Performance management in professional working environments is essential.
Organisations like universities need staff to collaborate and to continuously improve. Professional staff like academics, professors and researchers often exercise a lot of control over how they do their work.
Such staff can be challenging to manage, particularly if they are performing at less than their potential.
When it comes to performance management in higher education, there are four mistakes that are often made by first-time university managers.
1. You think performance management is negative
There is often a lack of clarity around what exactly performance management entails.
Some may view it as a way to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of individual educators, while others may see it as a means of assessing overall institutional performance.
Solution: communicate more openly about performance management; celebrate the success of those whose achievements have come about through performance management. Be open and generous with praise. Catch them doing something good!
2. Your measures are ambiguous
Performance metrics can be difficult to define and measure in higher education.
For example, how do you measure the success of a professor or department? Is it based solely on student evaluations, or should research output and grant funding also be taken into account? These questions can be difficult to answer, and there is often disagreement among stakeholders about which metrics are most important.
Solution: think carefully about the measures you use and make them SMART. Invest time in working with individuals and groups, discussing how you can agree a meaningful set of measures that will help staff achieve their best.
3. You create competition
It creates a competitive culture that can be detrimental to collaboration and innovation.
When individuals or departments are pitted against each other in a race to meet performance targets, they may be less likely to share information or work together on projects. This can stifle creativity and hinder progress in the field.
Solution: Use your time with staff to translate shared organisational objectives into goals that encourage collective contributions. To be effective you need to reward collaboration through your actions. Be generous with your praise!
4. You hold individuals to account
When performance management is used to evaluate professional staff it can lead to a focus on individual achievement rather than the success of the institution as a whole.
This can create a sense of isolation and individualism, which can be counterproductive in an academic environment; collaboration and teamwork are key.
Solution: adopt a coaching approach to management. Give continuous feedback and try and catch people doing good things. Place less emphasis on the annual appraisal and foster relationships where the monitoring of performance is ‘light-touch’ but continuous.
Overall, performance management in higher education is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and thoughtful implementation.
By focusing on clear, measurable metrics, fostering collaboration and innovation, promoting a sense of collective accountability, and adopting a coaching mindset, we can create a working environment that supports both individual success and institutional excellence.