Digitizing Performance Management in HigherEd

As more institutions in higher education grapple with the concept of remote work, restructuring organizational methods for outdated systems has helped organizations grow and change with the times. Performance management is one system undergoing that very restructuring.

The prevalence of data could allow university officials to log more efficiently things like time worked, student evaluations, and performance data. There are quite a few benefits of the democratization and prevalence of data, but without careful structuring, that same data could cause stress and compliance issues. Many institutions are connecting their position descriptions to their performance management, bringing well-defined expectations into focus at the time of evaluation.

Higher education institutions must take careful stock of the benefits and responsibilities of this data access as they move to digitize performance management. With the right boundaries in place, this could create a culture of professional development and nurturing.

Are your processes connected?

Performance management has traditionally been the realm of subjective assessment. Top performers receive a lot of attention, and poor performance receives swift consequences. Those in the middle are left to wonder about professional growth.

There are many employees with enough awareness to request—and keep requesting—opportunities for professional development and evaluation. New technology provides a clearer path through often unpopular and bureaucratic performance evaluations.

The ability to simultaneously evaluate goals and navigate a forward-looking plan for improved success, a defined learning path, and mutual outcomes is key. Creating a seamless connection between position descriptions, performance management, and professional learning paths ensure evaluation processes and skill development paths are aligned. Well defined performance review programs reflect current organizational needs instead of just past performance review structures.

What are the benefits of digital performance management?

Studies show that less formal, more conversational interactions between management and employees about performance have the potential to lead to better organizational performance. These evaluations are less pressure-filled and give employees more manageable goals.

Employees have the potential to receive multisource feedback and access to higher quality conversations about performance. It creates a timely system of feedback and updates with fewer misunderstandings and less time for employees to forget goals.

Increasing frequency and ease helps facilitate a clearer alignment between employees and university goals. It helps employees understand the overarching goals and aspirations of higher ed institutions, potentially helping to secure organizational culture.

It also democratizes data, giving employees access to performance evaluations and feedback any time they need it. This unprecedented access to data provides more control and a greater buy-in for employees, helping prevent disenchantment and disconnection.

In some cases, data can help standardize performance evaluations, removing bias, and subjective evaluations based on factors other than employee performance. When approached holistically, this data could help create a better environment for understanding employees and their performance.

What are the potential problems?

Digital performance management isn’t without its issues. Without clear boundaries for who will have access to that data and what will happen with it, it could become another series of stressors on already stressed employees.

In some cases, employees may feel obligated to treat these periodic performance check-ins as a full-scale performance review, spending a great deal of time completing them. If management isn’t clear with instruction for completion and the purpose of changing to check-ins, these check-ins may be a source of discontent instead of direction.

They may also become coercive, leading to additional pressure for unrealistic performance in the education space. Education is not like sales; there are factors involved in grade breakdowns, for example. Universities must be clear on benchmarks, working with employees to develop education-specific performance markers.

And—like data in almost any other field—will this data be seen as an all-powerful, objective system with no room for institutional biases and conflicts? In environments where data is the deciding factor to the sacrifice of all other input, it could be a dangerous place of employment.

How do universities and higher education organizations overcome obstacles?

A willingness to learn about the pitfalls and triumphs of big data would go a long way to helping higher education develop tech resources for performance management. Education must move at its own pace, with technology use considering the culture the organization is building.

Platforms would do well based on dialog instead of purely data, and employees must have access to the systems for equity. Higher education human resources should ask these questions about any tech system they adopt:

  • What are the criteria for evaluation? Are the specific requirements outlined in the position descriptions present in the process?
  • How will the review process be conducted if people are virtual?
  • Who has control over and is responsible for inputting this data?
  • Who has co-ownership over the evaluation process?
  • Who is creating performance and culture narratives that will shape employee futures?
  • How will data be perceived in critical employment considerations?
  • What protections will the institution put in place to understand data in context?

These considerations will help universities build robust digital performance methods that ensure the fair use of employee data. Organizations can use digital performance management to scale evaluations to the growth of the institution and simplify the customization of goals. Plus, professional growth opportunities help attract and retain top talent.

Building an Employee-Centered Data System

Integrated HR technology helps overcome biases and subjective analyses for more robust performance management, but only if universities are able to consistently evaluate with all of the information around specific expectations as part of the conversation.

These boundaries should provide higher education human resources the ability to create more meaningful professional development. It will help democratize performance data and keep employees aligned with the overall cultural and aspirational goals

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