Performance reviews

9 September 2013

Performance reviews are an important part of keeping your business on track, but both employers and employees often dread them. So how do you make performance reviews productive for both the business and the employee?

Regular staff performance reviews are an important aspect of running a business, and should be seen as something that can help you develop and build your practice, rather than just another task to be done (or to be forgotten about!).

The Architects Award requires annual reviews as part of the Progression from Graduate of Architecture to Registered Architect (15.2b) and as part of a Registered Architects’ progress towards the acquisition of competencies (15.3b). The requirements for both are as follows:

As a part of this review process, progress for the previous twelve months must be reviewed and objectives for the next twelve-month period should be mutually agreed, and set out in writing. This will also include any necessary training, which the employee will be expected to undertake in order to fulfil the requirements of their position. The cost of such approved training will be borne by the employer.

It is important that you meet your obligations under the Modern Award, but practices should also see the annual review process as a helpful way to develop their staff’s capacity, expertise and commitment to the practice.

A performance review should be a productive, genuine two-way conversation that is part of a wider culture of mentoring and staff development, and associated business development. It is not a box-ticking exercise – forms provide useful checklists, help ensure that employees are treated equitably, and provide a record of the review, however filling out the forms is not an adequate review on its own.

Performance reviews help employees understand how they are going – what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how the weak areas could be improved, where there are gaps in their knowledge, skills and experiences. They also provide an opportunity for employers to communicate the current condition of the practice and their plans for it, and for employees to articulate their ambitions within the context of the practice.

All of this provides a framework for employees to develop their skills in a manner that will help meet your practice and business goals more effectively.

This is important, even in a small practice.

Formal reviews also provide a context in which to have more difficult conversations – for example, for employers to address concerns about an employee’s performance and/or attitude. In turn it provides employees with an opportunity to outline any concerns they might have – for example, about the mix of work accessible to them, areas in which they would like to gain experience, or aspects of the workplace culture that make them uncomfortable. More pragmatically, regular, honest reviews are also necessary for protecting against unfair dismissal claims.

Reviews are important for all staff at all levels of seniority, but can be particularly useful for younger graduates – they serve a valuable function to assess graduates’ mix of experience in relation to registration, and their ‘fit’ with the practice.

An employee’s performance should be framed in relation to the performance and ambitions of the practice – as a result, the employee is more likely to be invested in the practice and its development. Reviews should also reflect how the practice itself is going. Every organisation – no matter the size – should have its own targets. People are a key asset in any organisation, so if the practice itself is going well, then performance reviews would normally reflect this and vice versa. 

Performance review dos and don’ts

The following dos and don’ts will help you get going – many of these points are fleshed out further in the resources outlined below, some of which also provide useful tips and tactics.

Do:

  • Use performance reviews to facilitate open, useful conversation that is productive for both the practice and the employee.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations to employees, provide feedback, set goals and challenges.
  • Use measurable targets, such as key performance indicators (KPI), in association with each job, and review these each year.
  • Link the employee’s day-to-day performance with your practice’s wider goals.
  • Focus on output and the future.
  • Connect your reviews to your business cycle.
  • Review everyone within a limited timeframe to help ensure consistency and fairness.

Don’t:

  • Treat it as just another box-ticking exercise.
  • Use performance reviews as a means to intimidate employees.
  • List weaknesses without discussing strategies to improve them.
  • Be evasive or shy away from the more difficult conversations. 

Resources

There is not a huge amount of material out there about performance reviews that is specific to architectural practice, and most of it seems to come from the US. However, much of the material geared to general business is also useful, especially resources that concentrate on small- and medium-size businesses. The following resources can help you get going, or assist in improving your existing processes:

Architecture-specific material

  • The Modern Architects Award requires the annual review of all employees. This includes reviewing progress, establishing mutually agreed objectives for the next year, and recording these. 
  • The American Institute of Architects provides sample performance evaluation sheets, with examples for administrative staff, professional and technical staff, and management staff. These are member only. They provide a series of criteria to be assessed on a scale of one to five. The lists of responsibilities and attributes to be considered provide a useful framework to begin establishing your own approach.
  • Over at The Architect is the short article ‘So, How am I Doing?’, written by Mark Gundacker, global director of HR at EDAW. The tag line is “How to make performance reviews more useful and less painful” and he provides a series of short, sharp tips. He emphasises the value of performance reviews as a forward-looking tool for the business, which should also be part of the conversation. 
  • Lulu Brown gives an employee perspective in her short blog post, ‘Putting the “Perform” in Performance Reviews’, and she also emphasises how useful performance reviews can be when they are a genuine conversation. She provides a short list of things employees should have thought about before the review – a list that is also worth thinking about from the employer’s point of view.  

General business material

This article was first published in ACA Communique, September 2013. 

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