February 22, 2016 |

6 ways to make employee performance reviews count

By Daniel P. Smith

Under Review

Execute effective employee performance reviews in the restaurant space

pizzeria kitchen worker on pizza makeline

When The New Yorker and later Inc. Magazine questioned the validity of employee performance reviews this past summer, wondering aloud if the formal appraisals sparked more anxiety and annoyance than actionable information, Eric Greenwald thoughtfully considered the argument.

Ultimately, though, Greenwald wasn’t convinced.

“Performance reviews help us make sure that our people are aligned with our mission … and make our company stronger,” says Greenwald, president and COO of Arizona-based Grimaldi’s, a 39-unit chain with pizzerias spread across nine states.

Though commonplace in industries such as healthcare and education, many restaurant owners reject performance reviews, discarding them as a waste of time and energy.

That’s a mistake, says Lynne Eddy, a human resources management instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Performance reviews, she contends, are even more critical in the restaurant space given its notoriously high turnover.

“Sometimes we think of entry-level employees as widgets who simply come and go in six months, but performance reviews can help curb that and create stronger employer-employee partnerships,” Eddy says.

Performance reviews, she continues, help management develop successful employees, reinforce quality performance, set expectations, institutionalize two-way communication and cultivate retention.

“You want employees to be proud of themselves, to have confidence and to feel valued,” Eddy says. “Performance reviews, when done right, help produce those results.”

Here are six ways operators can make employee performance reviews count:

1. Consistency and commitment. David McClaskey, who runs the Kingsport, Tennessee-based Pal’s Business Excellence Institute (BEI), a renowned training ground for restaurant operations inspired by the 27-unit Pal’s Sudden Service quick-service chain, suggests keeping employee reviews focused on each individual’s key contributions.

“Performance reviews are very feasible to do, but you don’t want to make them overly complex,” he says.

It’s important as well that operators evaluate all staff, full-time and part-time included, and use the same format. At Grimaldi’s, for instance, all staff — from the cooks to the servers to the shift supervisors — receive biannual reviews from their direct supervisor based on the company’s “8 Slices of Culture,” a list of values including communication, integrity and accountability.

“Commit to the process and follow through because you’ll have problems if you only review some but not others,” Eddy says.

2. Set the stage. Two weeks prior to a formal performance review, Eddy recommends operators hand employees a blank form and instruct them to do a self-evaluation. This not only acquaints employees with the appraisal criteria, but also affords them an advance opportunity to reflect on their own performance, career objectives and job satisfaction.

McClaskey says self-evaluations prompt a rich discussion around employee development and help team members work with management to identify their own paths to improvement, which often heightens buy-in and engagement. Together, then, employee and manager can set attainable goals for the future.

3. Honesty and accuracy. While many supervisors fear low, albeit judicious ratings will hamper employee motivation and engagement, accuracy fosters improvement.

Grimaldi’s eschews the traditional number system in favor of “strengths” and “opportunities.” With employee strengths, Grimaldi’s supervisors discuss ways the employee can further enhance an asset. With opportunities, supervisors are directed to be business professional, but to avoid sugarcoating potential areas of improvement.

“I preach accurate information because that’s the way you move forward and improve the business,” Greenwald says.

4. An ongoing process. While Grimaldi’s runs two formal sit-down performance reviews each year, Greenwald says employee evaluation is an ongoing process, including regular “stay interviews” — a counter to traditional “exit interviews” — that help store leadership understand why employees continue working at the pizzeria. It’s a savvy move given how difficult, if not impossible, it is to assess a year’s worth of action and information in one sitting.

Eddy suggests operators create a “short form” every three months to assess employee performance and spotlight opportunities for growth. Operators might also keep an ongoing record of employee performance, which can help minimize personal bias, limit the penchant to only evaluate recent activity and prove helpful should litigation ever arise.

5. Wait on the pay raise. Both Eddy and McClaskey suggest separating the performance review from a pay increase, saying it’s important to let the evaluation results settle.

“When you talk about improvement and pay raises at the same time, the employee only hears about pay,” McClaskey says. “Once those two are linked, you can’t get improvement on the agenda.”

At Pal’s, a pay hike might come two months after a successful performance review, which McClaskey says provides employees ample opportunity to “up their game.”

6. A strong close. At Grimaldi’s, it’s a common practice to invite employees to share their input on the restaurant and job satisfaction.

“This helps you evaluate priorities and the environment you’re creating for your employees,” Greenwald says. “If we see weaknesses, we take it seriously and move on it.”

Then, Greenwald adds, it’s important to close every review with a sincere thank you and to help staff see a path to improved pay or a new position in the restaurant.

“We want to let our people know we value their efforts and that there are growth opportunities here,” he says.


Cutting ties

Grimaldi’s president Eric Greenwald says employee performance reviews provide management a chance to pause from the daily restaurant madness and assess each employee’s fit with Grimaldi’s company culture in a one-on-one setting.

“‘Do they align with who we are?’” Greenwald says. “If not, then they don’t fit with us.”

Ideally, restaurant management should know an employee’s work performance without the formality of a performance review, but it’s the employee appraisal, Pal’s BEI president David McClaskey says, that helps employees avoid management’s radar.

“If an employee can’t pull his weight, then he can’t keep his job,” McClaskey says. “They need to be a contributor.”

Some employees, however, might never make it to their employee review, firing themselves by repeatedly ignoring expectations. In that case, CIA human resources management instructor Lynne Eddy says, employees “own that result.”

“You want to get the dead weight out because they’ll bring down your good performers,” she says.

Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith  has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.