The University Record, July 9, 1996

Performance review, planning doesn't have to be a pain

By Rebecca A. Doyle

Whether you call it performance appraisal, staff evaluation or merit review, the time for what is sometimes an annual face-off between staff members and supervisors has arrived.

In July, most University units conduct annual interviews with staff members, telling them how the administration views their efforts over the past year.

It can be a painful process for both employee and supervisor.

It shouldn't be that way at all, say members of the Performance Planning and Appraisal Project Team. Instead, a much more frequent look at the work and how it is progressing, how it fulfills the mission of the unit and the University, and the staff member's place in that process should happen as part of an ongoing evaluation of the unit.

The team worked for more than a year on searching out models within the U-M that were beginning to address strategic planning and appraisal questions. They hope the resulting report, titled "Building Blocks for Performance Planning and Appraisal," will help units find some guidelines and methods that may work better for them than the annual review process.

"These models have shifted away from the once-a-year supervisor-employee evaluation," says E. Karen Clark, administrative manager at the Institute for Social Research and one of the four team members. "These units focus instead on regular planning sessions for assigned tasks and regular discussions about training and work status issues."

Clark and teammates Gary R. Maki, personnel representative in Human Resources and Affirmative Action (HR/AA); Deborah A. Nystrom, HR/AA staff development associate; and Jack D. Warner, LS&A administrative manager, recommend in the report that discussions about the process of planning and appraisal continue across the campus. They also encourage further exploration of the validity of the link between performance appraisal and the compensation/reward systems, and recommend that the Standard Practice Guide section 201.41---unchanged since 1974---be reviewed and updated to reflect a more comprehensive view of the process of and the purpose for evaluating work performance.

Maki cautions those who look at changing their own systems not to use the models in the report as the sole basis for their own.

"Many of the units were uncomfortable about being used as a definitive model because they are still working on their own processes," he says. "They are not sure everything is 100 percent yet."

The team recommends that the models be used as a basis for discussion within units, with an eye to adapting some pieces of the procedures that may apply to their situation. Discussion should include both supervisors and staff who are reviewed.

"The development process is more important than the models that resulted," Nystrom says. "One recommendation is to develop a cross-functional, cross-level group to discuss their own needs. Ideally, our report should be used as a reference so people don't have to start from scratch."

While the team recommends and encourages group discussion within units of how new planning and performance evaluations might be done, they caution that it is extremely easy to spend a large amount of time on a single piece of the process.

Warner notes that many units on campus want "a quick and easy performance planning system."

"There is none," he continues. "You need to devote time and energy to creating one, and some people think this is too time-consuming."

Clark agrees that the time involved can get out of hand and says that it is one of the things to monitor. "People need to get value back for the time put in or it won't work."

Copies of the report are available for a $6 fee to cover printing expenses through the Office of Academic Affairs, Robert B. Holmes, 6068 Fleming Administration Building 1340.

For more information, call 764-3185 or send e-mail to

Recommendations for developing a performance planning and appraisal system


Establish a design team for your unit that includes a mix of supervisors and non-supervisory employees.


Get sponsorship---permission and support---from the person in your unit who is able to authorize using the new system.


Include an expert on your team or consult one before your plan is implemented. HR/AA representatives and managers in other units who have successfully implemented a system are good sources.


Keep it simple. The goal is to increase the overall effectiveness of the unit, not to add steps that won't also add value.


Link to staff development. Define the unit's views on staff development and training, and make sure the link between training and job performance is strong and vital.


Emphasize continuous feedback. Try to get away from the once-a-year appraisal process.


Look for more feedback sources than the primary supervisor. Keep feedback focused on the work process, not on individuals.


Find a model that seems most relevant to your organization's management philosophy, whether traditional hierarchical management or the newer team approach. If the philosophy is changing, make sure your system reflects those changes.


Don't reinvent the wheel. Use available sources or models with proven success records.


Do a pilot run of your new system for one year, building in a feedback process for evaluation of the system. Don't rush.


Train both supervisors and employees in implementing the new system, perhaps in separate sessions. Provide the same materials for each group and be sure to include messages and concerns from each group to the other. Train management in performance coaching.