Performance Reviews for Elite Accounting Teams

Effective annual performance reviews motivate elite accounting team members to do even better.

An effective performance review will strengthen the bond between business leaders and their teams. What steps can you take to give great performance reviews? Here’s what we’ve observed after working successfully with 1,000+ accounting businesses.

Leaders who invest in consistent annual performance reviews provide their teams with important signposts.  
 
Using the guidance that these performance reviews supply, just as travelers check signposts to avoid getting lost, team members will find it easier to understand how they can help bring a business where it needs to go.  

While some prominent companies announced years ago that they were abandoning annual performance reviews (APR), reports of the APR’s death were exaggerated.  

It helps to see the annual review not as a stand-alone event, but rather as part of an ongoing conversation.    
 
“Performance is not an episodic event—it happens every day,” Ben Wigert and Jim Harter wrote in a Gallup report about rethinking performance management.  
 
“Continual coaching helps managers and employees create an ongoing dialogue about performance expectations and individual developmental needs. By creating an ongoing conversation about performance, barriers can be removed, opportunities can be seized and expectations can be adjusted when circumstances change.”  
 
When done well, the performance review process can strengthen the relationship between managers and team members. It compels leaders to keep learning how to communicate feedback more clearly and promptly. It helps team members feel safe about asking for career advice. 

How does an annual review help? 

If you lead an accounting firm, you’ll know how crucial it is to keep strong performers who want to build their careers with you, given how competitive the recruitment of elite accountants and bookkeepers has become.  
 
Showing your team members that you value their hard work is an essential part of conducting performance reviews. Listening to what your team members have to say about their work is another.  
 
At TOA Global, where more than 3,000 outsourced accountants support over 1,000 businesses, an important part of the annual performance review is the self-assessment.  
Throughout the year, team members receive coaching from their clients and support from their people service managers, so plenty of opportunities exist to check that they are aligned with their client’s most important business priorities.  
 
This provides plenty of insights they can then use in the annual review when team members are encouraged to reflect on what they’ve accomplished and set their goals for how they want to grow next.  
 
Developing a growth mindset is another benefit of conducting performance reviews. It’s what the Neuro Leadership Institute defines as “the belief that skills and abilities can be improved and, in fact, that developing your skills and abilities is the purpose of the work you do.” 
 
A performance review process, of which the APR is a critical part, builds accounting firms where managers and individual contributors continually grow, and the business itself can adapt and seize new opportunities when they emerge. 

“Your people are fully-formed, experienced adults, with challenges and histories and whole lives. The best way to deliver feedback, the most effective way, is to always keep your people in front of you. And that means getting to know them, as people. What are their goals, their motivations, their strengths and interests? How does the work connect to those things?”

Allison McWilliams, PhD  
“Falling Into Feedback Traps” 
Psychology Today, November 11, 2020

Tips for conducting a great performance review 

How then can you conduct a great performance review? These tips will help: 

  1. Clarify the standards by which performance will be measured.  
    Set clear standards and measurable goals. Connect an individual’s performance with what was expected of their team, especially by their customers.  

    Remember to compare the team member’s performance with the metrics that were set for their role, and not with the performance of others.  

  2. Mention specific incidents that illustrate your feedback.  
    When a team member does something well, let them know as soon as you can.   

    Keep notes that you can refer to when the annual performance review conversation comes up. Ideally, the APR will not be the first time you’ve spoken with a team member about a specific event or result.  

  3.  Keep it two-way.  
    There’s another reason we’ve kept the self-assessment a part of the annual performance reviews. It’s important for the manager who gives feedback to listen to what each team member has to say. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.  

    “Dialogue is important not just because it’s polite and typically characteristic of effective organizational cultures, but also because it tests assumptions and reasoning,” author Frank Cespedes of the Harvard Business School wrote in July 2022.  

    He recommended that managers ask: “Here is the data or other input I’m using to make this assessment: What am I missing? Is it an issue of resources or something else?”  

  4. Talk about what needs to change.  
    Changes in the global economy and technology keep creating new challenges and opportunities for accounting practices. Think about what changes you’ve had to embrace in your business in the last two years alone.  

    Set some time in your performance review conversation to let your team members know what new technology or leadership skills would benefit them in the year ahead. Ask them what they’re curious about and want to learn.  

  5. Set new goals.  
    When we travel, we don’t keep our eyes fixed on the rearview mirror. In the same way, all participants in a performance review need to keep an eye on the future. 

    Ask your team members what they plan to accomplish in the quarter and year ahead. Help them see your top three business priorities clearly so they can align their plans with those priorities.  

    Set follow-up sessions where you can talk about what progress they’ve made against their new goals—like waypoints to make sure you’re on course for the destination ahead.  

    “Strategy without action is a daydream,” a Japanese proverb reminds us.   An effective performance review process connects your strategy and highest priorities with your team’s everyday actions and results, helping you reinforce a reputation for elite performance that attracts like-minded clients and talents to your accounting business.  

If you’re a current TOA Global client, we have an upcoming live webinar that will help you prepare for your team’s annual performance review.  
 
You will receive an email with an invite to join Kelly Segat, our Chief Customer Officer, for this conversation on all things APR on Monday, 7 November 2022, at 3 pm AEST. See you then. 

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