When you hear the words “Employee Evaluation” what are the first feelings that come to mind? Anxiety? Fear? Stress? Uncertainty? Without question, the employee evaluation is often seen as one of the most disliked and dreaded events of the year.
Despite the poor public perception, evaluations are a necessary part of the job. In fact, the employee evaluation may be one of the most pivotal annual events. In his book High Output Management Andy Grove suggests, “Giving performance reviews is the single most important form of task-relevant feedback we as supervisors can provide. The review will influence a subordinate's performance - positively or negatively - for a long time, which makes the appraisal one of the manager's highest-leverage activities.” (pg. 182)
When I reflect upon the disdain shown towards the evaluative process, I believe much of the resentment is a result of the lack of transparency on the behalf of management. From my experience both as a teacher and as an evaluator, discussion about employee evaluation is often avoided and the process is often ambiguous.
In an attempt to both explain the evaluative process and promote a culture of transparency, I recently sent a memo to our staff summarizing our philosophy behind performance management. Although I did not discuss the evaluative conversations themselves, I wanted to provide an overview of steps leading to those conversations. The paragraphs below provide a summary of the message:
“If we want to be a high-performing district we must have high expectations for staff members. While I have been clear we want to make STC a great place to work for our employees, I also believe we have to hold all staff members accountable to high performance. While others may say these two ideas (high staff morale and staff accountability) don't work together, my belief is that staff morale will be at its highest when all staff members are expected to do great things.
I realize there have been questions about how myself and our admin team go about handling staff performance evaluations. Here is a quick summary:
Each semester, I meet with each building administrative team. This team includes the following: Building Principal, Building Assistant Principal, Director of Curriculum/Student Services, Myself
The four of us discuss all staff members in the building - we discuss both certified and classified staff. This process usually takes between 90 and 120 minutes.
As we discuss each employee - we attempt to find group consensus on employee strengths as well as any possible areas for growth
Once we have discussed every employee, we return to employees who have areas of growth we believe need to be supported
Collectively, our team determines what support will be given to which employee(s)
Typical support includes assistance from instructional coaches, the AEA, administrator and/or director support, or other professional development opportunities
Clear action steps are delegated within our group in terms of which administrator is assigned to provide follow-up support with which staff member(s)
I have been very happy with the support that our staff members are given during this process. In a majority of situations, we have seen tremendous growth from staff members. In other situations where growth as not occurred as quickly as we had hoped, I have been happy with the commitment of our administrators to engage in ongoing dialogue with employees to determine how we can better-provide coaching and assistance.
There are two other ideas I would like to highlight
I am very clear to our administrative team that they must collect evidence of performance as opposed to going off of perceptions or opinions of staff members. It can be easy to make decisions based on personality conflicts and the rumor mill. However, we have been clear that we must avoid making subjective decisions, and instead focus on actual data to support performance evaluation. Administrators are expected to collect several pieces of objective data before any intensive plans for assistance are considered.
I have been adamant with our administrators that we must not forget to provide positive feedback to our employees. Often times we are all guilty (myself included!) about nitpicking small areas for improvement while many areas of strength go unnoticed or unmentioned. Our admin team is directed to be intentional about providing positive feedback to employees for the purpose of not only strengthening relationships, but also to provide the confidence needed to do the job at a high level.
If you are really curious, you can see all expectations I have for our administrators which have been laid out in this three-page STC School Administration Expectations and Responsibilities sheet. Of particular interest, you might want to read the section on Page 2 under "Other Administrative Responsibilities." This section could provide additional context in terms of my expectations when it comes to performance evaluation.”
The approach listed above may not be commonplace in other districts, but we have found this process to be highly effective. Not only have we found this approach to be helpful to the evaluator, we also believe this process is fair to the employee.
After implementing the system above for a number of years, I was ecstatic to discover that none other than Robert Marzano promotes a similar approach to performance management. In his book Leading a High Reliability School Marzano explains, “Evaluators should not conduct observations uniformly across all teachers. Instead, they need to deploy their tie where teachers need it most in order to address different needs and levels of teacher growth in their school. For this reason, leaders should consider dividing the teaching staff into three specific tiers for evaluation purposes. By establishing evaluation tiers, administrators can more effectively allocate evaluation time where teachers need it most. Administrators should periodically reflect on different teachers and determine who should move to a different tier.” (pg. 93)
I doubt the employee evaluation will ever be viewed with as much enthusiasm as the day before winter break or a team making it to State. However, my hope is by openly discussing the evaluative process our staff will appreciate and embrace the system.