UC Berkeley News


Setting SMART goals is key to performance management
Collaboration between staff and managers will set the stage for next year's salary increases

| 15 February 2006

Ensuring that staff members and supervisors communicate about workplace goals requires more than a once-a-year evaluation, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in an e-mail message to deans, directors, top-level administrators, and staff earlier this month. Birgeneau urged supervisors to take "a structured approach" to performance management, one that would involve additional meetings with their employees to discuss setting objectives and reaching goals. The chancellor also called job-related training and career development "critical components" in the performance-management cycle.

David Scronce(Wendy Edelstein photo)

The chancellor's e-mail is intended to signal the beginning of what David Scronce, director of strategic initiatives for the Office of Human Resources (OHR), calls a "greater campus-wide focus on performance management, as a continuous cycle of supervisors and employees discussing their objectives." Scronce also directs the Staff Infrastructure Strategic Committee (SISC), which is working to design a new staff job-structure and compensation program and to improve the campus's performance-management and career-development efforts. In his e-mail, the chancellor said it is important for all supervisors to participate in the performance-management process, since the next round of salary increases - and future increases after that - will be based on performance.

Many staff had not seen raises for three years until last October, when nonrepresented employees received salary increases averaging from 3 to 3.5 percent. All nonrepresented staff with satisfactory (or better) performance ratings received a 3-percent increase. Some campus control units exercised the option of awarding an additional .5 percent for merit. For represented employees, their unions engage in a collective- bargaining process with the UC Office of the President (UCOP), the outcome of which determines their compensation packages.

What excellence looks like

Determining future merit increases, though, is not the sole reason for holding performance discussions, says Scronce. The importance of "talking about what we are trying to achieve as an organization, what it means to succeed here, what excellence looks like on the staff side, and what people need to continue their development and growth" are driving the move toward having regular performance discussions.

Scronce assures already-overburdened managers who might despair about increased workloads that performance management is of value to them as well as to their employees. Engaging in the process - so that all involved communicate about goals and expectations - results in "a smoother-running organization, fewer misunderstandings, and the ability of staff to do their best work and make their greatest contribution, resulting in higher productivity," he says.

Performance management has three phases: planning, check-in, and assessment. While OHR doesn't necessarily recommend such a streamlined approach, the process can be accomplished in as few as two meetings annually. At the first meeting, says Scronce, the manager and employee might assess the prior year, then plan the next 12 months. Six months later, the two would check in to discuss progress toward agreed-upon goals and to ascertain whether the employee has adequate resources to meet those goals. Bi-annual meetings may not be necessary if regular check-ins and standing meetings are already in place. "I don't think you need to create a new set of meetings to complete this process," Scronce qualifies.

Setting smart goals

The Office of Human Resources has created an online toolkit (hrweb.berkeley.edu/perfmgt/perfmgtindex.htm) for supervisors who need assistance with putting the performance-management process in motion. OHR also plans to offer courses in coaching and development as well as feedback and evaluation.

Goals are a central component in each phase of performance management. The Office of Human Resources recommends that managers set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Scronce acknowledges that there aren't clear metrics tied to every job on campus. A receptionist position, which involves answering the phone and greeting visitors, might be one such example. Promptness, courtesy, and the ability to determine the best person in the office to take a given call are key behaviors in that position, says Scronce. "We're just expecting that the supervisor and employee have a conversation about those behaviors and put something in writing," explains Scronce.

Valerie Ventre-Hutton, employee-relations manager in OHR, says a key reason for supervisors to check in regularly with their employees is to ensure that expectations are clear. While it may be tempting for some managers to rely on job descriptions, Ventre-Hutton explains, "Job descriptions are often more general than specific, and jobs change and evolve as people have been in positions over extended periods of time. Part of the reason to have these conversations is to determine if the job description is still accurate or if it needs to be updated." The bottom line, she says, is communication. "Some people have very dated job descriptions, but they talk to their managers regularly and know when they've succeeded."

Forgoing regular or even bi-annual discussions can lead to unfortunate consequences, says Scronce. If employees don't know where they stand and are unclear on what management wishes to achieve in a given timeframe, "they don't know how their contribution relates to the total organization. There's a total vacuum, no feedback." And if supervisors don't evaluate employees, they have no mechanism in place to arrive at a determination about a merit increase.

An only marginally better option is the annual assessment conversation, where "there's no opportunity to reach some mutually agreed-upon objectives or to discuss what behaviors were valued in the course of completing the work. "For the employee, such a scenario often leads to "a pretty bad state of affairs," because sometimes the feedback can yield surprises. "It can be shocking to have worked with someone for a year," says Scronce, "and find out that you weren't in alignment with what was expected, or that they had a different assessment of your performance than you have. Wouldn't you want to know along the way, so that you could course-correct?"

Scronce acknowledges that typically supervisors don't enjoy the annual evaluation either, especially if they've allowed problems to go unaddressed. If supervisors defer talking about topics that have been troubling them until the annual performance review, employees feel criticized long after it's possible for them to rectify the problem. "Employees typically find such encounters demoralizing," says Scronce. "We're trying to get away from that."

Some employees worry whether their supervisor will give them a performance review, and they're also anxious about whether the evaluation will be objective or as objective as it can be. Others may not feel confident that their managers are clear on what their jobs entail, since supervisory scope can be broad, and many managers haven't done all the jobs they supervise. "As an employee, if my pay is on the line, how can I ensure that I'm going to get fair, accurate, and timely feedback about my performance?" Scronce asks. The campus, he says, is exploring accountability measures for supervisors.

The big picture

Last September, the UC Regents committed to a goal of bringing staff salaries closer to market over the next 10 years - provided the budget compact with the state holds. When the state's economy hits hard times, as it did during the dot-com bust, the university feels the impact . . . as do staff, who received no raises between then and last fall.

Scronce says that in order to allocate salary funds fairly, current campus-job definitions - some of which are decades old - need to be updated. "We have to define the jobs in a manner that's more consistent with other employers with whom we compete," explains Scronce. The campus is also creating some new career-development opportunities - among them a series of career panels, at which longtime Berkeley staffers will share their job-transition success stories, and a recently launched career website, thecareerplace.berkeley.edu.

Such projects are part of a larger push to take the whole employee into account, says Scronce. "We're trying to integrate these things, so clear role definition is related to how you're going to assess performance, and the curriculum for career development is linked to what people need to excel in their jobs or to move to another job on campus." Rather than seeing these projects as existing in separate "silos," Scronce says the goal is to "integrate all these efforts, so that we've got a real workplace strategy in play."

Campus staff or supervisors who have questions about the new performance-management process may e-mail sisc@berkeley.edu.