How you doin’?

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Evaluations. People have argued the many different, “best” ways to do them, or argued to get rid of them all together. You may love them, hate them, see them as a necessary evil, or be entirely indifferent to them, but at my library, they are here to stay.

Evaluations are an opportunity within the larger performance management cycle to assess and adjust expectations and performance. If the cycle is managed properly, performance evaluations are just one step in a larger, year-long process that feeds into the library’s goals and strategic plan.

When I came here, evaluations were inconsistent and unstandardized. Every year since 2008, we’ve learned a little bit more about what works for us and made incremental improvements. Here’s how we do it now:

Goal-setting: Strategic plan goals lead to annual library goals, which lead to departmental goals, which lead to individual goals. This way, we ensure that we are following the strategies approved by the library board and supported by our own research and data. The management team discusses goals in advance, particularly when goals will overlap departments, to make sure all of the affected managers are on board. Employees have the opportunity to suggest goals, too, as part of their self-evaluation. The goals follow the SMART template: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound.

Progress meetings: Managers meet with individual employees at least once during the year, sometimes as often as monthly, to review their progress on goals. Sometimes goals are abandoned because of environmental or situational factors–stuff happens. Sometimes they are adjusted based on new information. Sometimes the employee has questions or needs guidance. Sometimes new goals are added as the year unfolds. The managers keep notes throughout the year as well as notes from these meetings–this really helps when it’s time to write the evaluations, because you have a broad view of the employee’s entire year, not just that week or that month when you are writing evaluations. Some managers keep electronic notes, others handwrite notes and keep them in physical folders–whatever works best for each manager.

Self-evaluation: In the fall, each employee completes a self-evaluation, reviewing progress on/completion of their goals, summarizing their year overall, and talking about their achievements, contributions, lessons learned, and how they furthered our mission and strategic plan. They are also asked to suggest goals for the coming year, as described above. If the employee wants the self-evaluation included with their evaluation, there is a box to check and line to sign before they turn it in to their manager.

Evaluation & Goal-setting: Each manager completes an evaluation for every employee, referring to the self-evaluation, personnel file, job description, and the manager’s notes from throughout the year. There are standard rubrics in the evaluation form, divided into categories such as Quality of Work, Communication, Adaptability, and Judgment, with scores ranging from 1 to 5: Unsatisfactory, Inconsistent/Developing, Effective/Fully Functioning, Highly effective, and Exceptional. In addition to these general rubrics, managers also pull specific job duties from the job descriptions. The first half of the evaluation reviews the prior year, and the second half sets goals for the coming year. The goal-setting follows the same format I described above.

Calibration: The library director (that’s me) reads every evaluation–my library has about 100 employees. I make specific notes and ask specific questions, but I am also looking for consistency of scoring within the department and across the library. I have managers who are tough graders and others who are easier graders; while I try not to muzzle their personalities, I do nudge them when needed. Usually my questions center on, “Is this performance really Exceptional, or is that performance what you expect from every employee (which would make it Fully Functioning)?” I ask for additional comments and examples to justify individual scores, and I ask questions to ensure that nothing in the evaluation will be a surprise to the employee. I review the goals and ask questions about those, too.

This is not a rubber-stamp situation for me; to date, I have had comments and questions for every manager, every year. I write the managers’ evaluations after I have approved their employee evaluations, because one of the things managers are reviewed on is how they did with their employees’ performance management.

Compensation:  Scores are tabulated and the available merit pool for raises (if any–we didn’t have raises for three years due to budget cuts) is divided based on the scores. This part is a combination of science and art–there are usually natural breaks in scoring where clear lines can be drawn (below this line is 2%, above this line is 2.5%), but when my HR manager does the math sometimes we end up making minor adjustments (below this line is 2.15%, above this line is 2.45%) so that all of the merit pool is allocated. While no one has directly asked me to explain it, having a methodology for calculating increases give me peace of mind; if anyone asks, I have an answer that is clear and defensible, which was not previously the case.

Review meeting: Managers meet with each employee to discuss the evaluation and goals and deliver the compensation information (if applicable). Each employee has two weeks to submit a written statement to attach to the evaluation if they desire, to be included in their personnel file. In this way, employees have the first (self-evaluation) and the last (written statement) word when it goes in their file.

Job description updates: Within the first quarter of the new year, managers recommend necessary changes to job descriptions. Reviewing job descriptions annually helps us keep them updated and relevant, and after the evaluations have been delivered is a natural time to do it since we’ve just been referring to them.

Performance Management form updates: We’ve tweaked the self-evaluation and evaluation forms each year based on manager feedback, staff feedback, and benchmarking. For example, staff have previously requested the opportunity to give feedback about their managers, so this year we added a question to the self-evaluation about how your manager is supporting you currently and how s/he could improve in the future. We got feedback from other staff that they didn’t like it in the self-evaluation, though, so we’ll be working this year to strike a balance between the two. We will also be working on Core Competencies to include in the 2014 evaluations.

And then the cycle begins anew. For most employees, the only part they know or care about is the self-evaluation and evaluation, and that’s understandable. As library leaders, my managers and I see the full cycle; the bulk of our work on this may not readily visible to frontline staff, but the entire performance management cycle is important to our library’s success.

What about you: What is the performance management process at your library?

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Buff vs. Cream

exixbuffSXTrue story – A long time ago, a manager I worked for was making a decision about stationery for the company letterhead.  The color choices were buff and cream. To my eye, there was no difference. Several of us watched this poor woman obsess for hours on the buff vs. cream decision. Employees were polled. Meetings were held. To this day, I have no idea which color won. In my career, both in and out of libraries, I have been held hostage by buff vs. cream decisions. People get bogged down by decisions like this all the time.

Libraries are very vulnerable to the buff vs. cream problem.  Try to remember your last staff or committee meeting. I remember a meeting when we were supposed to be discussing the OPAC and 80% of the meeting was devoted to the color of the text. Granted, you want to have text that is visible, but seriously – that shouldn’t have taken more than few minutes of discussion. Naturally, everyone had an opinion.

Are you venturing into buff vs. cream territory? Check yourself on a few things.

What is the cost of the issue in question? Are we talking about a decision involving thousands of dollars on a technology overhaul, or are we talking about weeding a two dollar paperback? Budget your obsession time accordingly.

What is the worst that could happen? I am often working with newbies (and veteran library staff) that are paralyzed by possibly making the “wrong” decision. Generally speaking, there are very few life and death decisions that library employees have to make.  Use your best judgment and make your decision, and then own it.

Have you gathered all the relevant information? You are information professional so make yourself your patron.

I know everyone out there that has ever worked anywhere has seen this in action in other people. I would be willing to bet that everyone reading this has been in some meeting where people debated lunch options more than any particular library issue.  Unfortunately, this will probably happen for the rest of your working life. You can manage your own decisions and productivity by reminding yourself of the buff vs. cream scenario from time to time.

Running Effective Meetings

meetingWe’ve all been in meetings that go on and on forever with no clear agenda or direction.  It is absolutely painful.  Running an efficient and useful meeting is a wonderful skill to learn!

The first thing to consider, before even scheduling a meeting, is its objective.  Many organizations have regular weekly or monthly staff, committee, or departmental meetings at the same time and place regularly.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the objective of those meetings is clear.  Perhaps the objective is simply to share status reports – who’s working on what? Who needs help? What came up this week that everyone should be aware of?  Other meetings are convened more impulsively, with the objective of making a decision or brainstorming about something specific.  As long as the meeting has a clear purpose, it’s worth having.

Next, the person who called the meeting needs to allow everyone to participate.  Have you ever been to a meeting where one person dominates the conversation, and even goes so far off-topic that the meeting turns into a big waste of time? It is the role of the meeting facilitator (who may or may not be the person who called the meeting in the first place) to work the flow of the conversation, to keep everyone on-topic, and to encourage everyone to participate.  That person needs to be aware of how much time each participant gets, when creative brainstorming has gone off-topic, and how and when to draw out those who are present but not participating.

Another thing to consider is meeting space and setup.  For a quick Monday morning “here’s the plan for this week” meeting, perhaps it is appropriate for the staff to stand up around the break room for five minutes.  For a mid-week status report meeting, you may need a board room with chairs and a half hour.  For a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a new service, you may want to go as far as setting up computer equipment like a laptop and projector.  The space and setup should reflect the objective of the meeting.

Finally, follow-through and follow-up are crucial.  If someone needs to take and report meeting minutes, that should be made as efficient as possible.  Some organizations use a staff blog to share minutes so that information is as transparent and accessible as possible.  In other places and certain types of meetings, the information is sensitive and should not be shared outside of the meeting attendants.  (Disciplinary meetings, for example.)  Also, specific people should be assigned “action items” and required to follow through on those assignments.  Subsequent communications or meetings may be necessary to share outcomes, and managers need to follow up with staff about work assigned in meetings.  It is equally annoying to spend time in a meeting and come up with great ideas, only to have someone drop the ball completely.

Meetings are a necessary part of most work environments because they foster communication.  Running an effective meeting is a skill that will lead a staff to greater success.  It will also create trust in the leaders who run them – trust that staff time is appreciated and valuable, and that the work being done in the organization matches its mission and goals.