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Effective employee appraisals.

A property management firm with fewer than 50 employees has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to managing employee performance. On one hand, individuals in small organizations usually have closer relationships with each other and with their supervisor, work rules are often more flexible and forgiving, and employees often are more in tune with the company's goals.

At the same time, personnel at today's small company are frequently stretched to their limit; "in" baskets are never empty. Managers find it difficult to spend any significant amount of time on employee communication and development. Yet, when supervisors neglect to acknowledge their employees or given them feedback on a regular basis, performance suffers. Individuals either continue in non-productive ways or become de-motivated when no one recognizes their good work.

Supervisors of property management staffs who want to improve employee performance and satisfaction can look to their larger counterparts in other industries. There, one consistent element links employees to a common goal and enhances their effectiveness and productivity: an ongoing and meaningful performance appraisal process.

Without such a system, property management firms not only dilute employee enthusiasm and productivity, but run the risk of violating both legal and ethical mandates. Sooner or later supervisors who want top performance from all their employees come to realize that performance appraisals must be included as a part of their managerial repertoire.

More than just the act

While not taking time for performance appraisals is bad, using ineffective methods during reviews is not much better. Performance appraisals should be more than an annual conversation between the supervisor and the employee, with the supervisor doing most of the talking. That mistake is common in many companies. However, this concept limits the many possibilities available in a carefully designed appraisal system.

In its broadest application, an employee appraisal includes any personnel decision affecting an employee's status, including retention, termination, promotion, demotion, transfer, salary increase or decrease, and merit pay. As such, appraisals are a powerful administrative tool for planning and controlling work and allow supervisors to identify areas where employees are performing adequately and areas in which employees need to improve.

Implementing a performance appraisal system is a challenge for small companies, however. Let's face it: many employers see little need for either formal or informal performance evaluations. If the organization is already successful and employees loyal, stable, and productive, why bother?

Even when supervisors believe in theory that employee evaluations are necessary, appraisal time is often regarded with as much eagerness as a dental checkup.

The necessity of evaluations may be recognized, but if time must be spent on a continuing program of observing job performance and giving feedback, when does the real work of hands-on managing, budgeting, marketing, and leasing properties get done?

Shouldn't the property management staff already know how it's doing? Why not wait until the employee needs to hear that performance is below standard and termination is a possibility?

The answer is simple: even though evaluating employees takes time and effort from other activities, performance appraisals are always good business for companies large and small.

Legal and ethical considerations

Once the necessity for company-wide performance appraisals is accepted, supervisors need to understand the legal guidelines for an appraisal process.

Because two of the most important functions of appraisals relate directly to the company's decisions regarding the employee's status, appraisals are subject to scrutiny in both employment discrimination and wrongful termination suits. For legal reasons alone, then, employers should regard employee evaluations as an essential part of their company's policies and procedures.

Federal civil rights laws and related court cases on discrimination clearly require that employee evaluations must be formalized, standardized, and as objective as possible. Care should be taken through the choice of measures and through training to insure that ratings are not biased by prejudice regarding race, sex, or religion. Vague and subjective ratings are not adequate. Supervisors must always be fair and equitable in the evaluative process and base their appraisal on solid criteria.

Talking to employees about their performance is not only a legal but an ethical obligation. That is, employees have the right to information about the company, their jobs, and the quality of their work.

Treating employees with respect and fairness and valuing them as ends in themselves, not as a means to an end, demonstrates that supervisors recognize their staffers as whole people who want to collaborate in their own and the organization's success. Supervisors who respect this attitude by sharing information about performance with their staff and participating in their growth and development will find the performance appraisal a valuable managerial tool.

The job description: Foundation of appraisals

The appraisal process begins with a thorough job analysis leading to a job description for each position to be evaluated. The job description provides the standards by which the employee is evaluated, and each employee should have a complete understanding of his or her performance requirements.

A written job description eliminates the danger of rating an employee on his or her attributes rather than actual performance. This can be a subtle danger. Rating typing proficiency based not on speed or accuracy but on the employee's personal appearance or whether he or she participates in the company picnic is an example of rating an employee subjectively. Most instances are not this easy to see, however.

If the behaviors critical to fulfilling the job's responsibilities, duties, and tasks are identified and made explicit to both supervisor and employee, there is less chance of subjectivity and a charge of unfairness. For example, because a receptionist's tone of voice often creates a caller's first impression of a company, a warm, strong voice may be a reasonable criterion for the job.

Conducting an effective performance appraisal

Each manager has his or her own management style. The following principles of effective performance evaluation apply to a variety of comfort levels and expertise in one-on-one supervisor/employee conversations, both formal and informal. Each individual must consider what specific techniques provide a genuine and constructive approach to his or her appraisal situation.

* Recognize that evaluating employees is an ongoing process. Employees should be kept continuously aware of their performance, by both formal and informal means. An informal evaluation can take as little as a minute or two when supervisor and employee engage in direct conversation about a particular performance issue. Or the appraisal can be in a formal format and conducted annually, semi-annually, or quarterly.

In the formal interview the person being evaluated should not hear any shocking surprises about his or her performance. If evaluation has been ongoing, the interview will be a summary of past informal conversations about performance.

The purpose of the formal interview is to document the continuing dialogue between supervisor and staff member about how that staff member is meeting expectations and what new goals for performance might be set.

This appraisal also provides a specific time for either supervisor or employee to bring up any concerns or achievements that need further discussion. As both participants in the dialogue know they have each other's uninterrupted attention, the conversation can cover a wide range of issues with considerable effectiveness.

* Document specific behavior. Making appraisals an ongoing activity requires attention focused on each employee from time to time, followed by documentation. Some managers may find it helpful to keep informal reminder notes on each employee's accomplishments and improvement needs. Jotting down specific situations when they occur keeps the supervisor aware of any current problems and whether they are being corrected. The notes then form the basis of the next performance rating and written review.

For example, during the formal appraisal, a supervisor tells his administrative assistant that the storeroom for which she was responsible is often cluttered and certain required supplies are not always available. The two devise a plan whereby the assistant would maintain an inventory list, check it weekly, and spend five minutes a day straightening shelves.

Periodically, when the supervisor visits the storeroom for a pen or tablet of paper he will make it a point to observe the condition of the shelves. By taking another 30 seconds on the spot to give either a positive comment or corrective feedback about the storeroom's condition to the assistant, he will be able to provide information to her about how well she is meeting this expectation.

At the next formal appraisal the supervisor would review previously recorded observations and would discuss with the assistant whether their plan was working. Through this process, the storeroom is kept neat and well stocked and the administrative assistant is affirmed as a valuable and contributing member of the support staff.

* Write clear and precise behavior descriptions. Documenting specific behavior is effective only if the descriptions speak the truth. Assumptions about an employee's knowledge are not as helpful as specific information about what the employee actually did.

Say this: Margaret installed the software program, set up her sub-directories, and created several macros for her word processing program.

Not this: Margaret understands how to use the new software.

Another technique is to use specific behavior descriptions rather than adjective qualifiers.

Say this: Gerry understood the caller's message and its intent and relayed the correct information to his supervisor.

Not this: Gerry does a good job of understanding people's problems. He is kind and friendly.

Judgments or conclusions about behavior are not helpful if they do not mention specific action.

Say this: Marsha told the property owner when she expected to have the final roof study, including all costs for the new roof, compiled. A review of the completed proposal showed that all information was complete.

Not this: Marsha does a good job of keeping clients informed.

Finally, use behavior descriptions instead of frequencies in statements.

Say this: Walt inspects each of his properties every month. If maintenance work needs to be performed, he calls the appropriate subcontractor as soon as he returns to the office.

Not this: Walt always does a good job of inspecting his properties.

Observing and writing behavior descriptions in preparation for a final review takes practice and a commitment to providing accurate information to employees. Once the habit of noticing what employees are doing is formed, what seemed a chore will soon become a valuable second-nature method of evaluation.

* Give corrective feedback by focusing on observable behavior, not on the individual as a person. Few managers like correcting an employee and many often opt to ignore early signals until the situation becomes a full-blown crisis. Though styles vary, underlying all techniques should be respect for the individual that refers to performance, behavior, or outcomes, not the "goodness" or "badness" of the person. Present perceptions, reactions, and opinions for what they are, not as facts.

Feedback should be focused on those things over which an individual has some control or in which he or she can make improvements or plan alternative actions. If emotions become aroused or defense mechanisms kick in, deal with the reactions rather than trying to convince or reason with the individual.

Always communicate your acceptance of the receiver as a worthwhile person who has a right to be different, while at the same time maintaining the company's standards and expectations. Most of all, listen, listen, listen.

* Close the appraisal interview on a sincere, positive note, but remember to be real. Many supervisors feel just as uncomfortable praising employees as they do giving them constructive feedback. The traditional "attaboy" technique can be trite and manipulative, ruining an otherwise successful appraisal interview.

There is no formula for what to say, or how often, when acknowledging an employee's value and successful performance. Believing in the necessity for expressing appreciation to each employee is the first step, and recognizing that supervisors are only as effective as their entire support staff makes them comes a close second.

Supervisors who feel uncomfortable in this aspect of evaluation might find that rehearsing suitable wording in private until it sounds natural creates a smoother style. As with any new learning, practicing the skill in a variety of situations will help.

Meeting the challenge

As a property management company refines its personnel policies and procedures, it should include a performance appraisal system that meets legal, ethical, and business standards.

Gradually, the theory of managing people will become a reality as more and more property management company executives join their colleagues in creating a system of effective performance management with a performance appraisal system as its central component. The end result will be more productive employees and better property management.

[Karin L. Grice has a B.A. in education and an M.S. in human resources. She is an executive assistant with Emerald Heights, a life-care retirement community in Redmond, Washington. Formerly, she was executive assistant at TRF Management Corporation, a property management firm in Bellevue, Washington. She recently completed TRF's personnel policies and procedures manual and employee information booklet.]
COPYRIGHT 1992 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:for real estate management firms
Author:Grice, Karin L.
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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