EVALUATE THIS

Employee reviews made easier.

Honest, direct, positive and no surprises. That's the formula for a good employee evaluation, says Lauren Eller, human resource director at The Fitness Formula based in Chicago.

Perhaps the most important part of this equation is the last: no surprises. A review is simply a formal time to discuss an employee's performance. Throughout the year, managers should address performance issues with an employee as they occur rather than saving them for the review.

“That is probably the biggest mistake I see with younger managers,” says Scott Chovanec, president of consulting company Scott Chovanec & Associates in Highland Park, IL. “They hit [employees] over the head. You should share information all along. The evaluation is just a formality.”

However, a good evaluation involves much more.

Develop the right mindset. As an owner or manager of a health club, one of your main objectives is to assist your employees in doing their best. That's why it is helpful to approach reviews with the attitude “how can I help this employee be the best employee he or she can be?”

Preparation is crucial. Eller suggests that once a week managers should note in each employee file something the manager observed that week about the employee's performance. Be specific in the details.

“The best thing about being prepared is creating the secure bond between the manager and the staff member,” says Eller. An evaluation that was well planned and executed tells the employee that he or she was valued enough for the manager to observe him or her throughout the year. In addition, documentation eliminates any denials or accusations later.

Have proper documentation. While filling out the formal performance evaluation sheet, have with you all the documentation, including the last evaluation form, the employee's goals, the job description, any disciplinary forms and your weekly journal entries on that employee. Documentation that includes specific dates, names and other information about the employee's performance helps assure objectivity in the review.

Make the review comfortable. Everyone goes into a review with preconceived notions about what the boss will say. Hold the review in an office with a closed door. Clean off the desk so there are no barriers. Don't answer the door or the phone — no distractions. Provide water, coffee or other beverages just as you would if you were interviewing someone for a job. Limit the review to an hour.

Keep money out of it. The performance evaluation and the raise are two separate issues, Eller says. Even the best-rated employees may not get a raise if budgets are tight.

“The first thing I tell managers is that this is a performance evaluation,” Eller says. “It has nothing to do with money. Get it out in front of the employee that you aren't going to talk about money today.”

However, assure the employee that a separate meeting will be scheduled for salary review.

Allow for self-evaluation. A review is a two-way conversation. As part of that, an employee must be allowed input in his or her evaluation and goals. Ensure that the employee completes a review of himself or herself. If the two of you see the employee's performance differently, it could mean that you don't have a complete picture of what the employee does or that the two of you don't share expectations.

Ask the employee what he or she wants from you. The review process is the perfect time for the employee to share what he or she needs from you in order to help them improve their performance.

“The most important question the manager can ask — and it must be honest and genuine — is, what do you need from me?” says Eller. “If you put that out there, you better be prepared to follow up or your credibility will be destroyed.”

Have a correction plan in place. If an employee is not meeting your expectations, you should have a plan in place to correct the situation. You may need to retrain in some areas or have the employee “shadow” another employee. Allowing the outstanding employee to model the behavior or skills offers another way of learning.

After the review, the employee should feel valued, have a renewed sense of loving his or her job, and be excited about his or her goals.

“It's an ongoing process,” says Eller. “The more [managers] stay in touch with their employees, and the more they can make themselves available and build and strengthen their relationship with each employee, the better prepared they and the employee will be for the evaluation.”

DISTRIBUTE THAT

Maintaining a good relationship with your distributors.

The Internet has affected the way people shop, even those in the health club industry. As a club owner, you can surf the Internet to buy directly from the manufacturer just about anything your club needs. However, that doesn't mean that you are ready to give up your relationship with your distributor. It just means that now the added competition can give you more leverage for the customer service that you need.

What should you look for when choosing a distributor? Michael Meehan, senior vice president of operations at Sport and Health Clubs in McLean, VA, and Tom Sermak, national purchasing director at the Wellbridge Co. in Denver, CO, have some thoughts.

Meet face to face. Whenever Sermak finds a new distributor, he schedules a face-to-face meeting, which he says establishes a better relationship than you can build strictly through phone calls.

Continually re-evaluate. Club owners should occasionally solicit competitive bidding from new distributors.

“If we use people over and over, it gets comfortable, but it could be too comfortable,” Meehan says, meaning that distributors can get sloppy in finding you the best deal or in fulfilling your needs.

Sermak re-evaluates distributors once a year unless slow deliveries, improper billing or other bad customer service issues develop.

Look for price and service. A good distributor is one that can provide good pricing and good customer service, Sermak says. Price is important, but you may not be able to get as low of a price as you might hope all the time.

“I have to understand that they have to make money, too,” Meehan says. “It has to be a win-win relationship so that they want me as a client.”

If you must chose one over the other, good customer service should come first. Sermak calls it the “aggravation factor.” If he has to call the distributor to track deliveries or to clear up billing issues often, then even the lowest price may not be worth it.

Rely on word of mouth. One of the best ways to find a good distributor is to ask around at other clubs. Ask for specifics about how that distributor has saved the company money and how often that company compares distributors.

Know what to look for. You want to find a distributor that is responsive to your needs, that is timely in deliveries and that can handle your volume. Sermak is putting in place a program at his clubs where the distributor will have one person as the point of contact for all the Wellbridge Co. clubs.

It's also important to find a distributor that sees you as important to him or her.

“Distributors are probably too eager to get new business that they don't focus enough on their existing business,” Meehan says. Instead of focusing on growing their business, he says they could get more out of their current customers by providing better service.

“I'd be willing to pay more for a higher level of customer service,” Meehan says. “Their eye is on the wrong ball.”