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Performance management essentials: group training is the place to start

Just one year ago, six months into her new job as executive director of UC’s Research Grants Program Office (RGPO), Mary Croughan took a bold step.

Perceiving that her 36-person department needed a recharge following UCOP’s recent reorganization, she put her entire management team through HR’s Performance Management Series of classes. That was followed by several all-staff meetings to pass the wisdom along to every RGPO employee.

The goal? To establish a common, department-wide set of detailed competencies and performance standards specific to RGPO’s work. The exercise would be the foundation for a new culture of regular self-appraisals and performance assessments, collaborative goal setting, and alignment of individual goals with organizational goals.

“Who knows whether it was brave or just luck,” Croughan says. “It’s not perfect, but it has resulted in a massive improvement in our overall principles of community, our teamwork and our mutual respect.” The standards serve as a guide for the entire team to do quarterly check-ins that ease the pain of annual performance reviews.

The Performance Management Series is a sequence of four classes offered by UCOP Local Human Resources in setting expectations, coaching, delegating and conducting performance appraisals. The classes, taught by consultant Elaine Schilling, can be taken individually or customized for specific OP departments in a group setting.

It was based on that group training, using tools developed at UC Irvine, that Croughan and the RGPO leadership team compiled two documents, one for supervisors and one for non-supervisors. They enumerated 20 work competencies like technical knowledge and problem solving. For each competency, they wrote standards for each of the five levels of performance—exceptional, above expectations, meets expectations, improvement needed and unsatisfactory—listed on UCOP’s evaluation form.

This groundbreaking work is serving as a valuable model for other managers now implementing OP’s new performance management system.

“We are copying the hard work that Mary and her group did on this,” says Yvette Gullatt, who oversees a team of 83 as executive director of Education Partnerships. Now in her first year of implementing the new system, she recently organized training for her entire team.

A veteran of extensive management training at Bank of America, Gullatt says management skills cannot just be absorbed by osmosis but must be taught. And the rank and file need training too; when her non-supervisors were unable to find time in their schedules to take HR’s course, Employee Role in Performance Appraisals, she simply brought the session to one of their quarterly staff meetings.

“We wanted the non-supervisors to understand the process because it empowers them to set their own goals, not just for this year or next, but for their careers,” Gullatt says.

Business Resource Center Director Helen Valness also worked with UCOP Learning and Development Coordinator Linda Klink to customize training this month for her staff, including her six BRC team leaders and 40 non-supervisorial BRC staff.

“The great thing about the group training is that it gives everyone a common understanding of standards and expectations as well as a set of tools,” Valness explains. “We want each individual to know what a ‘meets expectations’ performance looks like, versus an ‘exceeds expectations’ performance.”

The hope, Valness adds, is that staff who do want to grow will have a complete understanding of how they can improve their performance so they can compete for higher-level openings. There have been several opportunities for such promotions within her group, she says.

With so many high-achieving employees at OP, resistance is particularly strong to the idea that a performance rating of three or “meets expectations” is now standard.

“People still equate a three rating of ‘meets expectations’ with a C,” Valness says, “so we’re trying to get away from the numbers and emphasize the concepts. If you’re doing your job well and meeting expectations, that is something to be proud of.”

Gullatt and Valness agree that the new approach will succeed only if it is adopted UCOP-wide.

“The only way the new system is going to work is if every manager at UCOP gets on board with it,” Valness says. The Performance Management Series of courses should be mandatory for all managers, she adds, so that all managers are using the new forms and enforcing the new standards.

Although the process is challenging and will take time to bear fruit, like Croughan, they say the disruption is a healthy one that will ultimately foster greater collaboration and even inspire truly transformative work.

“This is the fun part of being a manager,” Gullatt says. “The coaching and performance development are a process, not a product. Seeing people move on to the next level is really satisfying.”

To schedule a group training for your department, contact Linda Klink at 987-0673 or For other helpful resources, go to the UCOP Local HR Performance Appraisal Resources website.

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