October 2011  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ”

—AnaÏs Nin

Word Pair of the Month: tenant, tenet

Don’t get this month’s words, tenant and tenet, mixed up. A tenant is a person who rents property from someone, while a tenet is a principle or belief held by members of a group to be true. The difference between the two words lies in their second syllables. Say the words out loud, carefully enunciating those second syllables, to get the distinction to stick. Then remember this sentence: “The tenant held to the tenet that the landlord should cover repairs.”

October Writer’s Forum Question

Let’s talk about office performance reviews. How are such reviews handled at your workplace? Whether you are the reviewer or the reviewee, how do you prepare for a report? What follow-up is common? Share with us your office policies and procedures for optimum employee performance.

Jonathon Bretthauer of Roanoke, Virginia, argues that performance reviews are counterproductive:

Two years ago, Samuel Culbert wrote about this topic in the Wall Street Journal. He suggested completely dropping performance reviews. Culbert pointed out that reviews put managers and staff at odds in several subtle ways, without accomplishing much, if anything. Managers come to reviews hoping to communicate ways to improve, while staff come to them hoping to justify a raise. But raises aren’t usually based on merit as much as on budgets. Staff tend to leave review meetings feeling nervous if they’ve received suggestions for improvement. Management finds itself in a criticizing role more than a helpful one. So nobody wins. That’s Culbert’s theory, at least. You can find his article, “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” online.

Paul Schmidt of Little Rock, Arkansas, also questions the reliability of performance reviews—at least the way his company used to do them:

We used to have the line managers write the end-of-year performance reviews, but we discovered all they were doing was giving employees a self-evaluation form, then rewriting the comments and submitting them. What good is that? No one is going to give himself a bad review! Now we have the managers keep a daily report, just a few lines noting specific instances of excellence or needs for improvement. This takes a little more time, but it is way more accurate. Poor reviews are handled by a personal meeting with the employee to discuss ways to improve, and if necessary, a mentor is assigned to help the employee and to keep tabs on improvement.

Andrea DuBois of Delta, British Columbia, has found a multiple-level form of review works best:

It’s ridiculous to expect one point of view to be objective and cover everything about each employee. That’s why we ask for a manager’s report, plus an individual meeting with each employee, as well as comments from fellow workers. These comments are gathered on anonymous forms that allow each employee to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of coworkers. By having an across-the-board assessment like this, we can weed out personal grudges. For example, if one coworker gives a negative review but six others all offer praise, we can pretty much eliminate the bad review as personal bias. The reverse is also true. One glowing review versus six negative reports suggests the kudos are biased. We’ve found that combining coworkers’ comments with a manager’s report and an employee interview provides an accurate assessment of each worker.

Simcha Balin of Riverside, California, suggests more than a once- or twice-a-year review:

We try to make employee evaluations a continuing activity, mainly through our customer responses. Every employee-customer interaction—whether a sales call or a crisis response—is followed up with an email requesting specific comments on the interaction. We keep the questionnaire short, with several multiple-choice answers and a place for specific comments. Not everyone responds, but we get a lot of great feedback, and it allows our employees to be constantly improving their techniques for dealing with customers. We feel that employee morale is the greatest asset in any business, so rather than fire an underperforming worker, we try to help that person improve through training and one-on-one assistance. This benevolent policy shows our workers that we have confidence in them, and we find it makes them want to perform better.

On the other side of the coin, Alfonso Herrera of Mesquite, Texas, explains how he prepares for his own reviews:

We have employee reviews every six months, and my first one was awful. My boss was great, though, and suggested ways I could improve. I took all her advice and kept notes on how I changed. Then, at my next review, I was able to show her how I had implemented her suggestions. Since then, I keep a record of all my projects, noting every one of my successes as well as any problems I faced and how I solved them. I also write down my failures, along with how I changed or adjusted my work to make up for them. With these notes in hand, I can go into a performance review ready to show what I have learned and how I am improving.

A Final Thought

A green office does not stop with recycling bins. There are many things your office manager can do to help the earth, including supplying the maintenance crew with nontoxic, biodegradable cleaning products, purchasing refillable printing cartridges, using recycled paper, and—even better—keeping electronic files whenever possible. Every little bit helps.

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