While I love releasing fun and lighthearted content around the holidays, I do have some topics on my list here that we just have to get through before the end of the year, OK?
So grab a coffee or a glass of wine, because in this article we are talking about conducting year-end employee reviews.
I am going to give you some tips based on what worked best for ME, but I want to emphasize here like I do so often– please feel free to take from this article what feels good and right for your business, and leave what doesn’t.
The key takeaway here is that even if you’re feeling busy and overwhelmed– you’ve gotta take care of your team.
And even if it feels like you’re in constant communication with them and in and out of your space all the time– I’m telling you, spending 1:1 face time with each employee individually is going to shed more light on what’s happening inside your business and team than you can even wrap your head around.
In addition to shedding more insight on how the day to day is going from their perspective, these reviews provide an opportunity to assess and acknowledge employee performance, highlighting strengths and areas for improvement.
By doing so, we as business owners can ensure that our team members are aligned with us in terms of values, mission, goals, and vision.
Year-end reviews also promote open communication and feedback, creating a work environment where employees feel heard and valued, which can go a LONG way when it comes to employee retention which we all know is crucial right now.
These reviews allow for goal setting and professional development discussions, helping employees grow within the company. And even if you don’t have a manager yet or ways to advance in that traditional way– I still have some ideas for you. So hang tight.
For all of these reasons as well as some I’m probably forgetting, this is something you want to prioritize and make time for before the end of the year or maybe right after the new year. And that’s why I’m publishing this episode now– so you can make time on your calendar and coordinate with your team's schedules.
Alright, let’s get into my tips for conducting year-end employee reviews.
Gather all relevant information about each employee, including performance data, attendance records, and any notes from previous evaluations. Coming prepared to the meeting will show you care about having a thorough discussion and that you’re invested in making sure everything’s on the table. Literally and metaphorically.
Preparing in advance also means arranging childcare. Even if it means having a friend or neighbor or other employee come supervise your child in the play area. Allowing your attention to be focused solely on the review will further prove to your team members that you are engaged and that you CARE about really deeply listening to and understanding what they have to say.
Define the purpose of the review and what you hope to achieve. This might include discussing performance, setting goals for the upcoming year, and addressing any concerns or areas for improvement. And I like to set these objectives PRIOR to the actual meeting. Sometimes when a team member sees a request to schedule a review, they get nervous and assume something’s wrong. If you’re clear that these reviews serve a clear purpose and will be done for everyone, it can put their mind at ease a bit and allow them to prepare for the meeting with a clear head.
Allocate enough time for each review, typically around 45 minutes to 1 hour per part time employee, to ensure a thorough discussion. For a manager, I usually allow at least 90 minutes for a personal review, and then another slot of time for a review of the business. It’s important to keep these discussions clear and distinct in my opinion, and I even preferred most times to have these on different days so they didn’t bleed together.
Conduct the review in a private and comfortable space where both you and the employee can openly communicate without distractions. This might mean meeting in a back office OFF the selling floor and out of ear shot of other customers and employees. If you have a small space, you may even want to meet at a local restaurant or cafe to keep the ground neutral and your conversation more private.
Create a consistent review format to ensure fairness and objectivity. This might include using a standard evaluation form. I have a preferred template that I offer Play Cafe Academy and Play Maker Society members– but you can also create your own. The key is to use a consistent format so you can measure progress over time and easily compare team members while ensuring fairness.
Begin the review with positive feedback to acknowledge the employee's strengths and achievements over the year.
Highlight specific examples of their contributions. And again I like to come prepared with these to show that I took the time to really get the full picture of the tangible and intangible effect that employee has made on the business during the year. If you can, keep track of these items year round so this process is easier when review time comes around and you don’t need to dig.
Discuss any areas where the employee can improve and provide constructive feedback. Be specific and offer actionable suggestions for growth. And I like to have employees come to their review having graded themselves in various categories like customer service, punctuality, and more. Again, you can easy make grading sheets yourself using something like Canva.
And to prevent employees from giving themselves 5’s in all areas, I preferred to have them instead order these categories from BEST to WORST.
So, for example, if the categories are lets say Customer Service, Reliability, Creativity, Teamwork, Communication, Adaptability, Initiative, Technical Ability, Work Ethic, and Conflict Resolution– they would make a list of these traits in order from the one they think they performed the BEST in to the one they think they need the most improvement on. And you can create your own ranking to compare as well if you want.
I love doing this because it:
Collaboratively set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals for the upcoming year. These goals should align with the employee's role and the business's objectives. You want to be able to sit down in another 6 months and be able to objectively say that an employee met a goal or did not meet a goal.
For example, a goal could be to sell 3 birthday parties a week for a 6 month time period. Or, it could be to place orders by 9am every Wednesday so they can be delivered on time for the weekend parties for a given time period. Or it could be showing up on-time 90% of the time for the next 3 months.
Allow the employee to share their perspective, concerns, and ideas. Create a dialogue to foster open communication.
And as I discussed back in episode 217 of my Profitable Play Podcast, one question I love to ask current employees is, “if you were to leave or seek a new job, what do you think the reason might be?”
This helps identify what that employee values MOST and helps you discern what will keep them motivated and will keep them on your team. For example, if they say to find better pay– you may want to come up with a raise structure they’re happy with that coincides with their SMART goals and if they achieve them. Same thing if they say they would want more hours– this gives you the opportunity to ask if they’d like to cross train in new areas or learn new skills so you can give them more hours so they make the amount they need to.
However, they may say things like, “more flexibility”, or “less drama among staff”, or “less interaction with customers”-- I have heard it ALL. But all of these responses allow you to better understand what motivates your team and what you might be able to do to keep them satisfied with their job.
Take detailed notes during the review, recording key points, agreements, and action items. This documentation will be useful for future reference.
If applicable, discuss opportunities for career growth within your indoor playground or ways the employee can expand their skills. So for example if they are in high school and they plan to go into marketing or social media as a career path, try and identify opportunities for them to help you in those areas while adding to their skill set and resume.
Or if they plan to go into teaching, maybe they would be a great class or event leader. Or perhaps the team member is a stay at home mom and she wants to eventually get a full time job when her children are a bit older. Maybe she would be a great fit for manager training, so she can be set up for success when she does begin applying for more full time roles.
And in Profitable Play episode 109 with HR expert Michele Dillinger we discussed how you can increase employee happiness and retention by offering educational credits. Annual reviews are a great time to ask if there’s anything they have in mind. For example, maybe there’s an Instagram course the employee thinks would really help them grow your following and sales. Or maybe there’s a local business development event coming up for local business owners and your employee would love to represent you and learn about the latest from your local chamber.
Of course, your ability to provide this will depend a lot on your size, budget, and goals, but this is something I have seen become discussed a lot more especially among the younger employees, as I discussed in a YouTube video I did with my first EVER employee Caitlin. She mentioned that as a Gen-Z’er, she is very interested in these opportunities to grow and expand her knowledge, even more-so sometimes than getting a raise.
Summarize the key discussion points, including performance highlights, areas for improvement, and agreed-upon goals.
If relevant, address any changes in compensation, benefits, or policies for the upcoming year.
If this isn’t their first review and you had a set compensation increase structure or they had goals they were supposed to achieve and they did– come prepared to discuss a pay increase.
And if you can’t afford it, consider performance based incentives. For example, a $10 bonus every time they book a party or sign up a new member. Something that moves your primary revenue streams forward and also keeps them feeling motivated and excited, but still protects you from risk.
Invite the employee to ask questions or seek clarification on any points discussed during the review.
After the review, send a written summary of the discussion to the employee and request their acknowledgment by signing the summary. This helps ensure clarity and accountability.
Regularly check in with employees throughout the year to provide support, assess progress toward goals, and make any necessary adjustments.
Keep all review discussions confidential to build trust with your employees.
If employees need additional training or resources to meet their goals, make arrangements to provide them.
Ensure that you conduct reviews for all employees and maintain consistency in your evaluation and feedback processes.
After completing all reviews, reflect on the process and look for ways to improve it for the following year.
And of course, if there were any common trends or consistent areas where employees lacked in confidence or had complaints, consider that YOUR review as a boss. Look critically at that and come up with a plan of action to improve in those areas and keep your team informed about what you plan to do and the progress you make as you implement.
This will again make your team feel heard and valued, and prove that year end reviews weren’t just a box you were checking. Show that they served a purpose not just for them to set goals to achieve, but for YOU to do the same thing alongside them.
Lot’s of times we grow and learn and innovate right alongside our team, because we are learning as we go too.
As long as you maintain transparency and keep communication open between you and your team and actually take their suggestions to heart, it can be really cool to show that we as owners DON’T know it all. We want to involve our team in the process.
We want them to feel invested so we should be MAKING them feel like a truly integral part of not just the team but of the business. Because they ARE.
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