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Peak Performance - June 2016

Performance reviews benefit seasonal staff and operations

by Jodi Helmer

Every season, attractions recruit and interview prospective hires, host orientation sessions, train staff, and organize appreciation events. If managers aren’t scheduling performance reviews, they are missing out on opportunities to bolster staff success.

“Performance reviews for seasonal employees are essential to ensure individual team members gain the appropriate, fair, and deserved feedback regarding their performance in regard to their contribution toward the business,” says Shaun McKeogh, vice president at Management Resources and director of human resources and training for ProFun Management Group in Vietnam.

Despite the benefits, performance reviews for seasonal staff are often overlooked. The reason: Operators often assume evaluating the skills and work ethic of staff who are only on the payroll for a few months requires a lot of time and effort with little return on investment—an assumption that is incorrect, according to Susan Edwards, human resources director for Canada’s Wonderland.

“Reviews not only ensure we’re getting the most out of our associates; they allow us to assess our seasonal associates and determine who has the desire and potential to return the following season and who may be ready for promotion opportunities,” Edwards says “They also keep the lines of communication flowing at all times.”

A Gallup poll confirms feedback has a significant impact on operational success. Researchers at the national polling firm found that companies where workers received feedback about their strengths had almost 15 percent less turnover than companies where workers did not receive performance reviews; when management received feedback on their performance, profits were almost 9 percent higher.

In addition to higher retention rates, less turnover, and increased profitability, McKeogh believes that seasonal reviews also bolster organizational credibility and provide attractions with access to information that guides future strategic planning.

“Consider positioning the performance review process as another benefit for seasonal team members and a best practice to do as a organization,” he says.

Review the Process
As the name suggests, performance reviews are designed to evaluate staff members on execution of their core functions. But a seasonal review shouldn’t be the only time managers talk to employees about their performance. In fact, McKeogh believes there should be no surprises during a review.

“If there are areas of concern or development [is needed], it should have been addressed throughout the season with appropriate coaching,” he says. “A performance review should be a positive process, a developmental opportunity, a communication process, and a recognition process.”

To help set temporary employees up for success, McKeogh suggests several “touch points” for formal feedback throughout the season to acknowledge staff for their positive contributions and offer guidance and additional training in areas that need improvement.

At Morey’s Piers, managers schedule performance reviews with ride operators midway through the season. The meetings, which last 10-15 minutes, cover topics like friendliness, attitude, efficiency, teamwork, attendance, and adherence to policies and procedures.

Dino Fazio, director of pier operations for the park in Wildwood, New Jersey, believes the reviews are important for the professional development of the 400 seasonal team members and the success of the park.

“Having a formalized, scheduled performance review at least once around midseason enables both management and the employee to see where challenges and opportunities exist, discuss where we’ve been and where we are going, celebrate success, and ensure everyone is moving in the same direction,” he says.

Canada’s Wonderland also conducts midseason reviews for the staff working at the Vaughan, Ontario, park, assessing team members on their skills related to knowledge and performance of their specific job duties as well as enthusiasm, initiative, customer service, and teamwork. Staff working in leadership positions has an additional performance review at the end of the season.

Establish Best Practices
While each park—or each department within the park—might have different approaches to the timing of performance reviews and categories of skills assessments, it’s essential to follow some best practices for conducting reviews.

McKeogh believes the ideal review process requires significant planning. Human resources, for example, should develop a process that helps managers assess the performance of their team members.

To set managers up for success, operators should provide:

•    Tools: Managers should not go into reviews unprepared. Tools like checklists provide managers with a script of sorts, allowing them to rank all staff according to the same set of criteria. Other tools might include numerical scales to rank performance, attitude, skills, dependability, and other essential job skills.

•    Training: Without training, the tools developed by human resources might not be used appropriately. “You must begin with a robust training program for the reviewers so they can adequately give appropriate and accurate feedback,” says McKeogh.

•    Time: Managers should know when and how often performance reviews will be administered, where the review process will take place, and best practices for scheduling reviews. Most important, seasonal performance reviews should be prioritized in the schedule so managers have adequate time to provide quality feedback.

Establishing best practices will help managers and staff appreciate, not dread, performance reviews. “So often the performance review process has a bad name, and this is because of its poor delivery in the past,” McKeogh says.

Make Reviews Count
Edwards believes that establishing a clear process and guidelines makes the review process more efficient and ensures feedback is provided in a manner that meets the expectations of Canada’s Wonderland.

“It is time consuming but the payoff is invaluable,” she says.

But, according to Edwards, it’s not enough to conduct performance reviews for seasonal staff. For maximum benefit, the information gained during the reviews also needs to be evaluated.

“Let’s not forget the best practice of analyzing what we have learned from all these communications sessions,” she advises. “[We can use the results] to strategically plan to improve the business and management of seasonal employees moving forward.”

Fazio acknowledges it takes “significant coordination” to schedule reviews for all of the ride operators at Morey’s Piers. To minimize disruptions to ride operations and staff schedules, he prefers scheduling reviews at the beginning or end of shifts.

“For our ride operations department, we have found it is worth the time and effort involved with preparing, coordinating, and conducting each review,” he says. “The company benefits by helping to improve performance of the entire seasonal team.”