few posts back, I elaborated on why "April is the Cruelest Month" in
Student Affairs, as the recruitment cycle really kicks into high gear
with on-campus. I'd like to add another reason why this time of year
strikes dread in me: employee performance reviews.
I work in
Residence Life at a large university (Penn State) and if there is one
thing we know how to do at large universities, it's sucking the souls
out of people by having established processes for everything. The "Staff Review and Development Plan" or SRDP
, as we call it, is one great example. There is a form and a
process, and even recommended guidelines for describing an employee's overall performance or their commitment to diversity.
These are all practical enough, and giving a standard outline is one
way to approach fairness and avoid lawsuits. But what I struggle with
most is actually giving useful feedback that will help each employee
toward a particular "next step" in life or career.
especially difficult when the feedback needed is constructive. I have
no trouble affirming accomplishments and strengths. People love to hear
what they are good at. But when there is a skill that needs to be
developed, or behavior that needs to be modified, it's harder to craft
the right things to say. For me, the trick is to lean heavily on the
aforementioned guidelines, to refer back to the job description for the
employee, and to give a few suggestions for improvement that I hope the
employee will find palatable, like specialized training and new tasks.
have university-wide performance factors that everyone gets feedback
upon. I always make a point to mention some strength or example of
satisfactory performance for each of these in the strengths section of the review.
For "areas of development, " I only comment on factors where I think
there is a perceived weakness. This keeps a balance on the side of the
positive, even if the weaknesses are significant.
I also try to make sure that I have talked to the employee about any perceived weakness before the review,
unless the feedback was a result of something recent, or from
third-party feedback (for example, resident assistant feedback about
their supervisor). In the case of third-party feedback, whenever
possible, I go back to the person providing feedback and make sure I
have a good idea where the feedback is coming from, and examples, when
appropriate. As a supervisor, though, I feel, it is my job to filter
feedback in context of overall performance and to deliver it in ways
that do not put the feedback provider "in the cross-hairs." This is
difficult, but necessary in some cases, to protect the process. If
people won't give you useful feedback, and you don't pass it along, then you
can't help an employee grow their skills and develop perspective on job
performance, or where they need to concentrate their efforts.
those lines, I will count myself among the many Gen-X managers who
really, REALLY struggle to give ANY kind of feedback to Millennials .
Their high expectations of themselves often lead to receiving feedback
in one of two ways…tell them they are good at something, and they
will hear "you are the best thing since sliced bread;" tell them they
need to improve in some area or refine their approach, and all the
sudden an otherwise good performance review becomes, to the employee, a
personal declaration of war. Add in a university work
culture that emphasizes that most employees should fall in "meets
expectations" (and it isn't perceived by the Xers and Boomers among us as a bad thing), and my last few weeks some semesters is spent cleaning up from the youthquake
that splits the earth between me and some of my Millennial employees. I am left wondering what exactly I should be doing to develop them,
or if I should just assume they will be moving on to something else
anyway, since they all seem to think they are about a year off from a
directorship and 5 years away from a VP position, anyway.
I've gotten some interesting ideas on how to approach the SRDP process with millennials from the Free Management Library , BusinessWeek , and Generations at Work. I've heard Neil Howe speak about Millennials Rising
and even asked him a few questions along these lines after his talk.
I'm convinced that this is the challenge of our era, because we need
more than ever to get good people into this field, and to work on
keeping them. If there's a trick to this, I imagine that it involves us honoring them for their uniqueness, and them respecting that the role of the supervisor is to develop the employee, not simply to praise.
Please consider sharing your ideas on the blog. If you
would prefer not to be so public, send me your ideas and comments at
email@example.com and I will revisit this topic in a later post. If you
are giving reviews to staff (student or professional) this season, good
luck. If you are on the receiving end of the table, same to you.
Hopefully you'll get good feedback, that you were generally expecting,
and that you can do something with, as you plot your pathway to success
as a Student Affairs professional.