‘The way we’ve framed documentation questions and forms facilitates conversations around growing and developing’
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 Management, 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.”
Performance Management also encourages greater supervisor engagement with a dashboard for tracking subordinate employee reviews in real time, which empowers supervisors to take proactive action, and spend less time managing tasks and more time focusing on meaningful conversations.
“Supervisors love the Performance dashboard. This lets them see exactly whose desk something is on without having to follow up or ask anyone a question,” said Shannon Phillips, assistant director of technology and compensation at the University of Arkansas. “They just log in and it’s right there. It’s perfect.”
Performance Management also gives employees access to their performance documentation, which encourages bi-directional communication that keeps employees engaged and invested in the evaluation process.
“Having a tool that can help you efficiently manage your workflows and provide transparency for employees is very valuable,” said Heather Murray, Director of Strategic Partnerships at PeopleAdmin and former associate director of human resources at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. “It’s difficult to do that with paper.”
But maximizing the benefits of simplified documentation begins with training … not only on how to use your institution’s system, but also on what does and doesn’t need to be put in writing.
“This is an area where HR has an opportunity to lead the transformation,” Heather said. “If you’re using ratings, apply them consistently. Eliminate managers’ anxiety by providing guidance on what to document. Have conversations with university leaders about walking the talk.”