How to Keep your Business Moving Forward in this Heat!

Summer officially began on June 20th this year, but any business owner knows that summer really began when school let out the end of May. The Phoenix heat has set in by now and the air conditioners are running non-stop, and people are finding cooler places to vacation.

Is summer different for business owners? Yes and no. For some industries the summer months, July specifically, can be slow and stagnant. For others it can be the busiest month of the year. If your summer feels a bit slow, here are some summer reminders to help you get through the next month.

  • Work on your business strategies. When was the last time you took a deep look at your business, how it functions, and what strategies you have in place to meet your goals? Do you have hiring strategies in place? What about onboarding a new client procedure? Are you ready for the FLSA changes in January? Do you have a strategy to get ahead of that?
    • Find new ways to network. The old adage says that you network for business you want 3 months from now. If you take July completely off that means your October has the potential to be slow.  If you don’t want a slow October, now is the time to look at your networking opportunities. Maybe you try a new group, maybe you network with individuals who you haven’t seen in a while, maybe you are very visible on social media. Whatever plan you come up with, stick with it.
    • Work on a project that has been on your to-do list. Maybe it is reviewing job descriptions, maybe it is checking in on your employee’s time off requests and making sure everyone is using their PTO or get a head start on scheduling the PTO over the holidays. Maybe it is rewriting your performance review forms. Whatever HR project you decide to tackle, remember we are here to help you with those!
    • Complete a technology inventory. Does all your equipment have inventory numbers? Who has what equipment, including keyboards and mice, and who has what at home. If you feel very motivated, this is also a great time to investigate all your computer subscriptions and licenses. What software programs do you have? What programs do you still use? What programs are you paying for?
    • Review your HR policies, procedures, documents, and classifications. With the new DOL ruling (the first phase went into effect on July 1st) this summer is a perfect time to take a closer look at your HR world. Not sure where to start? Good news is Google is a great resource and so are we!
    • Take a close look at your business and / or employees. Working parents are doing the summer shuffle and are getting a bit frustrated by now. Between summer camps, the heat, kids’ summer stomachs (do they ever stop eating?), and work deadlines, parents can be feeling a bit burnt out by now. 
      • If you are a business owner, (and a working parent) remember to give yourself some grace. Not everything needs to happen right this second. I know it feels that way, but most of the time it isn’t true. Plan things out for the week or even the month and be reasonable with your timelines. Enlist help. Whether that means the kids get a chore list (mine couldn’t have the WiFi password until their chores were done, man I was a mean Mom), you hire a housekeeper, or you hire a virtual assistant or an HR consultant, you do NOT have to do this all by yourself.
      • If you are an employer, remember to grant flexibility to your employees. Even if you have do not normally allow employees to work from home maybe it’s time for a couple exceptions. Consider that the flexibility of a few working from home days for your working parent employees will be extremely appreciated. Maybe that flexibility is just what they need to stay on track with their work deadlines. Maybe they don’t want to work from home, but instead need a flexible work schedule. Is it absolutely essential that they arrive at the office by 8am or is a later shift (for the summer hours only) a way to stop absenteeism or tardiness? I am not telling you to bend all your rules, but I am telling you that being reasonable and helpful during the summer months will go a long way to build employee loyalty.

Remember, flexibility is the watchword this summer. Be flexible with yourself, your business, and your employees. And remember to hydrate!

One of the corporations I worked with in the 2000’s decided they wanted to transform all their leaders into Servant Leaders. It wasn’t a new concept, as servant leadership had been around since the 1970’s. But the new CEO had just “read a book” and decided it was the answer to our struggling company. He told the leadership team to prioritize the well-being of the team members and “serve” the people. He believed this was the answer we needed to turn around the company.

The servant leadership philosophy is still around today. Servant leadership is a style of leadership that prioritizes the growth and well-being of others before our own personal needs or success. The team members come first. Their needs are the priority, not the leader’s and not the company’s.

The servant leadership approach promotes innovation, helps the staff develop their skills, and therefore encourages the team to perform at a higher level. It is a leadership style that is designed to make people feel like they matter.  Leaders are to live by a “people first” mindset. Team members must feel personally and professionally fulfilled to be their most productive. And with a supported, productive team, comes trust and collaboration.

In theory it was a good concept, but in my case the new CEO hadn’t read the entire book. He put 100% of the implementation and responsibility on the leaders, and none on the organization. For servant leadership to be effective, an organization needs to focus on creating a culture of sustainable success. They need to create an atmosphere and the conditions (processes, procedures, etc.) that not only allow for success but allow the leaders to feel supported.  The servant leadership philosophy, which is the goal of the leader is to serve, must begin at the top of the organization. The leaders who are serving their teams need to feel the commitment from the organization so they can turn around and provide that to their people.

I know that now, I didn’t know that then. In short, I burnt myself out putting myself last and my people first. They needed something, I was there. I fought hard to protect them. To support them. To develop them. Some of my team took advantage of my service philosophy. They wanted more, and more, and more. I had trained them to think they deserved the world – and some of them truly expected the world. They got angry if I couldn’t give them what they thought they deserved. Also, every decision seemed like a mountain to climb. Everyone had an opinion and was I serving them correctly if I didn’t listen and implement their ideas? Further, as I mentioned, the business culture didn’t foster a service mentality. Instead, it was a “do it now” or “who cares make it happen” attitude. I was in constant conflict and so very tired.

Because of my experience, I haven’t been a huge fan of the servant leadership concept. But when you find the right balance between serving others and asserting authority, servant leadership can transform your team experiences.

Servant Leadership can:

  • Increase your company’s morale.
  • Increase team collaboration.
  • Increase employee engagement.
  • Inspire vision.
  • Place ethics before profit.
  • Balance focus with flexibility.

Now that I have escaped corporate and created my own company, I naturally embrace the concepts of servant leadership. I challenge you to look at your business, your staff, and your client interactions and see how the fundamentals of servant leadership can help elevate your business practices.

Do you:

  • Consider your client’s, employees, or stakeholder’s needs before your own.
    • It isn’t about the paycheck for you, (although that is necessary to keep the lights on!). Instead, it is about truly serving, or helping people.
  • Ask for feedback regularly.
    • This can help you elevate your leadership skills, your business practices, and fosters a growth mindset.
  • Lead from the heart.
    • Care for your fellow humans and be open to other’s opinions, needs, and outlook.
  • Focus on elevating others before your own personal success.

It has been said that a servant leader is an excellent listener, has empathy, is able to conceptualize solutions, and can build a community. I think that sounds like the type of leader we would all like to be.

Want to know more about leadership styles and how to elevate yours. I offer training, coaching, and consulting to help You elevate your leadership. Reach out to me today.

Because of the FLSA ruling, I have been asking my clients the same questions repeatedly.

  • Do you have employees who are currently on salary?
  • Is their salary less than $58,656 annually?
  • What are their job duties and title?
  • Do you know about the new DOL (Department of Labor) Overtime ruling?

What new ruling you ask? Last week the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) increased the required annual salary-level threshold by 23.4%.

If you are reading this and saying “Huh?” Or if you have no clue if this applies to you. Or if you want to understand the changes you need to make with your workforce – keep reading. I am going to try and simplify it as much as I can.[1]

Who needs to comply?

  • The FLSA regulates essentially every employer which means everyone must comply with the changes.

What are the changes?

  • Effective July 1, 2024, workers who earn less than $43,888 (the minimum salary requirement) will need their employment status classified as a non-exempt employee.
    • Non-exempt means they qualify for overtime pay.
  • Effective January 1, 2025, workers who earn less than $58,656 (the minimum salary requirement) will need their employment status classified as a non-exempt employee and are eligible for overtime.
  • The next update will take place on July 1, 2027, and the salary threshold will increase again at that time.

Things to consider:

  • Many employers think because they pay their employee on salary, the employee is exempt or ineligible for overtime pay. That isn’t an accurate statement.
    • You can continue to pay your employees a salary provided they are reclassified as non-exempt they receive overtime pay whenever they work more than 40 hours in a workweek.
  • Simply raising your worker’s salary to the new limit will not necessarily meet the classification requirements.
  • Simply changing the employee’s title to “manager” or “supervisor” will not meet the new classification requirements.

What do I mean by that?

               In addition to meeting the minimum salary requirement a position must meet certain “specific duties tests.” There are DOL websites where you can run the duties through and see if they qualify for an exception. I will summarize what I see the most of below.

Positions NOT eligible for salary or exemptions from the new rule.

In other words, if you are currently paying these employees on salary, you will need to classify them as non-exempt them by July 1st and they qualify for overtime pay.

  • Blue collar workers or manual laborers. These employees perform work involving “repetitive operations with their hands, physical skill and energy.”
  • Inside sales employees.
  • Paralegals and legal assistants.
  • Most admin assistants.

There are several “white collar exceptions.” Here are the two I mostly see with my clients.


  • The primary duty must be “managing the enterprise or managing a customarily recognized department.”
  • Must regularly direct the work of at least 2 or more other full-time employees.
  • Must have the authority to hire or fire other employees.

Administrative Workers:

  • The primary duty must be “the performance of office or nonmanual work directly related to the management or general business operations.”
  • The primary duty includes “independent judgment with respect to matters of significance.”

There is near certainty of legal challenges for this DOL ruling, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t comply. This is not a “let’s wait and see” situation. If you do not comply with the new requirements, be prepared to pay hefty penalties. It isn’t worth jeopardizing your business. I recommend you begin these changes sooner rather than later and be ahead of the game.

Here at Structure for Success we are happy to help you with assessing your workforce. Please reach out and let’s see how we can help.

Additional resources:

Fact Sheet #17A: Exemption for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Computer & Outside Sales Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) | U.S. Department of Labor (

FLSA Overtime Rule (

Businesses Face a Choice on How to Address DOL Overtime Rule Change (

DOL Releases Final Overtime Exemptions Rule | SPARK Blog | ADP

FAQs: FLSA Overtime (

[1] This article is strictly a summary of the new ruling. For detailed or personalized information, please reach out to me directly.

One of the most overused and underexplained leadership concepts is that of “Lead by Example.” It should be self-explanatory yet in every one of my leadership workshops I have new leaders who are brave enough to ask questions on this concept.

“Does this mean I have to do the same work they are doing?”

“Does this mean I can never, ever, make a mistake?”

“Does this mean I can’t laugh and have fun?”

The way I explain the concept of leading by example is simple. Leading by example is demonstrating the behavior you want to see in others. You don’t push your team into the excellence you expect from them, you show them how it is done.

Leading by example isn’t grand gestures. In my opinion the small things you do as a leader have more power and go a long way to improving your team. For example, if you want everyone to be on time for a meeting, you had better be on time for that meeting.

A leader who practices leading by example not only earns the respect from their team but earns respect from their bosses as well. Demonstrating the behavior you want to see inspires confidence and fosters a collaborative team.

Not sure where to begin? Here are 5 positive ways to lead by example in the workplace.

  1. If you say you are going to do something, make sure it gets done! This is one of the most efficient, and fastest, ways to build trust with your employees. It demonstrates to the team your own level of commitment. By following through with your promises, they will respect you and have confidence in you as a leader.
  2. Follow the rules. If you want others to follow the policies and procedures of the company, you had better follow them as well. With rank does NOT come privilege (nor the right to disregard the rules). Instead rank requires responsibility. And remember, rules don’t have to be negative and can instead clarify expectations and responsibilities.
  3. Listen. Listen to your employees, your fellow managers, and the leaders you report to. Listen to consultants, mentors, and teachers. Everyone has something of value to add to a conversation. Interacting with your team, by listening to them, helps them feel comfortable coming to you about any issues. Besides, the more you truly listen, the more you learn.
  4. Keep growing and learning. Every leader understands they need to learn and grow to continually improve their leadership skills. Attend workshops, training opportunities, read business book summaries or an article instead of mindless scrolling. And don’t bad mouth or put down those workshops. That sets an example too. Instead, let your team see you stretching your mind and continually improving your skills. Encourage them to learn and stretch themselves as well.
  5. Watch what you say and do. Welcome to leadership. You are now a celebrity. Your staff is your paparazzi. They are watching, and learning from you, how to behave. Be aware of how your team could interpret what you say, or how you act in any given situation. Yes, work (and life) can be stressful. But flying off the handle and dropping 15 F-bombs may make you feel better but what message does it send to your paparazzi; I mean your team? How are you going to react if someone on your team behaves that way (and worse in front of YOUR boss?).

Everyone has their own unique qualities that make them a good leader. There is no one way to be an exceptional leader. Good leadership is about motivating and inspiring your team as well as meeting your production requirements. When you emulate the behavior you want to see in your team members, you encourage your team to practice effective communication, incorporate collaborative team practices, and you show them that they matter.

Want to talk about ways to put your team first, but maintain your own sanity? Give me a call and let’s discuss how to implement the lead by example concept without losing your authentic self.

An HR leader recently called me to bounce some ideas around regarding her leadership team. As she began to describe their struggle with specific situations, I realized there was a solution they hadn’t tried yet. It wasn’t accountability, or goal setting. Instead, we realized her leaders hadn’t created an environment where psychological safety was the primary driver.

There is a lot written about psychological safety in the workplace. Go ahead and Google it. It is an easy rabbit hole to spiral into. Here is the short definition for the purposes of this blog.

  • Team psychological safety is a shared belief, held by ALL members of the team, that it is ok to take risks, to express their ideas and concerns, to speak up with questions, and to admit mistakes.
    • Team members, and the leader, feel safe to express themselves without the fear of negative consequences. As we joke in my family – the filters come off.
    • That doesn’t give people permission to be rude, nasty, or indelicate. But it does give team members permission to try new things, speak up with questions, be open and honest, and make mistakes.

Unfortunately, psychological safety is often a fantasy in the workplace. Luckily it isn’t difficult to create a “safe” space at work. But as leaders, you do need to be committed to the concept. 

Here are 6 ways to create Psychological Safety at Work:

  • Actively solicit questions.
    • Ask open-ended questions (with an open and welcoming tone) to get your team members thinking. Open ended questions are the questions where they cannot simply answer with a Yes or a No. Allow your team members to dig deeper into their reasoning. Allow them to actively, and verbally, work through their thoughts.
  • Show value and appreciation for ideas.
    • The saying there is no such thing as a stupid idea / question comes into play here. Tell your team members how you appreciate their input. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they suggest, but somewhere in there may be a gem of an idea you hadn’t thought of yet.
  • Promote positive dialogue and discussion.
    • Team safety comes not just from you but from the other members of the team. No eye-rolling, sighing, or snorting when someone suggests a new way of doing things. No “of course” comments under someone’s breath when someone admits to messing something up. And my pet peeve – no talking over each other. Everyone’s voice is equal.
  • Be precise with information, expectations, and commitments.
    • You have heard me say this over, and over, and over again! Be specific about what you need from them. What their duties are, what your expectations are and how you want them to achieve their commitments / goals.
  • Explain reasons for change.
    • When your team members understand the why behind the shifts, they realize that the change isn’t personal or something they specifically did.
  • Own up to mistakes – your own.
    • No one is perfect. One of the best lessons I learned as a leader was being willing to say I was wrong. Is it comfortable, of course not, but necessary. Once they see you are open about your mistakes, and the world doesn’t end, then they will feel more comfortable being open about their mistakes. The catch is to allow them to make a mistake. Let them fix it as well. Mistakes mean you took a risk, tried something new, and lived to tell about it. It does not mean this mistake is held against you forever and a day.

Psychological safety takes effort from the leader and from the team. Not sure if you are fostering psychological safety with your team? Give me a call and let’s talk it through.

When I teach leadership classes I try to instill in my class that there are three important leadership traits that will help them stay on the leadership track.

  • Authenticity counts – forget about eloquence, focus on being real.
  • Visibility is a form of communication – get out there and be consistently seen.
  • Listening is a powerful tool – active listening is a skill that needs to be constantly honed.

I think a skill that can also be honed is emotional intelligence or EQ.  Emotional intelligence in a leader can help them read their people as well as they can read books. Ever had one of those leaders who couldn’t read the room and barreled on and made moral worse? If that leader had known the basic concept of EQ, would it make a difference to the team? I think it does.

In my experience leaders who have a sense of EQ stay cool under pressure. They don’t hide from their feelings but learn from them. They understand others better, and they communicate more effectively than the “clueless” ones. Sounds perfect, right? Don’t we all wish we could do those things. In the interest of honing and learning new skills, here are 5 components of EQ and a brief summary on how to use them as a leader.

  1. Self-awareness. This is the leader’s ability to recognize and understand their own moods and emotions and how their state of mind affects others on their team. Knowing your own frame of mind and communicating with your team (not over sharing, think of it as a public service announcement instead) can help misunderstandings.
  2. Self-regulation. This involves the leader being able to control their impulses and moods and think or pause before acting. Self-control in the sense of being optimistic (be like Ted Lasso!) vs. being pessimistic. Self-regulation is focusing on being forward thinking instead of reactionary. Process your feelings instead of taking them out on your team.
  3. Internal motivation. Know your WIIFM (What’s in it for Me?). Do you know your WIIFM? Why are you in this leadership role? Do you know your team’s individual WIIFMs? Understanding the difference between intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivations can help you, as a boss lead your people in a way that motivates them. There is not meant to be judgement in this exercise, just acknowledgement of what drives the individuals on your team.
  4. Empathy. Leaders need to be able to understand emotions and empathize when someone is struggling. I am not saying you need to fall for every sob story that comes your way. But acknowledging that a team member is frustrated and giving them an outlet to safely “vent” can help them move past their hurt, anger, or frustration and get back to being productive. Empathy helps us accept their feelings without judgement or more importantly, listen to them without the need to fix it. You are acknowledging their feelings without owning them.
  5. Social skills. The aspect of social skills in the EQ realm is the ability to properly manage your own and other’s emotions to connect, interact and work with others.  Think about that networking event you went to and you “got stuck” with someone who didn’t ask you one thing about your business or life and instead went on for a 20-minute monologue about how you can help them. There is no bonding there, just boredom!

As a leader many of us use EQ without realizing that is what we are doing. Keep it up! Remember to check in with your own emotions before taking them out on your team. Get to know your team and what drives them and give them goals and direction that coincide with their WIIFM.

You will find incorporating these EQ techniques can help your communication flow, enhance your ability to inspire and motivate your team, reduces stress for you and your team members, and allows you to be that authentic supportive leader that you are destined to be.

Want your team members to learn more about leadership? Reach out to me to learn about our training modules which will elevate yours, and your team leader’s, leadership skills.

Wow, December 2023. Who would have thought it would be here so quickly and yet still take so long to get here.

As we reflect on the year and send love to our friends, family, clients, and colleagues take a moment to send love to yourself.

Love what you have accomplished and release the feeling of guilt when you think of the things you didn’t get to this year.

Take a minute to really reflect on your year.

  • How have you changed?
  • How many bad habits did you leave behind?
  • How many new habits or hobbies did you begin?
  • What was your most challenging project / situation / person?
  • What was your biggest breakthrough?
  • What is your best memory?
  • Who was your favorite person? New friend? Rekindled friend?
  • What was the best thing you read or watched?
  • What song did you have on repeat?
  • Most awesome event you went to?
  • What was your word for 2023 and how did it appear in your life?

When you take the time to reflect, truly reflect, you gain an overall picture of your self-improvement and accomplishments. It helps you plan your next year with strategic intentions. It helps you celebrate the wonderful person you are!

In this holiday season, take time to celebrate you and the person you are.

Happy Holidays and Let’s ROCK 2024!

November — Thanksgiving, Turkey, cooler weather, changing leaves (ok, maybe not in Phoenix!).

Ok, maybe the leaves aren’t as vibrant here in Phoenix but that doesn’t change the fact that November is often the season to say Thank you. Who else has a tradition of everyone saying what they are grateful for around the family Thanksgiving dinner table? It’s a beautiful tradition and one I incorporate into my daily life. I try to be grateful for the beautiful things in my life daily and not just once a year. The reason I say try is because gratitude isn’t always a seamless or easy practice. Sometimes I have to stretch my imagination to find something. When I do that, no matter how simple my gratitude my world still becomes a bit sunnier.

People often talk about being grateful and keeping a gratitude journal. Some people don’t see the point of it. Some people swear by the practice of writing down your gratitudes daily. I am one of the latter. I encourage everyone to try it. Try it for November and see what happens. What do you have to lose?!

My advice is to remember to be grateful for the little things. Because they aren’t little – they have the power to change the tone of your entire day. Ever want to get out of a grumpy funk? Write down at least 3 things you are grateful for. And by write I mean keep a journal, text them to a friend, write them in your phone. Where you write them doesn’t matter – just write them down.

Here are mine from this morning:

  • Someone holding the door for me as I struggle with my 4 heavy bags
  • My neighbor smiling and saying “Good Morning”
  • The way my puppy is happy to see me every day
  • The way my friend and I smile about a private joke
  • My amazing clients, friends, associates, colleagues, and family

If you don’t already practice daily gratitudes I highly recommend you use November to start. What a perfect season to begin this new habit. It’s easy to begin. Just think of 3 – 5 things you are grateful for each day. Is your heat working? Is your bed comfy? Is your water hot? They don’t have to be complex items – it isn’t about the items you are grateful for, it is about that feeling of gratitude. And savoring that feeling.

In this spirit, let me say THANK YOU to my clients, my friends, my associates, my colleagues, and my family. You are all the best and I appreciate each and every one of you.

Thank you and Happy Season of Gratitude!

The new I9 form has been the talk of the town for a couple months now. It was announced on July 21st that the new form should be used as of August 1, 2023.

So why am I just now bringing it up? Because the grace period ends on October 31st and employers are required use this new form beginning November 1st.

There are several changes to the form, and they aren’t complicated. Just new. The new form was designed to be more streamlined than the old one. And technology-wise it was designed to be downloaded easier for completion on tablets or mobile devices. 

Your new employees are required to complete it on their first day of employment. You, as the employer, have 3 days to review their documentation and complete the verification sections. Best news is the form’s instructions went down to 8 pages (vs. 15 pages). I mean we ALL read those every single time, right?

The biggest change is the checkbox allowing employers enrolled in E-Verify to indicate they virtually examined identity and employment authorization documents (vs. reviewing the documents in person).

If you Google the new I9 form you can get your very own copy, or follow this link:

We are here to help you navigate the changes. If you want more information, don’t hesitate to reach out. I am also including a SHRM article that is a fantastic help if you want further information.

The performance review systems of the past will not survive—nor should they. They were built for a workplace that no longer exists. Performance reviews must evolve with the changing workplace.

Younger generations of empowered employees and the continuing proliferation of remote work are transforming the workplace. Much work today, especially knowledge work like the practice of law, is more flexible and less location dependent. Further, younger employees are more likely to seek work that is rewarding and leadership that is interactive, and they are less willing to accept the one-way command-and-control structures of the past.

One relic of this old worldview is the yearly performance review, with its emphasis on checklists and performance scores. Nobody likes traditional performance reviews. They are top-down, time-consuming, production-halting, anxiety-provoking, and sometimes adversarial, and generally look to record the past rather than develop future performance. Since these old-style reviews typically happen once a year, they are a blunt instrument at best, ineffective for course correcting in today’s fast-paced workplace.

“There is no evidence that these programs increase either motivation or performance.” states John Boyce, Vice President of Human Resources at Amsoil Inc. He recently instituted a new performance management system and says, “Our Performance Management (PM) program is the cornerstone of our retention strategy.”

By reimagining the traditional PM conversation and moving to a strength-based program, Boyce believes that everyone benefits. “Shifting the emphasis from manager to employee makes the PM conversation a powerful positive experience that builds trust and strengthens the relationship between the manager and employee.”

Toward a New Style of Performance Management

One of the biggest raps on the old model of annual performance reviews is that it brings work to a standstill, stirring competition and killing team cohesion and productivity. Employees stop working to fill out forms and stress about the meeting, while their managers lock themselves in their offices and struggle to remember who did what the previous 12 months and write the equivalent of term papers for each one. The process hits an even narrower funnel when the managers send their evaluations up the chain for approval.

This traditional performance review is inefficient and ineffective, akin to using a kitchen knife for scalpel work. Indeed, the traditional performance review is receiving a lot of criticism these days. In a recent SHRM article, a WTW survey reported that 72% of employers agreed that supporting the development and productivity of their employees is a primary objective, but only 31% said their performance management program was meeting that objective.

That’s great, some of you are thinking. No more performance reviews!

Not so fast. Rethinking performance reviews doesn’t mean getting rid of them altogether. Providing employees necessary feedback is still an essential managerial responsibility. Many leaders and businesses depend on performance reviews to reprioritize duties, clarify accountability, and deal with ongoing issues. Metrics, key performance indicators (KPIs), and benchmark goals are still the best ways to measure employee performance. We don’t need to change what we do—we need to change how we do it.

A new approach to performance management is required to lead employees effectively—an approach that is more frequent, less top-down, and more interactive. Many firms are adopting monthly check-ins regarding quarterly goals, addressing issues immediately as they arise, and closing out the year with a scaled-back but still formal annual review. These changes have increased productivity, team morale, and performance. Interacting with staff throughout the year cultivates employee success and engagement and attracts more motivated workers. Recruiting firms are finding that evolved performance management programs are a strong recruiting tool for younger workers.

New Strategies in Performance Review

What changes in the performance review process are most effective for today’s businesses? Here are six you can try.

  1. Talk, Talk, and Talk Some More

Don’t limit talks with your staff to once or twice a year. Schedule frequent conversations to discuss performance. And don’t be afraid of spontaneous drop-ins as well, not to catch out the employee, but to establish and maintain a collaborative relationship. Not only should the conversations be more frequent, they should also be more engaging and reciprocal. You want your employees invested in their own growth and performance.

These conversations don’t need to be marathons. Keep them short, focused, and simple. Set monthly or quarterly goals and priorities as a place to begin and use one-to-one guides to direct and document the conversations, during which you can discuss growth, customer feedback, and recognition.

Once the meetings are on the calendar, don’t reschedule unless there’s an emergency. When you reschedule or postpone, you imply the meetings aren’t a priority, and the employee will follow your lead.

  • Set Clear Expectations

Set clear performance goals and expectations at the beginning of the year so employees understand their responsibilities. This practice lends objectivity to the review process by introducing measurable targets. It also keeps the conversations focused on the future and gives employees goals to work towards. Having these conversations early in the year allows the leader to explain how the employee’s duties fit into the firm’s overall strategy.

Business in the 21st century is nothing if not fast paced. Markets change quickly and firms must adapt just as quickly. Last month’s job requirements may no longer apply. Remember to be flexible with your expectations, adapt your goals or metrics when needed, and explain these changes with full transparency.

Heather Parker, Owner of Parker Law, a woman-owned firm specializing in estate planning and business law, hosts a quarterly strategic retreat with her staff to establish procedure improvements and quarterly goals and to set personal and professional development goals for each staff member, which become part of the measurements used in her performance reviews. “These retreats are essential to our understanding of where we want the firm to advance over the next three months. No one is excluded from the process, and everyone has an equal voice.”

  • Simplify the Process

There is no need for your review process to be complicated or cumbersome, especially with more frequent conversations.

Older methods of the annual review process had long forms, extensive questions, and idiosyncratic ratings systems. They often took the leader days to complete and deliver, thus slowing the firm’s production. Missy Hirst, COO of Altitude Community Law, has created a simple questionnaire using Survey Monkey. The self-evaluation, as well as the questionnaire for the supervisor and peers, have approximately four (proprietary) questions. “The answers are anonymous, and the questions are thought-provoking and open ended,” Hirst says, “but they don’t require long-winded answers.”

Simplifying the process for the review, including more frequent conversations with your staff, addressing performance issues immediately, and involving your employees in the process, fosters a culture of transparency and accountability.

  • Use Self-Evaluations and Solicit Feedback

Self-evaluations are a great way to have your employees think about what they want for the year and a good starting point for learning what skills and resources are important to their success.

At her quarterly strategic retreats, Parker has each employee complete a self-evaluation for their last three months. “The self-evaluations are a way to treat your employees like the adults they are by giving them a voice in their own success or failure. We have found completing these self-evaluations on a consistent basis helps them focus on the bigger picture.”

Hirst involves the entire firm in performance reviews. Her short review questionnaire is sent to the employee, their immediate supervisor, everyone in the employee’s department, and everyone in the firm. Responses from the employee’s department are mandatory, but for the others they are optional. She has found that this process of inclusion has fostered an atmosphere of accountability. Adding input from employees’ colleagues or from other managers grants a fuller picture of the employees’ capabilities and contributions.

This 360-approach is not a lecture. It allows the employee to have an open, two-way conversation with their immediate supervisor. It also empowers the employee to have candid conversations with their leader about what resources and training they need to be successful. Hirst observes that the inclusion of other departments “adds value to the process and enhances the culture of mutual respect regardless of position within the firm.”

  • Create Forward Focus to End Recency Bias

Recency bias—building a review on an employee’s most recent performance while ignoring earlier efforts—is a sure-fire way to undermine your review process. Parker avoids recency bias by creating a “full open-door policy.” “We don’t wait for an annual review to address issues. We address anything, positive and negative, right away.” Hirst mentions that her review questionnaire has broad questions, so the focus is not on a single project.

Both Hirst and Parker establish their employee goals at the beginning of the year, which acts as a baseline and allows the employees and their leaders to map out a path for professional development that aligns with the firm’s strategies. Monthly, quarterly, and annual conversations are more impactful and effective when focused on the employee’s future actions rather than past mistakes. Performance reviews have the power to demotivate employees and destroy company morale if they are not forward focused. Focusing on the future instead of the past keeps employees engaged and goal driven, especially when backed with frequent and consistent conversations about those goals.

Before Hirst changed the firm’s performance reviews, she noticed that their legacy and high-producing employees were unengaged in the process. “Performance reviews are less impactful for great employees if they don’t have items to work on. Instead of focusing on what they did wrong, we focus on the future. Now we use the review process to encourage, retain, and stimulate our legacy and great employees’ performance.”

  • Divorce Merit Increases from the Review Process

When merit increases are tied to the annual review, employees focus on nothing but the bonus. Everything else is “Wah, Wah, Wah.” This inhibits employees’ growth and limits their ability to focus forward.

Hirst and Parker have untethered merit increases from their performance reviews. Hirst, for example, budgets for the firm in the third quarter, announces raises in the fourth quarter, and puts them into effect January 1st. “This change puts everyone on the same playing field and allows the employees to focus on performance and not money” for the rest of the year.

Parker bases merit increases on firm rather than individual performance and discusses such increases throughout the year. She doesn’t discuss money during the annual review, which eliminates drama and highlights performance and goal-setting.

Performance Reviews as Leadership Tool

Current statistics, surveys, and interviews indicate that millennials and members of Generation Z crave feedback and are focused on career development. The old-time once-a-year model is not going to keep them engaged. A revamped yearlong interactive performance review motivates employees, boosts employee engagement, and inspires them to meet the firm’s goals. It also prioritizes employee opportunities and clarifies accountability while helping leaders learn how to give feedback calmly and helpfully. As John Boyce states “People like to know their relationship to organizational goals and how these impact their future with the company and our revamped PM program facilitates that.”

The new generations of employees crave feedback from employers who are invested in their professional development. The yearlong performance review is not only a good model for evaluating employee performance, it is also a valuable tool for recruiting candidates who want to know where they stand, how to improve, and how to excel in rewarding and engaging careers.

*This article was originally written for the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) magazine.*