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Principal Reviews

Dear Dave
I am one of five principals in a 90-person civil firm. As a company, we put a lot of time and effort into the professional and personal development of each of our staff. To that end, we conduct formal staff performance reviews twice each year and spend considerable sums on a variety of training and learning initiatives to help each of our people grow. While we feel we do a good job providing input and feedback to staff regarding their performance, we don’t have any formal mechanisms to let principals know how we are doing. Any suggestions?

Dear DL
You might consider extending the practice of conducting formal performance reviews to the five principals. After all, principals too can benefit from some regular feedback.

Two basic approaches come to mind: principals review each other, and or have the staff review the principals. Each would provide some interesting insight.

For principal-to-principal reviews, first identify the points to be evaluated for each individual principal around the content of that principal’s primary role in the organization. To get really useful information, this point is important. While some general areas to be evaluated would apply equally to each principal, the overall evaluation of a principal involved primarily with design responsibilities should differ in a number of aspects from the evaluation of a principal whose role is basically administrative in nature.

In your case, since you’re at a size to be somewhat familiar with each other’s performance, I’d suggest each principal review each other principal. Complete the reviews and then arrange to meet face-to-face with each other to personally share and discuss the results.

For staff-to-principal reviews, the evaluation should be designed to gather feedback on how the behavior of each principal supports staff people in successfully accomplishing their responsibilities. Some areas to examine might include, the clarity with which principals make assignments, perceptions of evenhandedness, communications prowess, teaching and mentoring, delegation skills, and the availability and timeliness on the part of the principals in responding to the needs of those reporting to them.

If your firm is like most, employees may be intimidated (or even terrified) at the thought of directly reviewing principals for the first time and may be less than candid, thereby defeating the point of the entire exercise. As a way around this, consider using an independent outsider to collect staff input anonymously and provide composite feedback to the principals.

I perform this service for one of my clients. This particular client has conducted detailed principal reviews every other year for the past six years. At each review cycle, staff is encouraged to complete a review form for as many principals as they feel they have sufficient knowledge to offer input on. Employees personally mail completed forms directly to me in envelopes provided expressly for that purpose. Names are optional and used only should an employee wish to be contacted to discuss a review one-on-one. Once all forms are in, a detailed composite review is prepared for each principal from reviews submitted and the individual forms are destroyed. Eventually, an overall summary is developed of each principal and shared with the entire office to close out the process. These principals have found this information to be extremely useful in their own personal and professional development. It is my opinion, having gone through this with them on three separate occasions, and knowing them as well as I do, that the input offered has been fair and balanced.

Wahby and Associates