Rethinking Performance Management: ‘It’s All About the Conversation.’

Let’s Talk About Performance Management…

Whether you love the idea or perhaps feel something else, if your institution conducts performance reviews, good things happen on many levels if you can focus on “the conversation” — not just the appraisal form.

According to Jennifer Derry, director of training and staff development for Villanova University, that approach can lead to not only helping employees move forward in their careers — which can accelerate succession planning — but also improve HR’s reputation on campus.

“Having conversations around performance can impact your entire culture,” Jennifer said. “I see performance management in higher education being used more and more strategically in this way.”

So, how do you focus on the conversation? You can start by getting rid of the paper and moving the performance appraisal process online.

Jennifer along with Bev Das, retired director of HRIS, employment and compensation at Villanova, spoke to colleagues at PeopleAdmin’s customer conference last month about learning to love performance management — or at least make the best of it.

“Performance management is emotional, it’s thorny, everything about it can be frustrating,” Bev acknowledged.

“It has always been this necessary evil,” Jennifer added. “It’s something HR does. By taking a step back and asking why are we really doing this and building a process that really speaks to that, it can build your reputation on campus and your credibility.”

The key step is putting the evaluation process online. That ends up “forcing the conversation,” Jennifer said.

“We were having conversations where a supervisor and an employee were sitting at a table and staring at a paper together and haggling over words and lines. It was so unproductive,” she said. “Our challenge was how can we make this more about the relationship?”

By getting the paper out of the way, the employee and supervisor come into the appraisal already having read the review online. “Now they have to talk,” Jennifer said. “So we can spend our time instead training people on how to talk. That’s a much better use of time instead of training them fill out a form.”

“It’s also part of our responsibility,” Bev added, “to make sure every employee on campus is comfortable with the technology in some fashion or form. So we’re forcing people to use technology to improve the process.”

The technology Villanova chose to improve their performance management process is SelectSuite 7.0.

“We’re very mission-focused,” Jennifer said, “and we needed a process to speak to that mission. SelectSuite helps us do that. We were able to customize a lot of things that makes sense for us, and we found PeopleAdmin to be great partners in helping us accomplish our mission.”

“Part of that mission is to learn how to use performance management in such a way that it helps with employee development, retention and, ultimately, succession planning,” Jennifer said.

“We see our being able to integrate performance management in a meaningful way with an employee’s overall relationship with the university, from the time they come in the door to the time they leave, even if that’s 30 years later. It’s not just a series of performance reviews,” she said. “We can use those conversations to help people move along in their careers and to have a more meaningful experience at Villanova.”

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