Performance Reviews at Three ISPA Members
by Jamison Stoike

The performance review: once a year, you schedule a one-on-one with every employee. You discuss their past performance, their current sales numbers and their future sales goals. Then, their performance is tied to a yearly raise, and you send them off to work for another year before the next review.

At least, that’s how it used to be. More and more frequently, spas are discarding outmoded methodologies for conducting performance reviews and switching to more creative, more frequent and more fun performance review structures.

To get a handle on how different spas in the ISPA family conduct performance reviews, Pulse talked to three ISPA members—a large hospitality management company, a luxury resort spa and a local chain of day spas—about how they’ve thrown out by-the-book reviews for newer, more modern processes.

Reviews in the Digital Age

Crescent Hotels & Resorts, a hospitality management company based out of Fairfax, Virginia, manages a portfolio of nearly 100 luxury properties, including Marriott-, Hilton- and Hyatt-branded properties; 12 of these properties have spas.

All 12 of the spas under their management are resort-style spas. Most of these spas are located in independent properties, such as PGA National Resort & Spa and Horseshoe Bay Resort, but a few are located within affiliated properties. The scope and variety of the spas Crescent manages necessitated a more rigorous, software-driven approach to conducting employees’ performance reviews.

Two years ago, Crescent Hotels & Resorts switched to UltiPro, a human resources software system that allows for better integration, communication and member PersPectives performance oversight across their spas. “We love it because of all of the assets that it offers,” says Lorraine Park, VP of spa, retail & wellness for Crescent Hotels & Resorts. “It allows us to assess performance and gather feedback on an ongoing basis.

“We can check quarterly and see how they’re doing on their goals, then figure out how we can help,” Park continues. This allows performance discussions to be real-time, rather than retrospective.

The software also serves as a repository for treatment protocols, HR policies, job descriptions, local laws and more, all of which can be managed locally or uploaded company-wide.

Reviews are conducted quarterly, with the biggest review occurring in April. Additionally, there’s a selfassessment component that is used to get a better sense of employees’ goals. “We can see who wants to track for management, or if someone would prefer to work at the front desk of the resort rather than continue as a therapist, or if they’re relocatable,” says Park. “We can see that, and we can start to see trends.” The end result is a more open path to career advancement in which qualified personnel can move both laterally and vertically across multiple spa locations.

In revamping its performance review process, Crescent also transformed how it approached crossspa collaboration. In the future, Park says that the system will allow for spa managers to see employees’ certifications and qualifications companywide, which will enable them to collaborate on creating protocols. Park offered up an example: “if we find someone who is Watsu-certified, Shiatsu-certified and trained in Thai massage, why don’t we have them create some protocols for services that blend techniques?”

Contrary to the industry trend away from structured reviews, this new review system is actually more structured than their previous system, which was simple “pencil and paper,” according to Park. The increased structure was necessary to engender the companywide view that Park wanted to foster in her spas: “The first thing you think of when you bring in a system like this is that it will take out the personal element. But it did the opposite, actually, by allowing you to collaborate with someone in Florida, in California, in Virginia.

“The world today is very global,” adds Park. “I think it’s important to have aspirational goals, and I think we’ve made huge inroads in having people feel like they’re not just stuck at this one hotel, in this one spa, doing this one thing for the rest of their days.”

Getting Creative at a Boutique Resort

One trick to getting employees excited for performance reviews: stop focusing on the past and focus on the future instead.

That’s the approach that was taken by The Spa at Cliff House, located on the shores of the Atlantic in Cape Neddick, Maine. This 9,000-square-foot spa has approximately 65 team members, serving a clientele primarily comprising guests staying at the Cliff House

Prior to 2016, The Spa at Cliff House used an extremely traditional performance review structure, wherein employees met with spa leadership annually and were given a score of one to five in various categories.

To deepen employee engagement, the spa’s current system features no rating system and focuses on goals, according to Director of Spa & Wellness Dawn Page. “We meet each employee where they’re at and help them discover their goals, then create pathways to achieve those goals. Each quarter, we check back in to see how those goals are progressing. It’s more of a goal-setting process than a performance-rating process.” The meetings are conducted quarterly and include the employee, their direct supervisor and Page.

The open-ended nature of the discussions encourages employees to share their passions and career goals with Page, who then works to ensure that The Spa at Cliff House supports those goals. When an employee stated that they wanted to learn more about spa operations, Page had her work with the spa’s operations manager on a closer basis. Now, she’s assisting in the scheduling of therapists. Employees’ goals can also blend the professional and the personal, according to Page. “If someone’s goal is to have more of a work/life balance, or they want to spend more time with their family, I’ll work with them to assess ways that we can help them achieve those goals,” Page says.

Although tying performance reviews directly into promotions is difficult at a spa of this size, the Spa at Cliff House works to nurture the potential of employees who express interest in spa leadership. Oftentimes, the goals allow for broader career advancement in terms of skills and certifications; Page cites a front desk employee who recently accomplished their goal of becoming proficient in all of the spa’s body treatments and facials, as well as a massage therapist who recently received a license in traditional Chinese medicine.

The switch to an emphasis on forward-thinking goals has already paid dividends for Page’s team at The Spa at Cliff House. When asked how her employees have responded to the new process, Page replies enthusiastically: “They really love it. It helps them become more engaged in the overall experience we offer to guests, and it gives them more pride, personal growth and accomplishment.”

Reinventing the Review

For Megan Jasper of Gadabout SalonSpas, the phrase “performance review” was enough to make her leery: “No one likes performance reviews. Even my stomach gets in knots when I think about one.” So Jasper, director of operations and marketing for Gadabout, decided to change the very name itself: now, employees of Gadabout have “professional development sessions” that focus on continued development and goal-setting.

The Tucson, Arizona, business operates five locations as Gadabout SalonSpas, plus an additional two Aveda-only locations under the name VerVe. Across these seven spas, Jasper oversees 285 employees, of which approximately 200 are service providers and technicians. Previously, every employee utilized an identical performance review structure, says Jasper: “A new hire would have a fifteen-, thirtyand forty-five-day check-in, and then it was every quarter. It was very traditional, but it was just broken. It wasn’t working.”

Last year, Jasper implemented a new system. Now, employees with less than five years at the company have monthly professional development sessions. These sessions feature very little numbers talk; says Jasper, “we talk numbers on a weekly basis, but these meetings are a time to talk about the future.”

Accordingly, each service provider’s session focuses on goalsetting and developing the skills necessary to be a good service provider. By focusing on developing skills, says Jasper, employees will naturally hit performance goals. Ultimately, Jasper hopes to arm every service provider with the skills they need to boost customer retention. Hitting key retention metrics then leads to commission bonuses, pay increases and opportunities for advancement. There’s a strong emphasis placed on helping staff improve the ‘experience’ aspect of spa, which Jasper says is “eighty-seven percent of why a customer comes back.” Gadabout does this through a weekly class for new hires, as well as discussions during monthly professional development sessions on the spa’s “twelve behaviors we believe you need to follow to be a successful service provider.” Jasper and her team provide coaching on these behaviors during the sessions, and real improvement is made possible by the frequent nature of check-ins.

After five years, employees switch to quarterly sessions, which are geared towards developing specific professional skills. “At the start of the year, we’ll do vision boards,” says Jasper, “and before our busiest season, our quarterly professional development session is about team interaction and how supportive they are of each other.”

The biggest benefit to Jasper has been her employees’ increased enthusiasm for meeting with spa management. “When we had reviews and evaluations, miraculously everyone would be performing an add-on massage or have a client who was running late,” notes Jasper. “They would run away from the conversation. Now, the conversation is all about their goals and how we can help them get there. There’s a line out the door for people’s sessions and everybody is asking ‘is it my time yet?’”

Encourage the Enthusiasm

Having an effective review process is good for the bottom line: it improves employee performance and increases employee retention. It can also lead to a more harmonious working environment and improved morale. And, no matter what type of spa you operate or how many employees you have, the goal of your performance review process is likely the same as the three spas featured above: to deepen an employee’s investment in the success of the spa by encouraging their enthusiasm for professional growth.