5 tips for effective EMS leader performance reviews

Here are five tips to avoid common pitfalls in the annual performance evaluation process of paramedic chiefs and EMS supervisors


By Christine Zalar

Every organization has a system for how employee performance is measured and reported. However, many managers are not well prepared for the performance appraisal process,beyond knowing how to complete the associated checklists and forms.

Here are five tips to avoid common pitfalls in the performance evaluation process:

1. Prepare
The performance appraisal is an important event for the employee. It affects his or her relationship with the organization, future career path and salary. The manager needs to value the performance appraisal just as seriously and can demonstrate that commitment through ongoing attentiveness and feedback to the employee throughout the year and by coming to the meeting with documentation—and no surprises.

The manager and the employee each have the responsibility to prepare for an annual performance appraisal meeting. Managers set the stage with pre-meeting communication of the evaluation process and tools. Employees should prepare self-evaluations or similar written reflections of their performance over the previous year and goals for the next.

Consistency is critical when providing feedback to the employee, starting with ensuring that scores and manager’s comments align. Also, the manager should compare the current appraisal to the previous year’s. Any significant negative changes should have been documented prior to the annual performance review, and ideally addressed during midyear meetings or through formal improvement plans.

The most common inconsistency occurs when different employees are judged by different standards. When completing a performance appraisal, managers can refer to other performance appraisals they have completed in order to ensure standards and scoring systems are being used consistently. In most organizations, where several managers may be evaluating employees, it is critical for those managers to discuss performance appraisals with their own supervisors and with each other, so they are each applying the standards in a similar fashion.

2. Be timely
The performance appraisal should not be an isolated event, but the result of a year-long process. Employees generally require ongoing guidance, support and encouragement more frequently than is provided in an annual appraisal.

At the same time, the date of the annual review should be honored. Late performance appraisals indicate to employees that the manager does not consider the process important. It can also convey a lack of organization and can weaken the manager’s credibility.  

When conducting an annual performance review, the natural inclination is to give greater weight to recent events over those that occurred earlier in the year. Being disciplined about documenting the employee's work throughout the year will help avoid overemphasizing his or her most recent work.

Similarly, events from previous years should only be noted if they are relevant to the current performance review period—such as examples where deficiencies still remain despite efforts to correct them.

3. Be honest
The most difficult job of a manager is confronting performance and behavioral issues. Do it objectively and without allowing emotion or bias to influence the conversation. Provide data and specific examples of areas for improvement. Reinforce desirable, positive performance. Focus solely on documented events and not rumor, perceptions, or innuendos.

Some managers feel uncomfortable giving negative feedback and avoid delivering the constructive criticism that employees need in order to improve. As a manager appraising someone's performance, you must give an honest, balanced evaluation. Avoid using absolutes such as “always” or “never,” as they can be dismissed with just one example to the contrary. Absolutes are also quite difficult to defend.

Take care to not judge an employee's intent with statements such as "you weren't applying yourself" or “you weren’t trying.” Intent is very difficult to prove or measure; focus instead on the employee's actions and their outcomes.

Give recognition to staff when they perform well throughout the year and be sure to include specific examples of exemplary performance in the appraisal. Managers often underestimate the impact of a sincere display of gratitude for a job well done.

4. Provide constructive advice
While negative feedback of an employee’s performance may be accurate, how it is delivered can impact the employee’s future engagement. Managers should be careful to balance critical feedback with constructive advice on how an employee can improve. Even if the criticisms have merit, if you don't explain how the employee can improve, he or she is likely to miss the validity of what's being said and simply think they are being treated unfairly.

This holds true for both your highest and lowest performing employees. Your lowest performers may need the most suggestions on how to improve—but often the highest performers are the ones who seek constructive advice.

5. Listen
Leading the performance appraisal meeting does not mean doing all of the talking. A successful meeting is an interactive exchange between the manager and the employee—a time for the manager to relay his or her appraisal of the employee's performance and to hear the employee's viewpoint. It is also a time for the employee and manager to agree on goals for the upcoming year.

Although they seem simple, incorporating all five of these tips into the performance appraisal process requires awareness, discipline, and forethought. But they are critical to being an effective manager. The performance appraisal process is an important communication event with employees, and if done right, can be a valuable contribution to employee satisfaction, productivity, and performance.

About the Author
Christine Zalar is a founding partner at Fitch & Associates. She is responsible for the firm’s long term management services contracts, and leads the air medical consulting services division. Contact her directly at czalar@emprize.net.

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