Performance Reviews: To Do, Or Not To Do

A recent poll of 2,677 individual (including Employees and their HR Managers) conducted by a Human Resources consulting firm out of San Francisco revealed that 98% of the participants thought annual performance reviews were unnecessary.

Putting aside that dubious 98% figure – the sort of figure one finds in “elections” held in dictatorships – there is a trend towards deleting performance reviews from the corporate world.

This article will argue against that trend in favour of performance reviews that are not generic and, instead, are tailored to the position, work culture, and events that might have occurred affecting work performance. In other words, performance reviews that are conducted with sensitivity and relevance.

If performance reviews are being phased out of the corporate world (a mistake in my opinion), they have always been rare in the world of Private Service. I have always found irony in the phenomenon of Principals who run a billion-dollar corporation but operate their home like a corner convenience store. The reviews might be informationally different, but the objective is the same.

So, what are the objectives and value of effective performance reviews, with “effective” being the guiding word?

An effective performance review accomplishes the following:

  • Data is collected from the frontline – much of it likely invisible to most Principals
  • Provide an opportunity to check the “temperature” of the work environment and Employee satisfaction
  • Provide a benchmark against which future performance reviews can be compared and contrasted
  • Delivers information that gives Employers opportunity to identify efficiencies and eliminate inefficient work practices
  • Makes Employees, when properly conducted, feel like they are part of an organization and have a role to play in its success. In other words, Employees can experience a degree of validation, which occurs far too infrequently in Private Service.
  • Draws on an Employee’s knowledge base that might have good information, gathered through their own professional networks, on how to improve housekeeping or introduce technology that leads to better management of a wine cellar for example
  • Establish goals and objectives for Employees during the upcoming year
  • Creates an opening for a “to and fro” conversation between Employee and Employer that has the potential to smooth the way towards better and freer communication

I could go on, and I have a tendency to do so, but I think I have made my case, which brings us to the all-important question of “How does a Household conduct effective Employee Performance Reviews?” Just as no two homes are exactly alike, nor should evaluation processes be exact copies.

There are nuances to every home and every family. Good Performance Reviews take this into account. That said, there are certain common denominators that can assist Employers or their Representatives establish fruitful review processes.



Let us begin with the environment. Most Employees dread and fear performance reviews. Almost without exception, they expect to hear the worst. So, it’s important that reviews be conducted an a regular (annual) basis so that Employees get acclimated and grow to expect them.

They should also be conducted in a safe and non-intimidating environment. This can be a challenge in a formal home. Conducting a review in a formal living room or library is likely not a good choice. It is far better to choose an area of the home that the staff associate with safe, calm feelings.

Places like a staff lunch room, or the Personal Assistant’s office, or even a laundry room if there is seating, are better choices.




Always start by making the Employee feel comfortable. Explain to them that reviews are opportunities to share information. They are also opportunities to exchange thoughts, ideas, solutions, and feedback.

If the Employee has experienced a review before, re-explain that “as you know, we like to conduct reviews on an annual basis.” Let them know that they have an active role to play during the review and their thoughts and experiences are welcome and part of the process.

If the Employee has experienced a review before, review the transcribed notes beforehand and have them with you. Do not be afraid to refer back to them.

For example, wouldn’t it be a great thing for an Employee to hear “last year we asked that you pay closer attention to detail when cleaning and re-organizing the refrigerator. We have noticed a significant improvement in that area and what to acknowledge that.”

In other words, if there has been progress in performance, say so. It will matter.

Let the Employee know beforehand about the agenda for the meeting. This will usually calm nerves and the meeting will be more fruitful as a result.

I have often participated with Principals during a review or have conducted them on my own. I always think it is a good idea if the Principal is present, since their participation carries weight and helps validate the process.

There is a rhythm and flow to most reviews. They should be kept as conversational as possible.  Balance talking with listening. Often the loudest messages are the ones that are never vocalized. Here are some of the questions and comments I favour, and always start with the good:

  1. If it’s a new Employee, tell them that you always conduct an annual performance review to stay in good communication with staff.
  2. Let the Employee know the good that they have been doing over the last year. It is a great ice-breaker and I guarantee you will feel the tension leave the room.
  3. Follow up with a neutral question like, “tell me how you think you have been performing over the last year?” If you agree with their self-assessment, I would always say so.
  4. “What is one area where you feel you are most improved since our last review?”
  5. “Do you have any ideas on how your job can be done differently?”
  6. “Is there equipment that you can suggest that will help you work more efficiently?” Please say yes to the rotary iron!
  7. “Which aspect of the job do you like doing most? What do you think you are best at?”
  8. “How long do you see yourself staying with us?”
  9. “Who do you like working with the most? Why is that?”
  10. “What goals would you like to set for yourself for the upcoming year?” Write these down so that they can be re-addressed in the next review.
  11. Do you have any concerns or things you would like to discuss?

The first half should be about making the Employee comfortable and willing to speak openly. The second part is dedicated to providing the Employee with feedback and establish a few goals on which you would like them to focus over the next year. Do not underestimate the value of establishing “go forward” objectives.



All performance reviews should be tied to a salary review. Do your research. Ask around and find out the going salary rates for different positions. If the Employee is valued, wouldn’t it be a shame to lose them because the Employer lost touch with current labour market salaries? A minimum increase is cost of living. To retain a valued Employee, however, it is important to keep one step ahead of the “going rate.”



In a busy home, it is very easy to let performance reviews slide or be forgotten altogether. During each review, the Employer’s representative should be taking notes so that they can be kept on file. the information provides a foundation for the next review and serves as confirmation that a particular issue was discussed. The summary should be kept in the Employee’s file and kept under lock and key.

Hopefully this article has made one or two valid arguments in favour of retaining the tradition of the annual performance review, because I do think they have value. What do the rest of you think?

Written by the president of Portico Staffing, which is a private household staffing agency located in Toronto serving families of distinction across North America

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