Performance review meetings with researchers are an essential part of effective performance management.
Traditional managers might place more emphasis on an annual performance review meeting (or ‘appraisal’) and this could be quite a formal affair. Alternatively, a manager who has adopted a coaching approach might have more frequent meetings with their staff about performance, which are often less formal.
Either way, it’s important to consider the following 12 rules for conducting an effective conversation about your researcher’s performance.
1. Be prepared
Gather information about the researcher’s work, including recent publications, funding applications and project outcomes.
2. Start with positive feedback
Begin the review by highlighting the researcher’s achievements and positive contributions to the university.
3. Be objective
Avoid biases and focus on objective data when evaluating the researcher’s performance. Try and avoid making comparisons with other staff, unless there are useful examples of career trajectories that can inform a conversation about personal development.
4. Provide clear expectations
Provide specific and measurable expectations for the researcher’s future work and how it aligns with the organisation’s goals. Be careful not to impose the university’s goals upon individual researchers. Work with individuals to find ways in which they can contribute to the institution’s mission.
5. Listen actively
Allow the researcher to share their perspective on their performance, and ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.
Less of “have you submitted your grant application yet?” and more “tell me more about what grant applications you have been working on this year”.
6. Identify areas for improvement
Discuss any areas where the researcher’s performance could be developed and improved, and provide specific feedback on how to make progress.
7. Offer support
Provide resources, tools, coaching and/or mentoring to support the researcher’s development and success.
8. Avoid surprises
Discuss any significant changes in the researcher’s role or responsibilities before the review meeting to avoid surprises. Similarly, don’t raise issues of poor performance without discussing them beforehand, outside of the review meeting.
9. Be fair and consistent
Apply the same review criteria and standards to all researchers to ensure fairness and consistency. This doesn’t mean that individual researchers cannot receive different levels of support, but you should be working to develop all staff to meet or exceed current standards.
10. Establish accountability
Set timelines and expectations for improvement, and follow up to ensure that goals are met. SMART objectives help here.
11. Be respectful
Conduct the review in a respectful and professional manner, avoiding criticism or personal attacks.
12. Document the review
Keep written records of the review meeting, including feedback, action plans, and goals, and be sure to share this information with the individual.
This documentation can help track progress and support future reviews. In cases where an individual’s performance becomes an issue, your documentation will help support processes for specifically managing under-performance.