Guide to Performance Management

Performance Management CyclePerformance management is the foundation for employee performance and engagement. Performance management is larger than the annual performance review. The process includes setting clear and specific expectations, and providing specific and ongoing feedback both informal and formal. When elements of Performance Management are completed in a thoughtful and coherent manner, with active engagement of both manager and staff member, the results for all parties (including the University as a whole) are very positive.

This critical dialogue between managers and their staff members sets the platform for ongoing coaching, and ultimately the final performance appraisal, at the end of the fiscal year.

What’s in it for you to work at being a better performance manager?

  • You are able to consistently ensure that your team is working toward the University’s and your school or department’s strategies and goals.
  • You are confident that you are being fair and consistent with your staff members.
  • You have solid data and observations to use as the basis for recognition and reward decisions.
  • You have created an environment in which people can grow and develop their skills – enhancing their own capabilities and their contribution and commitment to the University.


Step 1: Planning Performance

Establish Performance Focus

It is important to focus the performance plan on those elements or actions that you want the staff member to spend his or her time on. There are usually two distinct components to the performance focus:

Job Role: The day-to-day functional responsibilities of the staff members job. Start with the job description if you have one. If not, work with the staff member to identify the five to seven key things that comprise the staff member's job. concentrate on what the person does generally, for example "develops..., maintains..., manages...", etc. If your list is long, combine the elements that produce the same output. Select as may areas of focus as you think are manageable.

Special Projects or Assignments: Often staff members will be assigned large projects that are part of their annual performance goals. These projects are usually related to the staff member's job role, but focus on initiatives larger than completion of day-to-day tasks. Special projects could include things like documentation of new procedures, finding ways to improve a process, or implementing new systems.

Articulate Performance Goals

Your role as the Supervisor of others is to identify and communicate your department's overall objectives to your staff, and translate them into individual objectives.

Discussing and reaching agreement on objectives at the beginning of the cycle, in addition to providing periodic feedback and modifications as needed, will lead to a successful end of the cycle appraisal discussion with minimal anxiety and no suprises.

The number of goals (typically 3-5 for each individual) should reasonably reflect the most important accomplishments required for success. Consider the work to be done, and the desired result. Describing the goals using the three elements below will increase the probability of you and your staff member having the same understanding of the goal.

Outcome: An outcome describes what needs to be achieved. Outcomes will vary in scope. Some performance goals may be single tasks. Other performance goals may be large scale projects. For example: To improve the resopnse time required for student inquiries.

Measurement: the measurement describes how both you and your staff member will describe the work to be done and assess whether the goal has been successfully completed. For example: Reduce the response time required for student inquiries from the current 10.5 hours to 7.5 hours.

Timeframe: The timeframe establishes a specific target date for the results to be achieved. Establishing a clear timeline enables the staff member to set appropriate priorities when completing multiple tasks. It also avoids differing assumptions between staff members and managers about the priority of the task. For example: Reduce the response time required for student inquiries from the current 10.5 hours to 7.5 hours by the end of the fall semester.

Questions to ask yourself when writing goals:

  • How does this goal support school or department goals?
  • What do you expect to be accomplished by the end?
  • Why is this important?
  • Who does this benefit?
  • Who is involved?
  • Due date?
  • How? (action steps)
  • How will you know when the objective is achieved? (measures/observations/completion/accuracy)
  • Is there any room for misinterpretation on the part of the staff member?

Align Performance Goals with the School/Department Goals

As a manager it is your responsibility to communicate clearly to your staff the relevance and alignment of the performance goals you just articulated with the higher level goals of the school or department (or your own performance goals). The main questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do the goals that I've just articulated for my staff member link to the overall goals of the school/department in a clear way?
  • Will my staff see how their work contributes to the goals of the school or department?

Build and Confirm the Plan

The extent to which you detail the specific actions you expect your staff member to take will depend on the requirements of your school or department performance management process, and your assessment of the staff members' current performance on tasks similar in nature to the defined goals.

For staff members with lower current performance levels, you will want to have a direct role in specifying the actions required to meet the performance goals. Staff members with higher levels of performance will be able to develop their plans more independently.

The probability of goals being achieved increases significantly with detailed planning. Consider who should own building the action plan. Whether you, the staff member, or both of you build the plan, it is the manager's responsibility to ensure that a viable plan is established.

Key Points to Remember

  • Effective performance planning considers both the day-to-day job focus as well as project-oriented goals.
  • Performance goals should be stated clearly and succinctly. Both the staff member and manager should have a clear picture of the expected outcome, how success will be measured, and the timeframe in which the work will be done.
  • Managers should be able to describe to staff members how their individual work contributes to the goals of the school or department.
  • The probability of performance goals being achieved increases with detailed planning.


Professional Development

Professional development initiatives may include new projects, stretch assignments, project team leadership, job shadowing, cross training, multi-disciplinary team initiatives, relevant higher education, job role, or industry conferences, and professional development courses available through the Learning & Development team.


Step 2: Coaching Performance

Determine Coaching Requirements

Coaching is providing ongoing feedback to your staff members and can be either positive or constructive in nature. As a manager you have a responsibility to provide ongoing coaching to your staff members based on their needs in either formalized meetings and/or on an ad hoc basis.

Coaching requirements are not the same for all staff members.

In fact, coaching requirements are not even consistent for one staff member as he or she works on different tasks. Staff members have differing levels of skill for all the tasks they perform. As an effective coach, you need to be aware of the areas where your staff member requires support.

Staff members who have lower levels of performance may require greater coaching support. Staff members who have higher levels of performance may require less coaching support.

Coaching takes place throughout the year. How frequently you meet to discuss progress will depend on two things: the expectations of your school/department, and the performance levels you have identified for each of the tasks required to achieve the performance goals.

Confirm with your staff how frequently you will meet to assess progress. Be explicit about whether you or the staff member is responsible for establishing your meetings. Continue to discuss development needs and keep ongoing documentation of both accomplishments and development needs.

Tips for both informal and formal coaching opportunities with your staff:

  • Focus on the most important priorities.
  • Describe specific situations and behavior.
  • Focus on the work, not the individual; relate feedback to goals and expectations.
  • Balance positive and constructive statements.
  • Try to see things from their perspective; share your own experiences, if relevant.
  • Present corrective feedback in a positive, action-oriented way.
  • Ensure that the individual understands by asking him or her to summarize.
  • Follow up to monitor improvements and set follow-up dates.

Provide Ongoing Coaching Against the Performance Plan

People need reinforcement, especially when developing new skills and abilities or addressing new challenges. A key responsibility of a good coach is to find the situations where staff members are doing well, and provide detailed, positive feedback. Similarly when coaches observe ineffective work or behavior, they have a responsibility to provide feedback which highlights what is not going well, and how it can be addressed.

Clear the Path: Providing What They Need

As part of the coaching process, managers must ensure that the staff member has the time, resources and information required to execute the requested assignments. There are two aspects to clearing the path for your staff members:

  1. Resolving any barriers that are impeding progress
  2. Leveraging enablers that will accelerate achievement of results

As manager work to resolve barriers and leverage enablers, they create a supportive environment for their staff members.

Key Points to Remember

  • Managers should determine how much coaching staff members need for each of the tasks or goals assigned. A staff member may need significant coaching on one task and be able to complete others quite independently.
  • Coaching is an ongoing process which takes place in formal meetings, as well as in ad hoc conversations.
  • Managers have the responsibility to clear the path for staff members -- removing barriers and leveraging enables of success.

Step 3: Reviewing Performance

About Reviewing Performance

Throughout each step of the Performance Management Process, you have provided direction, feedback and support to your staff members as they progressed through their assigned work.

  • At least once a year you will be expected to formally review the performance of your staff, and provide written feedback.
  • Reviewing Performance, the final step in Performance Management, is heavily dependent on the previous two steps. In order to be able to provide accurate and balanced performance reviews, it is essential that managers take the time to do a quality job in establishing performance goals and coaching.
  • The notes you created about initial goals and progress throughout the reporting period will enable you to approach the final performance review with clarity and confidence. The final feedback should contain no surprises for either the manager or the staff member.
  • Each element of Reviewing Performance should be completed by both manager and staff member, with the manager having responsibility for documenting the final performance appraisal.

Review Actual Results

There’s nothing like facts to focus a performance review meeting. Both the staff member and manager should compare what the staff member achieved against the stated performance goal (Outcome/Measurement/ Timeframe). Additionally, you should review how the staff member achieved those results. Consider your school or department's stated or generally understood values.

  • Are there particular behaviors your school or department promotes – integrity, collaboration, valuing diversity, continuous learning, etc.?
  • What actions did the staff member take to achieve the results?
  • How did the staff member behave with others to achieve results?
  • Were there special circumstances that made the goal particularly challenging?

This assessment of results allows you to provide feedback about:

  • What was achieved
  • Strengths that can be recognized and leveraged, and
  • Challenges that require further coaching and improvement

Provide Feedback on Results

The feedback you provide to your staff member will include two categories of work: performance in an ongoing job role and accomplishments on assigned goals or projects. The feedback should:

  • Reflect the time available for each type of work. If an individual is expected to spend 90% of their time on daily job responsibilitiesand 10% of their time on projects, then the feedback should reflect that ratio.
  • Be balanced, with input from both staff member and manager, and with acknowledgment of both positive and negative experiences through the review period.
  • Include reflection by both manager and staff member. The purpose is to assess what has happened, but also to identify ways in which the staff member, the manager, or the school or department could have created even better results.
  • Be based on your direct observations or on validated input from reliable sources.

Determine Performance Ratings

Managers must assign the ratings in a consistent fashion for all staff members. in order to do this, you must first clearly understand the University's rating system. Explaining the rating method to staff members prior to discussing individual scores will allow them to understand their results in an appropriate context.

The Columbia University rating system in the recommended Performance Appraisal form is below. You must understand, and be able to explain, how you determined the overall rating for the work you are reviewing.

Exceeds Expectations: Performance was clearly superior, consistently exceeded the expectations and the requirements of the position.

Meets Expectations: Performance met the expectations and the requirements of the position. Meets the high performance standards of the School or Department.

Needs Improvement: Performance was inconsistent with regard to the expectations and the requirements of the position. Steps must be taken to further develop targeted areas which will improve overall performance.

Does Not Meet Expectations: Performance was below standard with regard to the expectations and the requirements of the position. Steps must be taken to improve overall performance.

It is helpful to allow the staff member to assess their own performance, including their view of the rating score because:

Encouraging discussion about why they selected the rating can lead to productive insights.

It allows the staff member to articulate the things they did well, that support a positive rating. It allows the staff member to examine ideas about the tangible differences that would have allowed a higher score.

These insights can be used in the final element of Reviewing Performance, as you both consider opportunities for this staff member's ongoing development.

Build Plans for Further Development

Building plans for further development is a logical and positive final step of the review process. The staff member's perception of this activity is derived from the manager's approach throughout the whole Performance Management process because:

  • If the manager has consistently used the Performance Management Process to guide and enrich the capability of the staff member, this step will be viewed with enthusiasm and interest.
  • If the process has been judgmental and not supportive, then this step will be viewed as an administrative requirement which will not receive attention and action.

The areas that are selected for development should be clearly defined, in much the same manner as the original performance goals that were established using the Outcome, Measurement, Timeframe format.

The staff member should be able to see how the new skills or knowledge will be acquired, and how they are expected to be applied - to the current job role, and as preparation for future job roles. Specifically:

  • If the planned development is a requirement to achieve satisfactory performance in the current job role, then the specifications for achieving the development must be very precise, with tightly controlled timelines.
  • If the development efforts are focused on longer-term staff member development, for a job role that may not yet be determined, the timeliness may be more relaxed.

Key Points to Remember

  • Involving staff members in each element of reviewing performance will allow greater engagement and acceptance of the final performance review.
  • Reviewing results at the end of the performance cycle should be focused on facts.
  • Consideration should be given to how results were achieved, as well as what was achieved.
  • Managers must be able to explain the overall performance rating they assign. They must have a clear understanding of what would have made the performance scores higher or lower.
  • Plans for future development may include addressing specific requirements for current job performance or longer term development for future roles.