Human Resources |
Performance evaluations can be stressful, not just for employees but also for managers at independent schools. Amber Stockham NBOA’s director, human resources programs, spoke with four independent school leaders who have led effective staff evaluations in a recent NBOA webinar. Below is a roundup of some important practices and recommendations for schools.
When determining the best time to administer performance evaluations, the solution is not one-size-fits-all. “Performance evaluations can feel like an add-on to what we already do,” explained said Sara Skinner, director of human resources at Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington. With a staff of nine, for example, an administrator leading long annual reviews may tire out by say, the seventh one, and the exercise may become rushed. “We want to get them done and then go home,” she said. “On the other hand, if you're not evaluating on an anniversary-date basis, you're constantly doing it all the time, and you can get review fatigue.”
“Start simple, because simple is better than nothing. You don't have to be perfect, and you can always build on it later. Having people do a short check-in can make the process seem less like this big, overwhelming thing."
—Sara SkinnerLakeside School
To avoid review fatigue, Skinner suggests thinking about your cycle and what works best for the size of your school and business office. “Start simple, because simple is better than nothing. You don't have to be perfect, and you can always build on it later.” At Lakeside, Skinner has implemented a self-review system in which employees fill out a one-page inventory on what’s working, what’s not working and what they want to focus on in the next review period, which at Lakeside is every six months. “Having people do a short check-in can make the process seem less like this big, overwhelming thing,” said Skinner.
Regardless of when you decide to conduct your evaluations, make sure you’re consistent so that staff know it’s a regular, ongoing part of their employment. Dan Chen, HR compliance manager at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City, suggests having employees review and update their job description to “make sure it’s in line with what employer and employee think it is. We know how much that can change, even in course of a month.”
At Far Hills Country Day School, for instance, administrators review their job descriptions as a team over a three-day retreat each summer. “We all have to re-read all of the other administrators’ job descriptions, so we remember all that our colleagues have to do before we come into a strategic meeting. It’s a great exercise because we remind ourselves, ‘Oh gosh, that person has all these other things to worry about,’” said CFO Lori Fitzgibbon.
The system was especially useful last school year when there was head change mid-year. “We didn’t have time for everybody to have a proper review last year. We had this big, complicated thing and had to go simple on a dime, and it really helped us,” said Fitzgibbon. “What we did instead was try to focus on the essential duties of each person and determine if those duties were performed satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily. I loved the fact that we went simple.”
For schools considering revamping their performance evaluation cycle, both communicating the strategy to employees and building a culture that supports that strategy will be critical. While a school’s evaluation system for faculty is often robust, many schools “either don't have a system for evaluating their staff, or it's more basic and less consistent because it's developed and administered at the department level,” explained Stockham. To get school leadership on board with a comprehensive performance revamp, Skinner suggest school leaders present it as something colleagues will see as strengthening the staff pool, which ultimately supports the academic learning of students.
“Anytime you send something new out into the world, it's going to be much better when you have staff constituencies that have been part of that process,” added Janet Graham, director of human resources at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Maryland. Talk with fellow administrators to ensure they’re in agreement when it comes to the staff or faculty evaluation programs, she said. Then organize a constituency group to communicate the plan to the larger staff population and collect feedback. “You may need to go back to the drawing board, but hopefully you’ll get good feedback before formally rolling out a program,” Graham explained.
For further insight into these topics and many others, including 360-degree evaluations, DEI initiatives and more, view the webinar and slide deck in the NBOA Library (NBOA members and webinar attendees only).
Mission & Motivation: Transparent Performance (Sep/Oct 2021)
Mission & Motivation: Recreating the Performance Measuring Stick (Sep/Oct 2018)
Messy Separations and the Role of Performance Management in Avoiding Them (Sep/Oct 2018)
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