The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

5 Simple Steps to Improve Performance Reviews

Time for ReviewLack of accountability and leniency bias are common issues in performance evaluations, and they can lead to a situation in which it is difficult to address performance and/or behavioral issues. So what steps can higher ed HR professionals take to improve performance reviews?

At the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2014 in San Antonio, Texas, presenters Elaine Lemay, Executive Director of Human Resources for Samuel Merritt University and Dale Rose, Ph.D., President of 3D Group shared these five simple steps:

1. Examine scale labels. Higher ed HR professionals should consider using scales that encourage managers to select a wider range. Samuel Merritt University used a 1-5 rating scale — Improvement Required; Growth Needed in Some Areas; Meets Expectations; Exceeds Expectations; and Role Model. By simply exchanging the seemingly mediocre term “meets expectations” with the more positive term “strong performer” the institution saw a more favorable distribution among all categories without the need to change the category definition.

2. Train managers to improve rating accuracy. By discussing the definitions of the rating categories with managers (including faculty and staff) in a group setting, the institution was able to more clearly illustrate the benefit of using specific behaviors when defining how an employee fits into a given category (rather than unmeasurable, abstract descriptions). The groups worked through scenarios using sample job descriptions to identify what performance factors were needed for each rating category. For example, the group could determine that an office manager who was responsible for ordering supplies would be “a strong performer” if he or she met the expectations of always having office supplies stocked and available. In order to be rated as a “role model,” that person would need to not only ensure that the supplies were available but also have demonstrated situations in which he or she anticipated needs or recommended changes for budgetary savings. Those actions would demonstrate the person has gone above and beyond basic expectations. By working through exercises such as this one, managers were able to develop a common understanding of the categories.

3. Implement a system of boss approval. In an effort to increase manager responsibility as well as accountability from the supervisors of those managers, the institution implemented a “boss approval” system. The system requires a manager to get the approval of his or her supervisor on any performance evaluations that are done for the manager’s direct reports. This process has provided manager supervisors an opportunity to question the rating and ask for additional support information to justify the selection, adding value to the overall performance review.

4. Forced distribution exercises for managers. For these exercises, managers are asked to rank employees, to help differentiate high, medium and low performers. Although this exercise made many managers uncomfortable at first, the rankings helped highlight true performance variability.

5. Provide managers with tools for difficult conversations. From role playing tough conversations and employee interactions to behavior tracking logs and action plan templates, Samuel Merritt University trained managers to improve the overall effectiveness of its performance reviews and reduce the overall leniency.

Are leniency and accountability issues in your institution’s performance review system? What has HR done to improve performance reviews for campus faculty and staff?