What Are the Goals?
According to a recent survey, 70 percent of Americans report being “stressed” at work. The cause? Their bosses.
“We’re not doing well in how we manage people,” said Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education, who spoke to TC employees in October at seminars to roll out the College’s new performance evaluation process. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The involvement of Burke, an expert on organizational change who helped British Airways transition from a public to private company, was just one sign of what Janice Robinson, Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs, calls “an organizational change and cultural shift at the College.” For the past 10 months, a committee of 15 TC administrators and faculty led by Robinson has revamped TC’s existing performance appraisal process. They have been assisted by Sibson Consulting, which specializes in working with colleges and universities and keeping current on effective practices and trends. Robinson calls Sibson “the firm of choice” for institutions of higher education seeking to develop effective solutions to human resources concerns.
“We all want to be fairly evaluated,” said TC President Susan Fuhrman, who spoke at the October 19th seminar. Fuhrman also called for a process that “is meaningful, consistent and fair, which enhances our pride in our work.”
Fuhrman, Provost Tom James and Vice Provost Bill Baldwin introduced the various rollout sessions, underscoring the importance of the College-wide initiative. As part of Fuhrman’s goal to create a consistent performance review process, TC is implementing yearly reviews of all full-time professional staff. That group, as well as all faculty who directly supervise full-time professional staff, attended training seminars during October and November. The mandatory sessions provided an overview of the process, knowledge of the new performance review form with its emphasis on goals and goal setting, and information on how to make the review process a positive and successful experience for staff members and supervisors alike.
Robinson noted that while only 20 percent of TC employees underwent performance reviews last year, there is a widely expressed desire for a process that will help people work smarter and improve their skills. “Professional development is an important value here at the College,” she said. “This process is really about engaging managers and employees.”
The new review format is “guiding, but not restrictive,” according to Karen Hutcheson, Senior Vice President at Sibson. Employees have an opportunity to first perform a self-assessment in which they can outline three to five strengths and three areas in which they could improve—a major departure from the old process, which looked at more than 20 performance areas. The self-assessment portion is designed to help managers and employees have “an open conversation about performance and goals and effective strategies toward professional development and directing improvement if necessary.”
The training sessions—and additional, optional sessions that will be held a few months from now—emphasized goal-setting and the conversation skills necessary to make the new performance evaluation process worthwhile.
Another distinctive feature of the new process is that the goals employees set must be SMART—“specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented and time-bound”—and must also be directly linked to the employees’ main responsibilities.
In a role-play exercise conducted during the seminar, Hutcheson and Jeanne Bitterman, a lecturer in TC’s AEGIS program, simulated a goal-setting conversation between a supervisor and an employee, and then asked the audience to critique the exchange. When goals did not meet the SMART criteria, it was obvious, as Hutcheson said, that the employee would go back to her or his desk wondering, “Now what is it I’m supposed to do?”
Though “there’s no such thing as a perfect appraisal,” as Burke noted, the new process offers concrete ways for employees and managers to collaborate on goal-setting. That will not only help employees’ own professional development but will also enable departments to make greater progress toward their departmental goals. Following the goal-setting seminars for all TC full-time professional staff, the Office for Diversity and Community Affairs will also host seminars for supervisors and faculty supervisors. The new performance evaluation review process is slated to launch in June 2011.