Redefining HR’s Role in Higher Education Performance Management

‘Our role in HR is to ensure everyone receives evaluations and to provide support, training, and resources to ensure supervisors and staff have meaningful conversations’

For many colleges and universities, performance management is purely transactional. Once a year, supervisors give reviews, complete documentation, and assign goals, then promptly forget about the entire process—until HR sends notice that the next round of performance reviews are due.

Recent studies have shown that continuous coaching is key to successful performance management, with one stating: “The traditional way of simply evaluating employees’ performance over the past year needs to be forgotten. Managers and team leaders who give regular feedback and opportunities to their teams to continually enhance their knowledge and skills are more likely to create high-performing teams than those who concentrate on backward-looking performance evaluation styles.”

Villanova University is actively adapting performance management frameworks to deliver more agile, forward-looking employee feedback. And to help accomplish this goal, HR no longer reviews employee evaluations. Instead, they focus on providing consultation and support.

“We’re hearing over and over again that employees and supervisors are more willing to be honest with each other in their feedback because they don’t feel like they’re reporting one another to HR,” said Jennifer Derry, Director of Training and Staff Development at Villanova. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, but consider whether you actually need to be in the process. Our role in HR is to ensure everyone receives evaluations and to provide support, training, and resources to ensure supervisors and staff have meaningful conversations about how things are going. That’s it.”

Jennifer and her team further support meaningful communication using PeopleAdmin’s Performance Management solution. “Our managers say there’s more honesty and authenticity in their performance conversations because of the way we’ve framed questions in the system. It’s really a planning tool and an opportunity to talk about how people can grow and develop moving forward in their roles,” Jennifer said.

She offered this practical example of how conversations became more productive: “Instead of, ‘Oh, six months ago you botched this project,’ they’re now saying, ‘Hey, we learned some lessons in the past month or semester or year. When we run into this project again, here’s what we want you to look at.’ That’s far more useful than kind of having a tit-for-tat over the past.”
Performance Management’s streamlined reporting also makes it easy to determine where employees stand in the evaluation process, further empowering supervisors to actively develop employees without HR’s involvement.
“Seeing how their teams are doing is prime information that our supervisors and managers used to constantly ask HR for, and with the Performance Management dashboards, they have it at their fingertips,” Jennifer said. “This information is most useful to the people actually performing these tasks—supervisors and managers. So me being the gatekeeper of this information previously just created more work and another layer supervisors had to go through to get the information they need to make decisions. I get cut out of that cycle now, which is exactly what we need.”

Jennifer went on to say that the new processes work well and that while school leaders willingly take more responsibility for their employee’s performance, HR still plays a critical role.

“We positioned ourselves more as a resource and a consultant and a support, so managers and staff are still coming to us when things aren’t right,” Jennifer said. “Or when they have a concern about a conversation or something didn’t go well in a performance conversation, then we get involved as needed. And — as was the case when we were reviewing evaluations — we still aren’t discovering anything hiding in the documentation that we should’ve known.”

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