Art of Accounting: Annual Staff Evaluations

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IMGCAP(1)]I have never felt annual staff evaluations are effective.

They are forced meetings that lay on complaints and blame for past failures, many of which are not remembered or are vague memories at best. I have rarely seen resulting changes last more than two or three weeks before old habits are reverted to. I think these annual meetings are a waste of time. Instead, I have been very successful with immediate and periodic evaluations, coupled with regular mentoring meetings.

When someone does something wrong I tell them right away what it is and how it should have been done. If possible I discuss what might have been the reason for the incorrect work. I also try to catch people doing something good and tell them—immediately. It is very easy to tell someone they did a good job, so do it!

I also schedule quarterly meetings to discuss performance, growth, satisfaction and goals, and what can be done to improve in those areas. I have never liked measuring performance with metrics. It makes it too clinical and usually doesn’t provide accurate measures. Dealing with professionals is about delivering the right services to clients.

It is easy to know if a client is happy with a staff person. The client stops calling me with questions and funnels them through the staff person. At first it is a test. Clients want to develop a confidence level that their questions will be passed on to me. As this is done, their confidence rises and the calls to me decline, with the staff person becoming an effective liaison.

Another measure is keeping promises. Every due date of every project, report and tax return is a commitment and promise. However, not every deadline can be met. The manner and timeliness of handling the delays can keep you out of trouble or cause great problems with the client. That goes the same with errors. Also, clients do not like surprises. How these are dealt with can create an asset rather than a liability with the client relationship. How staff people handle these situations determines their ability and growth. I don’t need a checklist for this. Occasional problems do develop. However, they can occur more often with some staff and very infrequently with others.

A good manager recognizes who the good people are through supervision, oversight, mentoring and interaction. The periodic scheduled mentoring meetings provide a time and place to work on the big picture of these issues, build on strengths and improve the weaknesses. Annual evaluations provide no opportunity for this.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

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