One-size-fits-one performance management: What is it, why it matters and how to start

‘This approach helps employees see where they currently stand in their department, and where they could potentially contribute more value’
Transforming Performance Management eBook

Successful performance management processes must fit the unique needs of various college and university departments and employees.

“Many different employees have many different responsibilities in higher education, and granting each department the freedom to develop evaluation frameworks — while maintaining completion, consistency and continuous feedback — will best prepare team members to contribute to institutional goals,” said Heather Murray, director of strategic partnerships at PeopleAdmin and former associate director of human resources at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.

“Within those departmental frameworks, managers should work with employees to set individual goals, and hold them accountable for course correction. This approach helps employees see where they currently stand in their department, and where they could potentially contribute more value.”

The Harvard Business Review also advocates this one-size-fits-one approach, and identified speed, agility, constant learning, and collecting reliable performance data as keys to effective performance management. [1]

Emily Wilson, assistant director of learning and organizational development at Appalachian State University (App State) in Boone, North Carolina, agreed.

“Make performance management agile, constant and consistent — and encourage others to look at it from a coaching standpoint, instead of as something that you do at the beginning and end of the year. That will lead to more effective processes and minimize the time commitment,” she said.

Several reports agreed that annual or semi-annual feedback is too infrequent to impact behavior and performance, and recommend more frequent one-on-one meetings between employees and supervisors to discuss performance, develop strategies to overcome challenges, and adapt goals and expectations in real time. [2],[3],[4]

“Research shows that the closer to an event that you receive feedback, the more likely you are to either stop doing that thing your supervisor doesn’t want you to do or continuing doing the activity that brought you praise,” Emily said.

The Harvard Business Review found frequent performance conversations between employees and managers led to increased performance, and CEB — a best practices and talent management insights provider — suggested providing real-time, informal feedback did the same. [5],[6]

Higher education leaders that we spoke to agreed that increased frequency and reduced formality were important, but the specific terms should differ based on roles.

Here are some actions colleges and universities can take to determine meeting frequencies that may work well for different types of higher education employees:

1. Examine responses from an employee survey (learn more) and group together frequency information based on respondents’ roles and departments.

“This is an opportunity to make a detailed self-examination of current programs,” Heather said. “Think of it as a listening tour or department-specific cultural-readiness assessment.”

2. Review this information with department leaders, and facilitate discussion around what frequency, methods and frameworks will best enable their department to meet performance management goals.

For example, a study by Deloitte — which provides global audit, consulting, tax and advisory services — found that their employees spent around 2 million hours per year talking about employee ratings prior to completing annual performance evaluations. To improve efficiency and effectiveness, they encouraged in-the-moment performance feedback and end-of-project or end-of-quarter reviews that document future-focused answers to the following questions: [7]

a) Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus (measures overall performance and unique value to the organization on a five-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”).

b) Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team (measures ability to work well with others on the same five-point scale).

c) This person is at risk for low performance (identifies problems that might harm the customer or the team on a yes-or-no basis).

d) This person is ready for promotion today (measures potential on a yes-or-no basis).

3. Work with department leaders to build guidelines that will support meaningful performance feedback, meet the institution’s overall goals, and assimilate easily into the department’s culture.

“One goal should be to keep it simple,” said John Whelan, associate vice president and chief human resources officer at Indiana University in Bloomington. “Use language that’s specific for higher education, and find a way to consistently apply ratings that are easy to use and intuitive. This will eliminate stress and anxiety, help with the design of relevant programs, and make it easy to have more meaningful future conversations.”

This blog is a preview of “Best practices guide to transforming performance management in higher education.” Download the full e-book for more actionable advice and tips based on leading research and experts’ experiences.

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  • [1] Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley. “Reinventing Performance Management.” Harvard Business Review, April 2015.
  • [2] Mueller-Hanson, Rose and Pulakos, Elaine. CEB, “Putting the ‘Performance’ Back into Performance Management.” CEB, 2015.
  • [3] “Performance Management Can Be Fixed.” CEB, 2016.
  • [4] Cappelli, Peter and Tavis, Anna. “The Performance Management Revolution.” Harvard Business Review. October 2016.
  • [5] Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley. “Reinventing Performance Management.” Harvard Business Review, April 2015.
  • [6] Mueller-Hanson, Rose and Pulakos, Elaine. CEB, “Putting the ‘Performance’ Back into Performance Management.” CEB, 2015.
  • [7] Buckingham, Marcus and Goodall, Ashley. “Reinventing Performance Management.” Harvard Business Review, April 2015.

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