Accounting data frequently is used in performance evaluations, because it is seen as an objective method to evaluate performance. While there are many advantages to using accounting information for this purpose, small-business owners should be careful to understand that there are drawbacks as well. Knowing the pros and cons of using accounting metrics can help business owners choose the right data to use for evaluating employee performance.

Budget to Actual

Many businesses expect employees to achieve budget targets as part of their overall performance. While the specifics requirements of each employee differ with the position and nature of the company, it is common for employees to be expected to sell a certain number of items, control costs versus a budgeted amount or reduce waste compared with a benchmark. A potential downfall of using budget information for performance evaluation is that employees may be so concerned with making budget targets that they may do so at the cost of other parts of the business.

Sales Growth

Sales employees and business management frequently are evaluated on the basis of sales growth. Sales growth usually is calculated as the percentage that sales have increased over the prior year. While this metric is commonly used to gauge performance, it does not come without drawbacks. If the general economy changes from year to year, then sales may naturally be increasing or decreasing. For example, if the economy is in decline, then employees may be modeling the correct behaviors, but sales may still be slow. In contrast, if the economy is growing, employees may be receiving the benefits of increasing sales while developing habits that will keep this sales growth from being sustainable in the future.

Net Profit

In many small businesses, net profit is used as a performance benchmark for the company's manager. Condensing the operations of a business into its simplest form, net profit measures the amount of profit left after deducting expenses. While profit is important to businesses, focus on profit can have adverse effects on the company in the long term. For example, cutting advertising expenses will grow net profit in the short-term, but in the long-term, potential customers may not know about the company's products.

Expense Reduction

For employees in charge of spending, it is common to evaluate performance based upon cost reduction. This can be a useful metric, as each dollar of expense saved translates into a dollar of profit. However, caution must be exercised, because this performance metric does not account for differences in quality. For example, if a purchasing manager is evaluating on reducing the expense of purchased metal for production, he could be rewarded for buying cheaper substandard material. As such, small-business owners should be cautious when using this metric in isolation.