Ditch The Overly Objective Annual Review

Listerhill Credit Union relies on regular conversation instead of yearly check-ins.

Looking to improve the annual review process? Take a page out of Listerhill Credit Union’s ($704.9M, Sheffield, AL) playbook. Just don’t do it.

The credit union has never conducted annual reviews of its employees and has no plans to do so in the future, so says its vice president of human resources, Ann Davis. According to Davis, skirting the annual review altogether has become the trend in HR, and Listerhill has a reason to be ahead of that curve.

Reviews are too objective, she says. If we can locate a purely objective review, then we certainly want to give it. But so far we have not seen a model that is 100% objective in nature.

The 240-employee-strong Listerhill might not conduct official annual reviews, but it does have important conversations with employees. And it does so in two ways.

How To Have The Tough Conversations

No organization is immune from problem employees. Those that require process improvement plans, disciplinary actions, or, when all other options are exhausted, termination.


listerhill credit union
Data as of 06.30.16

  • HQ: Sheffield, AL
  • ASSETS: $704.9M
  • MEMBERS: 86,169
  • BRANCHES: 18
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.51%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 14.90%
  • ROA: 0.74%

But to place employees on probation requires a tough conversation on the part of the employee’s manager. And very rarely are managers trained for this. That’s where Davis and her HR staff step up not to have the conversation, but to prepare managers through one-on-one coaching.

Most people are not comfortable having unpleasant conversations with their employees, Davis says. If you have a few people in your HR department skilled at those conversations, it helps direct the manger.

These one-on-one training sessions take place as-needed on the phone or in person. Davis always asks managers to document in writing the incident that necessitated the tough conversation so she can capture that for her records as well.

According to Davis, the situation and people involved in each coaching session require an individual approach; therefore, she does not use any prewritten scripts. But after 20-plus years working in employee relations, Davis has learned to model much of her approach on a well-worn book she keeps in her office called Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. It’s helped her handle a variety of conversations.

For example, managers need to address complaints about an employee’s body odor, which Davis says is a fairly routine conversation.

You start out by saying, I hope everything is okay. Do you have electricity? Running water?’ Davis advises. Then you hope there’s no underlying medical issue, if the employee has new prescriptions or something else. If not, you have to tell them they work in close proximity to others and with the public, and they need to have good hygiene. That’s basically it.

5 Tips To Make Difficult Conversations Easier

In her instruction to managers, Ann Davis, vice president of human resources at Listerhill Credit Union, covers five teaching points more than any others:

  • Stay objective.
  • Keep personality out of it.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Keep your language direct.
  • Ask for feedback from the employee.

Davis says she and her team view these trainings as the embodiment of the teach a man to fish philosophy. Managers get better at these conversations and can handle them rather than waiting for HR’s input not that they don’t ask for it.

The next time a situation comes up, they have a better grasp of it, Davis says. They tell us what happened and the way they thought they should handle it. We say that’s right,’ and they handle it themselves.

10 Minutes A Month

Employee conversations at Listerhill aren’t just for disciplinary action, however. Managers also get employee face time through monthly 10-minute conversations with all their direct reports.

The process of winning the Baldrige National Quality Program’s Level 2-Progress Toward Excellence Award in 2014 led Listerhill to leadership-level member loyalty training. One of the tips Baldrige gave the credit union was to start these 10-minute meetings.

Although you see them every day, it might be you’ve never had a solid 10 minutes with one of them, Davis says.

Those conversations aren’t strictly work-related, unless that’s what the employee prefers to talk about. In fact, Davis says she wants the employee running the entire conversation.

I tell them it’s their 10 minutes, not mine, she says. If they want to talk about work, we’ll talk about that. If they want to talk about their kids, their dog, something else? It’s doesn’t matter. It’s our 10 minutes together.

Want to learn more about the Baldrige process or see how Listerhill makes its home in a place where Rock ‘n’ Roll and hard work coexist? Check out the series, Anatomy Of Listerhill Credit Union.

Davis has a team of four she meets with, branch managers have teams of eight or more, which necessitates these conversations.

Even though you might be in the same building every single day and say hello, you probably don’t get as much time as you need, Davis says.

Even though you might be in the same building every single day and say hello, you probably don’t get as much time as you need.

So although the credit union doesn’t have an annual review, working with managers and getting face time with employees work as de facto reviews in themselves. Managers are having conversations with employees, identifying good work and bad, and finding the root causes of troubling behaviors. All without the troubles of an objective annual review.

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  • A Credit Union Solution To The Dreaded Annual Review
  • Changing The HR Culture, One Coaching Session At A Time
September 7, 2016

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