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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

June 7, 2007

ISU team is drafting performance management program for P&S staff

by Anne Krapfl

If the development process stays on schedule, Professional and Scientific employees will begin using a performance management program early next spring. In the human resources arena, performance management is a comprehensive method for setting employee goals and measures for meeting them, and tracking and evaluating an employee's progress toward them. It builds in consequences for meeting and not meeting performance expectations and requires regular, two-way communication between managers and their employees.

"From what we're hearing, sometimes there seems to be a big disconnect between what a manager communicates the job is, and what the employee understands his or her job is," said Carla Espinoza, associate vice president for human resource services and a member of the team developing the new program. "It's fair that you get evaluated on what you're supposed to do ... but sometimes someone has to tell you what that is.

"I know it's hard to believe, but for some employees in some units, this may represent a fairly dramatic culture shift," she added.

Consistent, fair play

Iowa State's decentralized structure has led to a variety of policies and a trainload of procedures when it comes to performance evaluation of the wide variety of P&S jobs, Espinoza said.

"Employees should be able to ask 'How do I measure up?' and get an answer," Espinoza said. "Right now, many units don't have relevant or consistent measures and a good system to communicate them."

She emphasized that a performance management program is more than a mechanism for documenting performance for the purpose of awarding salary increases. It also encourages learning on the job and promotes fair play, she said.

A performance management program wouldn't change the structure of the current P&S classification/compensation system. Rather, all employees in the system would use it.

From an employee's perspective, an effective performance management program provides:

  • A clear understanding of work objectives
  • Work that is meaningful with clear connections to broader unit and university goals
  • Safety in the workplace
  • Opportunities for growth on the job
  • A good relationship with his or her manager and co-workers

From a manager's perspective, an effective performance management program improves:

  • Employee productivity
  • Employee job satisfaction
  • The quality of service or products provided by the unit
  • Innovation on the job
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Team building

Development timeline

A nine-member team is working in three sub-committees to develop a performance management model for Iowa State. The sum of their work will become a model draft by late October. That process will include some focus group sessions, not for drafting purposes, but "to share pieces of the model or specific issues with them," Espinoza said.

The months of November through January 2008 are intended to be for training on the performance management model. That could be an online process or done in small groups of managers. By February, the performance management program should be ready for use.

Training, while a key part of any performance management program, is a tough one for Iowa State, Espinoza said.

"We're so decentralized," she explained. "While we don't know yet exactly what the training module will look like, my hope is that it will include giving supervisors various drafts, boiler plate language and guides for conversations with their employees. We don't have to reinvent the wheel for this to be successful; there are many successful models out there. But we do need to acknowledge that this is a priority."

Espinoza said research has shown that a supervisor's verbal interaction with his or her employees is the hardest part of evaluation, especially when the news isn't positive.

"As a supervisor, I'm more likely to have to defend a negative evaluation and, frankly, this is too much like confrontation," she said. "I know only a handful of people who thrive on confrontation."

Nowhere is it more evident than in communicating about performance that the "soft skills" are the toughest part of supervisory responsibilities, Espinoza said.


Members of the Performance Management Program and Policy team:

  • Brenda Behling, Provost Office
  • Tim Cook, Human Resource Services
  • Carla Espinoza, Human Resource Services
  • Lorraine Hoffman, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab
  • Kevin Kane, P&S Council
  • Kathryn Overberg, University Counsel Office
  • Michelle Stotts, IT Services
  • David Whaley, Human Sciences administration
  • Richard Wrage, ISU Extension, Boone County