Developing documentation processes that support the one-on-one, mentor-style, goal-oriented performance management processes experts recommend to drive performance improvement is challenging but not impossible, according to higher education leaders.
“The most effective evaluations happen when an employee feels free to talk,” said John Whelan, associate vice president and chief human resources officer at Indiana University in Bloomington, during a focus group with higher education talent management experts. Focus group members agreed with this, and acknowledged that at most institutions, current documentation requirements get in the way of open conversation.
“The second documentation starts, people put up barriers. Everybody is afraid of what it’s going to look like on paper as opposed to opening up about what they’re doing well and what they need. There’s a human emotional component that the more structured it gets, the less open employees are,” John said, as the crowd of higher education talent management professionals nodded in agreement.
So, what’s the trick to documenting performance evaluations while maintaining open, honest communication?
“Making it easy to enter comments and ratings, and giving supervisors the option to do so during or after conversations,” said Emily Wilson, assistant director of learning and organizational development at Appalachian State (App State) in Boone, North Carolina. “This reinforces that feedback is important, and that it’s all about success, not just documentation.”
App State and Villanova University both transitioned from cumbersome, paper-based performance management processes to using Performance, the automated solution from PeopleAdmin with intuitive, higher education-specific tools that prevent documentation from getting in the way of one-on-one conversations.
“The system is configurable, and the way we’ve framed documentation questions and forms facilitates conversations around growing and developing. Our documentation is really set up like more a planning tool,” said Jennifer Derry, director of training and staff development at Villanova. “This leads to far more productive conversations, so rather than saying, ‘Oh, six months ago you botched this project,’ we’re helping managers say, ‘We learned some lessons in the past. When we run into this project again, here’s what we should look for and do differently.’ That’s far more useful than kind of having a tit-for-tat over the past.”