Performance Evaluations That Work!

Share this content

Performance Evaluations That Work! The Power of Communication
Presented by Mark Koziel
Manager, Dopkins Placement Services
Contact [email protected]

Thursday, September 6, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


Performance evaluations seem to be a stressful event for both the evaluatee and evaluator, but they don't have to be. Developing a performance evaluation system that allows for open and honest communication between both parties can increase the effectiveness of evaluations and better your chances of increasing employee retention. Goal setting , team member input and positive strokes will help improve performance evaluations. Employers should develop a consistent system and train evaluators on delivery to ensure better results with evaluations. We should also train the evaluatees on how to properly receive evaluations and improve the lines of communication.

You can read the complete transcript of this workshop.

The following points were discussed in this workshop:

  • Why evaluations are necessary, not only from a legal perspective, but from a retention perspective as well.
  • Developing a performance evaluation system that includes goal setting up front to outline expectations for the evaluation period.
  • We will look at 5 key areas of concentration for your performance evaluation system.
  • Implementing your performance evaluation system with your evaluators and developing a consistent approach to delivery of performance evaluations.
  • Implementing your performance evaluation system with your evaluatees and training your team members on increasing the communication lines.

Workshop Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today! I'm pleased to introduce Mark Koziel, who will be presenting a workshop on performance evaluations that work!

Mark Koziel is Senior Manager of Dopkins & Company, LLP's Placement and Human Resource Consulting Divisions. He has served in various accounting and consulting roles for over ten years.

His experiences with recruiting for Dopkins & Company, LLP employees and assisting clients in filling key accounting positions has served as the springboard to the development of Dopkins Placement Services. His recruiting techniques used for Dopkins & Company, LLP served as the system to be used for Dopkins Placement Services.

In addition to serving as Manager for Placement and Human Resource Consulting, Mark is the co-presenter of the "Making Your Business Really Fly" seminar and member of the firm's "Awesome Service Team."

Dopkins Placement Services, a division of Dopkins & Company, LLP utilizes an exclusive Six Step Difference process that allows the firm to match candidates and companies that share the same philosophies, work ethics and values. Dopkins believe this creates a more communicative and harmonious work environment which will lead to happier employees and improved work productivity and quality.

Please feel free to ask questions throughout the presentation.

Welcome Mark!

Mark Koziel: Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us today. We are going to discuss performance evaluations in 3 areas. We will start with developing an evaluation system, then discuss how to give an evaluation and we'll finish with receiving evaluations. I'll ask if anyone has questions as we move along. Let's get started!

Developing an Evaluation System

Now, imagine yourself sitting at your desk trying to find the energy to write a performance evaluation for a team member. You remember when you sat on the other side of the table, receiving your performance evaluation from a stuffy senior accountant and what it felt like to walk out of a positive evaluation, but feel as though something was missing.

Or worse yet, that all the evaluator could do was focus on the small "bumps" in your performance, missing what was positive. You found yourself defending the little things that went wrong. You walked out of this evaluation thinking, ?I can't wait until I'm promoted so I can terrorize new staff during their performance evaluations!? Wrong attitude!

Imagine how you would have liked your performance evaluations to occur back when you were a new team member working your way up the ladder. You would have had input into the process and been allowed to comment on areas where you felt you could improve.

You would have discussed ways to help improve your performance and how the senior or manager could have improved their training techniques to help you learn. This type of two-way communication would have helped you improve your performance as a new team member and would have helped the company improve overall efficiencies.

I remember my first year in public accounting and my first three evaluations in that year. While I did the same job, gave the same effort and produced the same result, I received three different results in my evaluation scoring. I knew I did the same job on all ? gave it my best and began to develop favorite seniors to work for based on how they perceived my efforts.

Let's start in by first discussing the need for performance evaluations. Can anyone give me reasons for evaluating employees on a regular basis?
Denise Gueli: Reinforcing positive behavior
Mark Koziel: great Denise, thanks
Mark Koziel: Anyone else?
Melody Wagler: Discouraging negative behavior
Mindy Pennock: Communication
Session Moderator: Provide a road map for future progress
Lauren L. Kincaid: To help them improve their performance
Mark Koziel: These are all great and I can see we have a good crowd that understands the importance of measuring performance.

Mark Koziel: If you ask a lawyer that question, they'll tell you it's a defense against wrongful termination.

There is a wealth of information available regarding the need for performance evaluations. Most of this information handles performance evaluations as a means to avoid any legal issues regarding discriminatory terminations. What does this mean? Simply, most employment arrangements in the United States are governed by the employment-at-will doctrine.

Under this doctrine, the employer or employee may terminate the work/business relationship at any time. An employee may be discharged by the employer for a good reason, for a bad reason or for no reason at all, as long as the reason does not violate any federal or state laws. This rule is very ambiguous. Therefore, as a form of protection against a discrimination suit, employers are encouraged to document performance on a regular basis so that when a termination is performance based, there is evidence supporting the reason for termination.

With the legalities explained, we need to talk about the reasons to have performance evaluations from a humanistic perspective.

As CPAs, we have a habit of thinking in the past. We are required to audit financial information that deals with the past, prepare tax returns based on past information and perform month-end and year-end closes based on past information.

When we were trained to give performance evaluations, we were taught to quantify the past using some type of numeric system. While it is important to provide feedback on past performance, that performance should be based on specific measurable goals that were set during the previous performance review. If you have not established goals with your team members, start now!

This will ensure that you both are ready for your next meeting, will create an atmosphere of forward thinking and will provide the team member with tangible objectives.

Allowing team members to be involved in setting their goals gives them ownership in the evaluation process and typically opens the lines of communication between team member and manager. Performance evaluations can be a useful tool in helping managers learn what will keep the team member happily employed.

This leads to an interesting point. Most people in the accounting industry agree that team members change firms when they are offered more money and better opportunity in the industry. However, if we offered these team members a position at their current salary, but with fewer hours and less stress, would they stay?

Would it be economical to your organization to provide this type of counteroffer given the cost of turnover and the tight job market? Typically, the answer to both questions would be yes and this is where an effective performance evaluation system can help.

Team members usually do not offer more information than is necessary in a performance evaluation because they are not sure how this information will be received by their managers.

A performance evaluation system that allows for team member feedback even before the evaluation meeting takes place can be a beneficial and effective tool in helping to reduce the cost of turnover and in maintaining team member job satisfaction.

Developing a Performance Management System

Mark Koziel: Creating a truly effective performance evaluation system is easier than it seems. The first step is to realize that it may be time for change. The best way to determine this is to ask your entire team about the current system in a way that is non-threatening and that will provide you with honest feedback.

To accomplish this, everyone in your organization should complete the following communication test and the results should be mailed to an unbiased third party for evaluation. Have your team members answer yes or no to the following questions:

  • Employees can ask for help without feeling embarrassed.
  • The company consistently recognizes employee accomplishments.
  • Employees are informed immediately of any problem with their work or behavior.
  • Employees receive sufficient and constructive feedback from their supervisors.
  • Employees clearly understand what is expected of them and are given sufficient training to perform their job tasks.

Mark Koziel: These are just a few. Anyone interested in other questions can e-mail me and I'll provide the full list.

Mark Koziel: Most employers would be amazed at the results of this survey. Of course, none of the information provided by this survey will be useful if you are not open to your team members' perceptions of you or if you will not be candid about the results. Once you have reviewed and communicated the results with your team members, it is time to ask them for help in preparing the new performance evaluation system.

Be sure to avoid the trap of creating an evaluation system that uses predetermined characteristics in a checklist format. This is impersonal and does not allow communication. The best evaluation system may involve five to seven categories for each team member to address and then establish specific goals within each category.

The employee and his/her manager should establish these goals at the beginning of the year and then rank how successfully these goals were met at year-end. Amazingly, when the evaluation is set up in this way, the evaluatee typically gives lower ranking scores than the evaluator. Imagine the uplift for the evaluatee in exiting a performance review when the evaluator ranks them higher than they ranked themselves. Talk about a morale boost!

The categories will vary based on public accounting or accounting departments in industry. Public accounting may have categories such as Chargeable Hours/Productivity, Technical Ability/Business Knowledge, Client Service, Business Development, People Development and Teamwork

Accounting departments in industry may have the following Technical Ability, Knowledge of Company Procedures and Policies, Service of Other Departments, People Development and Teamwork, Creativity and Innovation

Mark Koziel: Let's take a look at each of the categories for public.

Chargeable hours and productivity is an area that CPAs will never break free from. In the 21st century, it would be nice to establish fixed fee billing based on value, but that is a story for another day.

Although it seems easy, it may be one of the hardest areas for new team members to comprehend because, often, new team member do not know what is expected of them with respect to recoveries and chargeable hours. If we falsely tell them that the budgets set for the jobs are realistic, we cannot blame anyone but ourselves when that team member leaves after two years.

Also, if we tell them they will only work 2,300 hours per year with 20% travel and, realistically, they work 2,500 hours and have 50% travel, we can only blame ourselves when they leave after two years.

As managers, we must make the goals realistic and be sure to get the team member's input as to whether or not the goals appear reasonable. Establishing goals that the team member know are unattainable is worse than never setting goals in the first place. Examples of specific goals regarding chargeability/productivity for newer team members are Total hours of ______ for the year, Chargeable % of ___% for the year, Average recovery of ___% on all jobs

In a team member's first year, you can help set their goals, but each year thereafter, they should set their own goals and you should discuss them together during the evaluation for the prior year.

Mark Koziel: Any questions so far? I realize I'm throwing a lot at once.

Lauren L. Kincaid: Will we be able to get a hard copy of this info?
Mark Koziel: Lauren, this info will be available here on accountingweb tomorrow.

Fred Prall: annually, what about more often
Mark Koziel: Hi Fred, establish the goals annually, but review the goals regularly, whether quarterly, semi-annual, etc.

Fred Prall: It seems to me that the question of pay should be separate from goal setting
Mark Koziel: Fred you're right. If team members are dealing with both, they'll only think about the money

Melody Wagler: Could you e-mail us a sample evaluation form and questions for employees?
Session Moderator: Mark, if you like, we can make a sample form available here on AccountingWEB
Mark Koziel: The form is pretty simple, I'll send that and the questions tomorrow.
Session Moderator: Thanks, Mark
Melody Wagler: Thank you!

Fred Prall: so would you avoid linking pay increases with evaluations and goal setting
Mark Koziel: Fred, yes and communicate that up front.
Mark Koziel: Let employees know that performance is reviewed in June and salary adjustments in November as an example.

Mark Koziel: Let's press on.

Technical Ability/Business Knowledge is a topic that is broad based and can change dramatically year after year. During the first two years in the industry, the focus for a new team member should be on what they will learn and moderate goals should be established with your assistance.

The goals should grow with the individual and the team member should start to set and complete the goals on their own. These goals will be based on aspects of their job that are especially interesting to them. This is perfectly acceptable because a job that is interesting and challenging may lessen the burden of high pay. Within two to four years, the team member should be completing goals as a means of finding their area of expertise. They will become a tremendous asset to your organization if you let them make their own way down the technical proficiency path.

This is also a great way for them to find an interesting CPE and specialized knowledge and technical background that will benefit your company. Let them set the goals and you have an easy topic of discussion during the performance evaluation.

Client Service is an area that could be the most important to focus on in the evaluation process. If we are without clients to serve, we can shut our doors. This topic may be difficult to measure in terms of performance evaluation, but the right system in place, client service is actually simple to measure.

First, we should define this area. Client service should not extend only to external clients, but to internal clients (i.e., support staff) as well. You may employ personnel who have little or no contact with external clients, but who provide service to members of client service teams. These internal personnel also need to set goals and understand how their performance rates in relation to those goals.

Now that we have our definition, we can discuss how to implement goal setting for client service. New team members require assistance in establishing these goals. This allows employers to educate these team members on company performance standards.

Client service goals should include items such as frequency of contact with the client, response time to client needs, developing relationships with certain key client personnel, friendliness of service at all levels within the client's organization, and provision of value-added services to the client. Client service goals should be as specific as possible with references to specific clients and client personnel in relationship building.

The monitoring of client service must support the evaluation system. The number one source of information will be the client's employees. When a senior must evaluate a new team member, they can rely on client personnel for feedback concerning the performance of the new team member. The system is simple. Call the payables clerk and ask ?How did you enjoy working with Sue Staff this year?? You would be amazed at the information you will receive.

Business Development is a topic that scares many accountants. Accountants like to deal with numbers-not salespeople! Business development can be more than just "selling" to new potential clients and might not even include selling at all. Business development refers to new business, as well as to the generation of additional business from existing clients.

Goal setting for this area will depend primarily on personality and technical knowledge. First, we must understand that a square peg cannot fit into a round hole. There are many accountants who simply are not comfortable with selling. If they perceive that selling is part of their job, they may be uncomfortable and become a candidate to find a position in industry where they perceive that selling is not part of their everyday routine.

Your organization comprises different personalities, what may be called "hunters" and "skinners." A "hunters" are people who are in the game for the hunt. They enjoy selling and want it to be part of their everyday job. The "skinners" do not like the hunt. They prefer to handle tasks after the hunt is complete. In the accounting world, skinners are better known as technicians.

Personal goals should reflect this personality distinction. Hunters should develop goals that specifically put them in touch with the public to develop business. These goals may include joining outside organizations, conducting new client presentations, marketing in large groups, and assisting the firm with its marketing plan.

Goals for skinners will be quite different and should include more of a one-on-one approach to selling such as meeting with existing clients about certain needs, giving technical seminars for small groups of client personnel, and teaching hunters about changes in technical issues that will affect the products the hunters are trying to sell.

People Development and Teamwork is the last area for public. This area can be very important to ensure continuity and well being within your organization. There will need to be a system in place that is strong enough to avoid any internal strife.

When you have personality conflicts, you have friction that is counterproductive and causes inefficiencies. You must create a system that will find the route of the problem without making team members feel as though they are pointing fingers at other team members.

People development and teamwork goals may include giving new assignments to other team members, both giving and receiving instruction and training sessions on certain issues and providing feedback. The system will include goals for new team members that would involve the active pursuit of knowledge in new areas.

The goals for seniors and those above would include actively providing their knowledge to new team members. For your organization to grow, there must be continual training to keep the pipe line flowing. Asking questions in the evaluation will let you know where the system may have broken down.

For example, if a new team member believes he/she did not meet his/her goals for taking on a new area in the audit, the key questions would be, "How could we, as an organization, have helped you to better reach your goals?" and "What do you think you could have done better to meet these goals?" This shows the team member that the organization is interested in helping him/her attain his/her goals.

Mark Koziel: Do we have any questions at this point?
Mark Koziel: Is there anyone who wants me to review the category for evaluating team members in industry?
Paul Sliwinski: Should the goals be as specific as possible or can it be productive to set some goals as generalities and work toward them more as an art than a science?
Mark Koziel: Hi Paul, The goals should be rather specific to fit the individual. People are different as we'll discuss in the next section.

Giving Evaluations

Mark Koziel: Consistency beats occasional excellence. A consistent approach to evaluations will give credibility to the system and will prevent discrepancies in performance. The best way to implement consistency is to ensure that all team members have knowledge of the evaluation system. Everyone should know what the expectations of the system will be.

Be specific in letting the managers know that you are looking for fair and honest feedback that will help other team members grow with the company. When I talk to people in our industry, I often hear about managers who do not give high marks in evaluations.

People want to know that they are a valued member of their organization. Informing employees that they "meet expectations" tells them that they are average at best and probably not very valuable to the organization. When evaluating, we must consider results, as well as effort and commitment.

If someone is committed to your organization and gives 150% to each and every task they perform, they likely are exceeding expectations. They should know how much their employer appreciates their effort.

Consider anyone who has an older brother or sister. In school, students who follow older siblings who were smart, active, talented and well-liked by the teachers are often compared to the older sibling. I have an older sister and the comparison was constantly made.

One day, a teacher told me that I should be doing better in class because my sister always did well in his class. I told him that I would be doing better if he was as good a teacher as Mrs. Smith. The two days of detention were worth it!

Implement a peer review system to be used before evaluations are given. This can be considered evaluating the evaluator. If I'm one manager in a multi-manager department, I'd hate to lose what I consider to be a valued employee because another manager tells that employee they are only an average worker.

This system should be communicated and comments should be made so that each employee knows that the system is being applied throughout the organization in the same manner. Let employees know that evaluators are also being held accountable.

Give positive strokes. Even bad situations can be given a positive spin. If someone is not performing up to the organization's standard, let them know, but also ask them how the organization can help improve their performance.

If you tell an employee that their performance is lacking and that they must improve or suffer the consequences without giving advice or offering help, the likelihood of turnaround is far greater than if you offer help. Tell that employee exactly what needs improvement and offer assistance or advice on how to improve it.

Communication is the key to success. If you are open, honest and helpful as the evaluator, the recipient of the evaluation will be open honest and helpful with the organization.

Mark Koziel: We now have time for additional questions, Paul I'm not sure if I answered yours, would you like more input?
Paul Sliwinski: I think you answered it fine.
Mark Koziel: We can move on to the final area, before we do though, I'd like to make sure that everyone is ok with the positive reinforcement we discussed.

Denise Gueli: Mark, I think an additional point to consider is that people are motivated by money, but are also motivated by positive reinforcement. Everyone wants to feel valued
Mark Koziel: I've talked with many in the industry and I can tell you that some managers still don't get it. They tell me that on a scale of 1 to 5 the person would have to be a miracle worker to score a 5
Denise Gueli: How does anyone stay motivated with standards like that?
Mark Koziel: Thanks for that Denise, just like my previous comment, today's employees don't want to get beat up every day on the job, there are too many choices for employ.
Session Moderator: It would be interesting to know how those managers would rate themselves
Mark Koziel: Those managers typically feel that no one can do the job as well as they can. I've seen it too many times on the recruiting side.
Denise Gueli: I agree - it seems to be some sort of job security thing
Mark Koziel: If I have the luxury of placing a job in which the person leaving is still there, if the client asks to have them sit in on the interviews, I tell the client NO
Mark Koziel: In their mind, no one could truly replace them and they would only have negative comments about who they interviewed.
Denise Gueli: Excellent point
Mark Koziel: We also do reference checks on candidates and I'm amazed at how many references come back rating the person only an average to above average at best.
Mark Koziel: Again, the reference will tell me that it is their policy not to rank people above a 3 or 4. Then they wonder why people left?

Fred Prall: how to get beyond the references given to get to someone not a friend
Mark Koziel: We only ask for professional references from either direct supervisors, direct subordinates or both.

Mark Koziel: Any questions after the session is over can be sent to me at [email protected]

Receiving Evaluations

Mark Koziel: This information should be shared with anyone in your organization that receives evaluations.

Now it is time to turn the tables. Receiving a performance evaluation can be a very stressful event, but it does not have to be. If you feel that you have performed to the best of your ability, there is no reason to be stressed during review time. There are ways to minimize stress and to ensure that the performance evaluation meeting is successful for both the company and the person being evaluated.

The first step to success is to prepare. Performance evaluations and, in particular, year-end performance evaluations are usually scheduled in advance. Take advantage of this time to recap what you have done over the past year. If you set goals in the prior year, you should review the goals in relation to actual.

If you were successful, explain why and if you were not, explain why and describe your future plans to ensure that it does not happen again. This is not a time for excuses; it is a time for self-reflection. Keep a positive attitude toward the evaluation.

This will let the evaluator know you are interested in the company and that you are not there for your own needs. Explain what resources you need from the company for you to reach your goals and why your goals are important to the overall corporate mission.

Communication is vital to receiving a quality performance evaluation. If you are prepared, you will have the ability to communicate why you are a valuable employee. Sing your own accolades!

You should not depend on anyone else to talk about your accomplishments with your manager. If you want a good evaluation and a pay increase, you must be ready to explain why you deserve these benefits. Also, companies will only invest in employees who show potential for growth and stability within their company.

You must communicate why you like being a part of the team and what will keep you on the team. An open, honest, positive conversation will benefit both sides.

Finally, keep your eye on the future. Let the company know what goals you would like to set for the upcoming year and how you plan to reach those goals. Explain how the company can help you reach these goals and how your personal goals relate to the overall goals of the company.

Taking a proactive approach will help you lead the conversation - and your career - in the direction that you want it to go. If you do not take advantage of this opportunity to communicate, you will be caught following the direction that the company perceives you want.

Remember, the performance evaluation can be a powerful tool to help you keep your good employees. Communication and having the right system will be the key to your success.

Mark Koziel: That's it from me, any final questions?
Session Moderator: Mark - thank so much for sharing all of this valuable information! And thank you to everyone for attending today. Mark will be back in October with another workshop on recruiting for college students.


Mark Koziel is Senior Manager of Dopkins & Company, LLP's Placement and Human Resource Consulting Divisions. He has served in various accounting and consulting roles for over ten years. His experiences with recruiting for Dopkins & Company, LLP employees and assisting clients in filling key accounting positions has served as the springboard to the development of Dopkins Placement Services. His recruiting techniques used for Dopkins & Company, LLP served as the system to be used for Dopkins Placement Services.

In addition to serving as Manager for Placement and Human Resource Consulting, Mark is the co-presenter of the "Making Your Business Really Fly" seminar and member of the firm's "Awesome Service Team." Upon joining the General Services Team seven years ago, it was clear that Mark's calling was in sharing his business development skills with entrepreneurs interested in taking their companies to the next level. He underwent entensive "Bootcamp Training" to hone those skills. This the "Making Your Business Really Fly" seminar is the ideal forum for businesses to concentrate solely on working "on" the business instead of getting bogged down working "in" the business.

Mark is a member of the American Institute of CPAs and the New York State Society of CPAs – Buffalo Chapter where he is current Vice President and past Chairman of the Young CPAs Committee. He sits on the board of directors of various not-for-profits and earned a BS in Accounting from Canisius College.

Since 1955, Dopkins & Company, LLP has realized a steady growth and is now the largest locally owned certified public accounting and consulting firm in Western New York. A key factor to our success is client service and our ability to attract, identify and retain exceptional team members. We follow these same principals when it comes to finding our clients' team members that will help their business surpass their goals and expectations.

Dopkins Placement Services, a division of Dopkins & Company, LLP utilizes an exclusive Six Step Difference process that allows us to match candidates and companies that share the same philosophies, work ethics and values. We believe this offers for a more communicative and harmonious work environment. This will lead to happier employees and improved work productivity and quality, we guarantee it.

The Dopkins Placement Services six step difference is the blending of analytical discipline with the personal touch. Evidenced by our initial interview procedure, you save measurable time and money and benefit by becoming familiar with the candidate before ever meeting him or her. Nor do we abandon you during the process or upon hire. We maintain a non-intrusive presence even after the candidate is hired. This support is policy for both permanent and temporary candidates.

The HR Support & Development Group of Dopkins & Company, LLP, has translated our many years of professional experience into an extensive array of services to assist our clients in dealing effectively with personnel issues and in maximizing potential of their human resources assets. The HR Support & Development Group provides services including employee handbooks, design and implementation of policies and practices, on-call support, employee surveys and management/staff training.

Mark J. Koziel, CPA
Dopkins & Company, LLP
200 International Drive
Buffalo, NY 14221
Phone: 716-634-8800
Toll free: 888-634-0001
Fax: 716-634-8987
E-mail: [email protected]

About admin


Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.