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Re-Thinking Science Leadership
Effective performance appraisals help retain and develop key staff, build a positive organization culture, and advance science for all.
“Mine was a waste of time. My boss did all the talking and there wasn’t even much of that. It took him twenty minutes to cover a year of my work.”
“Mine was a joke. The forms my company uses don’t have anything to do with the science I’m actually working on.”
“I don’t know about forms. What I do know is that what they pay me doesn’t connect with what they tell me.”
“My company’s forms aren’t so bad. What bothers me is we never get to the part about my professional development.”
Listen to a group of scientists in December and January, and you’re likely to hear these and many other complaints about performance appraisal dysfunction. Many science organizations do performance appraisals at year-end. Few do them well.
It’s understandable that science organizations struggle with performance appraisals. How is it possible to assess a scientist’s performance when positive experimental results may reflect sloppy lab work more than creativity or clear thinking? And how is it possible for scientists to overlook the inherent absurdity of the performance appraisal bureaucratic process? The very thought of using cumbersome, corporate, jargon-laden forms to assess a scientist’s performance in a 60-minute discussion can’t help but invite healthy skepticism if not outright rebellion.
Despite the struggles, it’s especially important to get science performance appraisals right. Done well, appraisals have great potential to motivate, focus, and help scientists pursue professional development in the areas that interest them most. For science organizations, effective performance appraisals help retain and develop key staff, build a positive organization culture, and advance science for all.
From Performance Appraisals To Performance Management: Quarterly?
The most important best practice we’ve seen is a quarterly, rather than the traditional annual approach. For people who struggle with cumbersome annual appraisals, the thought of repeating the process four times may initially seem absurd. However, shifting to a quarterly approach makes the discussions more current, focused on real job activities. Quarterly discussions require much less paperwork than annuals and thus often take less time overall than annual processes. Most importantly, quarterly discussions trigger a shift from performance appraisal to performance management. Both the manager and the employee can take a more active, positive role in jointly managing the employee’s performance and development.
Beyond a quarterly approach, other key best practices include:
Seven Practical Tips For Both Managers and Employees
Whatever your organization does, it’s quite possible for scientists giving or getting performance appraisals to take several kinds of action to help you get the most from the process:
William Ronco, Ph.D., is the director of the Biotech Leadership Institute. He consults on leadership, communications, and team and partnering performance in pharmaceutical, biotech, and science organizations.
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