  One part of the exercise is to list strength of the employee.  The other part lists what needs improvement.  If there is a significant deficiency, an action plan is developed to improve performance. There is no rating score in this appraisal.  It just gets some dialog about the work to occur. It also gives the employee specifics on what needs to improve and time for that to happen, rather than wait until a year has passed to tell the employee how they are performing at the end of a year. 

    If you don't talk about performance more often than on an annual basis, the employee will not know whether or not they are meeting your expectations. It is also good to tell the employee what they are doing well, instead of just offering criticism, even if it is intended to be constructive.

    Robert Lee
    Alabama DOT
    P.E., M.ASCE

  • 4.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-25-2018 01:39 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-25-2018 01:38 PM
    Having worked at a really big firm, a medium sized firm, a government agency and now I own a very small firm, I think the primary purpose of performance reviews for the bigger companies isn't needed in the small firm.  We have to work very closely together in a small firm, so most praise and criticism gets done instantly and constantly.  Making a list of problems and praises so that you can give out specific praises and criticisms once a year seems ludicrous. 

    Another part of performance reviews is to get the employees to put together a development plan that the managers can agree to. This is an easy discussion for the owner when you only have one or two other people working with you.  I generally discuss what books I have been reading, and offer to share them with my employees.  We talk about any training that they want to do. We have a lot of lunches together so we talk about pretty much anything including, what they want to do next year, how is the family, to what are you doing on your next vacation, and whether Disney is really better when you go without children.  In the big companies, the upper management has to schedule a time with ten other employees to talk to the boss's supervisor so the closeness of relationship cannot be developed.

    The other purpose of mandatory annual performance reviews in the big and medium companies is to determine pay raises.  That discussion I do have annually or more often.  I open the conversation with what are your long-term goals, and how do you see them happening within our company.  Somewhere in that conversation we talk about how they have grown over the years, and how that growth has impacted our company.  If both the employee and company have grown, it is usually easy to see the relationship between the employee and their remuneration.  Usually a pay raise means giving the employee more responsibility, so they have to perform in more areas if they want to earn a raise.  I am trying to use Dave Ramsey's approach, of "your pay raise is only effective when you are."  So far, it has worked pretty well.

    Too many performance reviews are directly tied to remuneration, and not tied to performance.  All the companies I have worked for kept the review criteria so tightly controlled that on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being bad, and 5 being great and managers had to justify anything above a 3.75 or below a 2.25 with extra paperwork.  Most chose not to.   Employees don't see that a 3.75 is a good evaluation when it means that their pay only goes up 3.75% this year.  They also don't see 3.75 as a good evaluation when the screw up next door gets 2.6, and gets a 2% raise, and neither of you get praised, and both of you get critiqued because you are not a 5.   

    I hope to someday get to the point where I need a more formal process, but right now, thankfully I do not.

    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., P.E., P.Eng, M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Richmond TX

  • 5.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-25-2018 01:40 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-25-2018 01:39 PM
    Thanks for initiating this discussion.  I think it is important. I work for a small firm and have for 15 years.  My company owner does not give performance reviews.  He rarely gives me positive verbal feedback. But I understand that he is happy with my performance by the fact that he tells me if I need to do something. My approach is to go to him on the anniversary date of my hiring.  I sit down with him and discuss my performance.  I ask "is there anything I am doing that you don't want me to do?"  and "Is there anything I am not doing that you want me to do?"  His responses tell me what I need to know.  Also, I go to him at the end of the calendar year with my annual billing total and how that compares to the previous years and to my salary.  I used this as a basis to ask for a pay raise last year, which I received.  I hope this is helpful to others.

    Debra Hughes P.E., M.ASCE

  • 6.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 08-29-2018 02:22 PM
    @Arpan Tailor You own a small firm, can you give us any insight here?

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 7.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 12-28-2018 12:31 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 12-28-2018 12:30 PM
    Dear Colleagues,
    This is the year 2018, soon to be 2019!
    Why would anyone still be allowing the "Ruler/Master" days of the past to continue?
    • New Employee
     About every 3 to 4 weeks, pop into your direct manager's office and ask "When you have a moment, I'd like to know how you think I am doing." Most managers will shoot back "Just fine!" Then, sit right down and ask "In what ways?" DO NOT ALLOW YOUR FUTURE TO REMAIN HIDDEN FROM YOU. After perhaps 90 days out, go to a 60 to 90 day reality check.
     About every 120 days, schedule a "Career Development Dialogue" with your manager. If you ask, I will share what that might involve.

    Stop believing like your manager is doing you a favor to give you timely feedback on your performance. After all, would you treat your project's performance this inconsistently?

    Recall, we call what we do professional P R A C T I C E . . . and practice makes perfect!

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 8.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 01-28-2019 06:52 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-28-2019 06:52 PM
    I think it is best to do periodic reviews with employees. I think reviews once a year is not sufficient. Reviews should be done every 4 to 6 months. We should also keep in mind; the reviews benefit the employee more than the employer, since the employee really needs to know how they are viewed by their employers. In my firm, I have followed this practice. Reviews also provide meeting time between employee and employer. This is much needed. One place I worked, I remember we had performance reviews every two weeks (maybe a little too much!), but I thought what a great opportunity to talk! We also should be a little more casual about the time frame for reviews. If there are important items at hand to be discussed and providing feedback is necessary, we should call out special performance review meeting and don't need to wait for our routine meeting. Thank you for initiating this discussion.

    Arpan Tailor P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE
    Arun, Inc.
    Chandler AZ

  • 9.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 01-29-2019 05:39 PM
    " We should also keep in mind; the reviews benefit the employee more than the employer, since the employee really needs to know how they are viewed by their employers."

    I would appreciate knowing what causes the writer to assert the one-sided benefit perspective above.

    Specifically, Why, and in what manner.

    Thank you.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 10.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 01-22-2019 11:40 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-22-2019 11:40 AM
    Thank you to everyone who has left a response so far! 

    As a follow-up question based on discussion with another engineer, I've been looking for written "best practices" type documents related to performance reviews. So far, I've come up with a CASE Tool 2-3 (Council of American Structural Engineers) document. but that's about it. Does anyone know of any publicly available or available for purchase documents that can be used as a starting point for performance reviews?


    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 11.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 01-23-2019 08:53 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-23-2019 08:53 PM
    A colleague writes:
    "You reference "Career Development Dialogue"in your response and indicate that if we ask you'll elaborate. If you have a moment, would you mind sharing a few more details? "
    §  Background
    It has been my experience that no less than 70% of engineers favor the introvert side of interpersonal relationships. Many of these excellent engineers end up as supervisors/managers, and are required to evaluate their staff. Most simply do not like to do this interpersonal type of activity. So traditionally, they limit this activity, if done at all, to the classical "Once per year." In addition, to "Save time," many combine it with salary review[1].

    Now, let us say for a particular firm this performance and salary review is to be done in May 2020.
    Sketch an x/y graph with the x-axis being time in months, and the y-axis being the staff's level of personal stress from 10% to 100%.
    Label the x-axis by month from September 2019, to August 2020.
    Now, estimate an employee"Stress-at-work" curve from September 2019 to February 2019; then March to June 2019; and then beyond to August 2020.

    Q1.What does the "Stress-at-work" curve look like between March to June 2019?
    Q2.What does this suggest to you is the value of most firms so-called "Performance Reviews?"

    §  Reflection
    What professional services firm selects candidates for their projects that do not appear to take their work, schedules, relationships or budgets both seriously and personally? Of course, none of them do!
    So, if you are noticing such attitudes festering in your organization, where did they catch that disease?
    Culture is simply "The way we do things around here."It is observable. Your folks do not read the posters on the lunch room wall that claim "Our People Are Our Most Important Assets!" They simply watch, wait, and learn how you treat them and their colleagues when problems surface.
    Good people that you want to stay and continue building your firm's growth on will leave if any one of the following is perceived[2] as "Missing:"
    ·     Opportunity.
    ·     Challenge.
    ·     Recognition.

    And having two out of three in place won't cut it!

    §  Why Not Partner Now
    What energy might you create and harness if you credibly engaged your people by reliably aligning their future today, with your firm's? Would it be worth your time to align their career goals, objectives, and strategies with your firm's strategic programs?
    Imagine, in place of the dated so-called once per year, one-sided, "Individual Performance Evaluations" you teamed with your people to align[3] your strategic programs with their "Career Development Strategic Plan."

    §  Epilogue
    As with any new process, only a fool would initiate it without proper controls. A pilot version, followed by rework would follow. And most certainly, small group 'chat sessions' will help our excellent engineers . . .at all levels. . .  learn how to listen with their eyes and see with their ears.
                                                      The Beginning

    [1]One EVP did his "Review" by sitting you down, writing a number on a piece of paper, and sliding it to you across his desk. Then he would say to you "If the number is acceptable to you, this review is over, keep up the good work!"
    [2]If it is not visible to them, it is "Missing."
    [3]Depending on interest, this next phase will be offered for review and comment.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 12.  RE: Small Firm Performance Review Trends

    Posted 05-25-2020 09:44 PM
    Sharing a recent link relevant to this thread, that emphasizes the importance of honest, consistent, and actionable feedback in reviews: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/25/us/women-workplace-gender-bias-study-trnd/index.html

    Stephanie Slocum P.E., M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC