In 2011, the University of Iowa’s Academic Advising Center earned national recognition from the National Academic Advising Association, NACADA, for exemplary practices in performance reviews.
NACADA published a report written by Paula Kerezsi, senior associate director of the Academic Advising Center and a UI alumna who has worked at the center since 1995, explaining these practices.
Following recommendations from campus constituents, University Human Resources discontinued use of the Success Factors software and has developed a new tool.
The new performance review tool replaces the four-point rating scale with a five-point scale, allows documents to be uploaded or attached, and provides more flexibility to better tailor the review to individual unit needs. Learn more.
As the March 31 deadline for performance reviews across campus approaches, Iowa Now spoke with Kerezsi, as well as Courtenay Bouvier, a senior academic advisor who joined the Academic Advising team in 2010, to learn about the performance review practices that won their office acclaim.
1. Have conversations when they aren’t required: Fuel a year-round dialogue.
Kerezsi says that a performance review is an ongoing, year-round, two-way conversation. It’s not just something you do once a year.
“It’s very easy to reduce performance reviews to an information transaction—a ‘here’s what you need to know,’” says Kerezsi. “But in truth, like good advising a good performance review has a relationship behind it.”
To maintain this relationship, Kerezsi advises supervisors to initiate conversations with employees when they aren’t necessary and to make sure to praise good work. This creates a work environment where knocking on an employee’s door isn’t an ominous or tense experience.
She also recommends that employees discuss concerns as they arise.
“If you have a concern about your work, don’t save it for your annual meeting,” she says. “That doesn’t help either side. The second it enters your head, that’s when supervisors want to hear about it. Your life can get better tomorrow.”
2. Be transparent.
If supervisors and employees are having ongoing conversations about performance, says Kerezsi, no one should be surprised by what is said or written during a performance review. “And that holds true for exceptional performances as well as those that need improvement,” she says.
In addition, Kerezsi makes sure to inform employees in advance about the aspects of their performance that the AAC’s directors will review and makes sure that the qualities she’s told staff are important are the qualities upon which they are evaluated. This makes the review transparent.
“We try to set people up for success,” she says.
3. Create a culture of teamwork and reflection.
This kind of office culture requires both informal and formal efforts. Informally, Kerezsi relies on her employees’ differing areas of expertise, approaches employees for help and advice, and when staff ask her for advice, she often asks them what options they’ve already considered.
“That encourages them to reflect,” says Kerezsi, “and it recognizes their own autonomy and style, building teamwork.”
Formally, the Academic Advising Center’s process includes more than one person’s feedback on each review, ensuring a more rounded evaluation that recognizes the employee’s collaborative work.
Bouvier, a senior academic advisor, is a strong advocate for reflecting on the past year’s work.
“I believe the depth of reflection that is required to complete a performance review is one of its greatest assets because it allows the review process to be driven by the employee,” she says. “And it allows the employee to learn or gain as much as she or he wants to.”
4. Create opportunities for growth and development.
“The outcome of directed reflection will lead to growth, learning, and more growth, which is always beneficial,” says Bouvier. “It keeps the job interesting too.”
Kerezsi describes performance reviews as a time when supervisors and employees can check in about whether their work is novel and rewarding enough to sustain interest in their career. She works to structure job responsibilities so an employee has opportunities to explore professional interests related to their work, and she has ongoing conversations with employees about readiness for promotion.
“Growth and development opportunities are essential for any professional position,” says Kerezsi. “No one wants to be stagnant in their work—at least I hope not.”
5. Solicit feedback about the process.
Like good advising, you can see if your methods are working in the eyes of the person you’re talking to, Kereszi says.
Sometimes those signs are overt, such as Bouvier’s enthusiasm for a performance review, and sometimes the signs are more subtle.
“Our staff, in general, tend to write a lot on their performance reviews,” says Kerezsi, “which can mean that they’re invested in the process.”
She also checks in with employees about whether the performance review was meaningful and asks them what could be improved. Kerezsi has made adjustments based on employee feedback.
“The very fact that they want to contribute to making our internal process better tells me that they’re invested,” she says.