When performance metrics are developed in collaboration with staff and treated as a basis for incentivizing and rewarding superior performance, this entails a rethinking of the role and process of supervision. Check-ins between managers and staff, or between department chairs and faculty, can become a structured dialogue centered on the key performance measures and the resources needed to support faculty and staff in achieving success.
We turned to Pat Sanaghan, president of The Sanaghan Group, and Mike Theall, an associate professor at Youngstown State University and a leading thinker on faculty evaluation, to learn more about what more effective supervision for faculty and staff would look like. Here is their advice.
Effective Supervisory Dialogue
Sanaghan, who is publishing a chapter on structured supervisory dialogue in his forthcoming book, How to Actually Build an Exceptional Team, suggests the guiding principle that the focus of supervision has to be the success of the team member in contributing to the unit’s goals. “The dialogue between supervisor is not meant to be critical,” he cautions. “Supervisors need to be asking themselves not how they can correct problems, but how they can incentivize, promote, and reward superior performance.”
To facilitate a productive dialogue with that goal, Sanaghan recommends structuring the annual review around these seven questions for the team member (based loosely on a concept piloted by his colleague Rod Napier):
- When you look back over the past year at your efforts and at your key performance measures, what stands out to you regarding what you have accomplished?
- What have been some important “lessons learned” from the past year?
- What have been some challenges or difficulties you have encountered over the year?
- What are 1-2 areas of “needed development” to work on this year? (How will you enhance your effectiveness?)
- What are some things you would like to accomplish over the next 6-12 months? (Please provide a rationale for each goal and a way to measure progress toward it)
- What education or training do you think you will need to be successful this upcoming year?
- How can I support you as your supervisor?
This approach requires that both supervisor and staff know what questions will need to be addressed and what metrics will be referred to in order to benchmark success. Both supervisor and staff can then come prepared for a productive discussion and a negotiation of shared goals for the next year. This approach provides the basis for shared accountability and for establishing a supervisor/staff relationship that is focused on improving performance and supporting staff in reaching the next level in their efforts.
Between Annual Reviews
Sanaghan and Theall both stress the importance of ongoing conversation and regular check-ins. In the case of faculty, who work more autonomously than many staff, Theall recommends that the chair approach the faculty near the end of their first year -– or even earlier –- for an initial check-in. If your faculty are setting annual goals, progress toward those goals and support needed to pursue them can be the focus of the check-in. Also, ensure that ongoing faculty mentorship is available from the time of the new faculty member’s arrival in the department.
ENSURING THAT FACULTY MENTORING IS MEANINGFUL AND EFFECTIVE
Read this March 2010 article to review several best practices for faculty mentoring.
“Good managers,” Theall comments, “help people succeed by creating environments where they have the greatest opportunities to succeed and then providing regular feedback so they can make necessary adjustments.”
"It’s important for the chair to be informed and up to date about the progress of a faculty member, particularly with new faculty. If you wait until the fourth year before giving any substantive feedback about expectations and performance, then you’re not doing them much of a service."
Mike Theall, Youngstown State University
For staff in the administrative divisions, Sanaghan recommends informal check-ins on a monthly basis. “This could be a lunch, this could be coffee, this could be blocking an hour to discuss how things are going, what challenges are coming up, what support may be needed.” Doing the math to identify how much of the supervisor’s time would be committed to these regular check-ins and reviews, Sanaghan notes that a manager overseeing eight direct reports would need to devote 5-7 percent of his or her time to the work of supervision.
“This may feel like a lot of time,” Sanaghan remarks, “but this process actually saves time. Instead of devoting hours to putting out fires and solving problems, you are instead checking in regularly and addressing items long before they become real issues.”
TAILORING METRICS AND SUPERVISION TO INDIVIDUAL FACULTY
Mike Theall recommends approaching performance metrics and supervision with considerable flexibility. “Not everyone will be a champ in everything,” he notes. “A strong department has an array of faculty with skills that together address the most important things we need to get done. Rather than penalize faculty who are strong in one area and weak in another, use flexible performance measures to help drive and reward an individual faculty member’s development. The instructor might say, ‘I want 70 percent of my evaluation in this year’s annual review to be focused on teaching effectiveness.’ Next year, the instructor might say, ‘Okay, I feel more confident in my teaching, let’s allocate more points to scholarship this year.’ In the absence of this structured flexibility, what typically happens is that new faculty are under a lot of pressure to achieve everything at once: get high student ratings, participate on 12 committees, churn out publications and research. But that’s a miserable way to treat people. Set individualized yearly goals that allow faculty to develop strengths and that allow you to reward their progress along the way.”