Heather Murray, former associate director of human resources at Gonzaga University, explains how higher education talent management teams can improve evaluations by creating a culture that supports continuous, two-way performance conversations between supervisors and employees.
Best practices guide to transforming performance management in higher education
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Kevin Keenmon: Welcome to PeopleAdmin’s higher education podcast. Today, we’re going to discuss how to facilitate more productive performance management conversations.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, PeopleAdmin is the leading provider of cloud-based talent management solutions for education.
My name is Kevin Keenmon, and joining me today is Heather Murray, director of strategic partnerships here at PeopleAdmin and former associate director of human resources at Gonzaga University, and she explained how continuous, two-way conversations between supervisors and employees can improve performance management.
Heather Murray: The benefit of two-way conversation is that it fosters a relationship. It fosters a relationship of trust, of credibility. It invokes a sense of ownership and shared responsibility into the performance management process in total, and it makes it more natural and organic to be able to have conversations when you’re doing it on a regular basis so it’s less intimidating maybe for the supervisor to have a course correction conversation, or for the employee to ask for an additional resource. If it just becomes a part of your daily way of operating and engaging between the employee and the supervisor, then you’re setting up the performance conversation or the review at the end of that cycle to be one where the story is already authored, and it’s a matter of capturing the success or what needs to be done differently going forward.
Kevin: To foster this type of communication, higher education institutions have to be willing to make an investment, either in resources or in time.
Heather: I think for higher education, given the fact that, as a whole, the majority of institutions are strapped for resources. So, the fact that you have limited resources means that you have quite a narrow bandwidth with your headcount. Most positions are wearing multiple hats to get the good work done within their department at their institution, so you couple bandwidth issues with limited resources. It becomes a matter of having a concerted conversation about your competing priorities. And, performance management, performance effectiveness, in order for it to be effective, in order for it to foster that engagement that many of us are looking for, it has to become a priority at the highest leadership level. And so, if it’s a situation where the institution may not be able to throw more money at it from a headcount perspective to alleviate some of these bandwidth concerns, then it’s a matter of fostering a culture that allows for the work and the time that it takes — that time investment that it takes to do performance management well — and that needs to become a higher priority than maybe it is today.
Kevin: For talent management teams that do decide to make continuous, two-way feedback a priority, Heather believes providing training to facilitate these conversations and tools to document them are key.
Heather: I think a lot of it comes to training— so two areas that I will touch on, the first being training, and then the second being your solutions that support your programs and your performance philosophy — so from a training perspective, getting out there in a proactive measure. Maybe it’s soft-skills training with respect to giving and receiving feedback, making sure that the employee’s empowered to approach their supervisor in a safe environment to have a conversation. Maybe it’s a need or an ask that the employee has in order to fulfill a goal that’s been assigned as part of their performance plan. As well as then for the supervisor to make sure that they are taking that time, making it a priority to have ongoing communication.
Oftentimes, if a performance issue arises … at my last institution we used to say, “Two weeks is too long.” So, making sure that the supervisor has an understanding as part of their role in being a supervisor that they need to course correct at the most infant stage of an issue, as well as make sure that they provide and carry forward the accolades when things go well.
And then, of course, documenting. I think both the employee and the supervisor have a shared responsibility for documenting not only their frequent conversations, but then, how are they doing with respect to their progress updates, task completion, goal completion, engaging in the conversation of, you know, “What does my career path potentially look like at this institution? And what sort of resources can we begin to explore, or training opportunity can we begin to explore together to foster and nurture a career direction for high performers?”
So, there’s a lot of opportunity — I guess, bottom line from an HR perspective — to get ahead and work collaboratively with the supervisors and employees to make sure you’re fostering that type of culture, especially one that’s mission-aligned.
The other aspect I think that HR has a role in is making sure that the tools and resources available for the employee and the supervisor to capture these two-way conversations exists. So, having a technology solution that provides the opportunity for the employee to participate in the evaluation process, not just that one time, that one meeting at the end of the performance cycle, but have it be a continual engagement throughout the entire year. Same with the supervisor. I think again it all comes down to fostering a relationship of trust and making sure that both parties involved are engaged in the process, and that your process is aligned to your philosophy and your mission
Kevin: Well, there you have it: best practices in higher education talent management. If you’d like to learn more, please visit PeopleAdmin.com. Thank you for listening.