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No Easy Answers for Performance Management

November 4, 2013
Do private industry and public education systems share challenges? Solutions?

Do private industry and public education systems share challenges? Solutions?

Once again, it’s time to try bridging the gap between business and education management.  The increased focus on teacher quality and student performance in recent years often seems to suggest that teacher evaluation is central to the problem, and that evaluation in other professions should provide some of the answers we seek. (Here’s a link to similar posts).

First of all, I don’t know any teachers or administrators who would argue that, in general, evaluation policies are working for most schools. It was with the goal of improving teacher evaluation that a team of us at Accomplished California Teachers spent months studying the topic, distilling our observations and recommendations to produce a policy report suggesting a how to improve teacher evaluation.

And while I think “business” models aren’t appropriate for running schools and school systems, I do see similar challenges inherent in the organization and management of large groups of people engaged in complex work. Guess what? Private industry doesn’t have this all figured out, either. I first began blogging on this topic when I heard about Dr. Samuel Culbert of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, who wrote a book titled Get Rid of the Performance Review!  In his book, I saw descriptions of processes that don’t serve private industry well, and would exacerbate the problems in teacher evaluation as well. Culbert wrote:

I believe it’s immoral to maintain the facade that annual pay and performance reviews lead to corporate improvement, when it’s clear they lead to more bogus activities than valid ones. Instead of energizing individuals, they are dispiriting and create cynicism. Instead of stimulating corporate effectiveness, they lead to just-in-case and cover-your-behind activities that reduce the amount of time that could be put to productive use. Instead of promoting directness, honesty and candor, they stimulate inauthentic conversations in which people cast self-interested pursuits as essential company activities. (emphasis added)

Now, more recently, I’ve been finding articles that describe problems with a human resources strategy called “performance management” (PM). Aubrey Daniels wrote the original book on the concept, and defined it as “a scientifically based, data-oriented management system. It consists of three primary elements-measurement, feedback and positive reinforcement. Although each of these three elements can exist alone, all three must be present before you have true Performance Management. And they must be implemented systematically and in sequence.”

Sounds great, but at present, it seems there’s not much love out there for the system. This article at would not inspire educators to adopt this “broken” organizational practice, because:

• everyone hates it – employees and managers alike
• nobody does it well – it’s a skill that seemingly fails to be acquired despite exhaustive training efforts, and
• it fails the test of construct validity – it doesn’t do what it was designed to do, i.e. increase performance

For a more in-depth look at problems with PM, there’s a new report from  the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp): Performance Management: Sticking With What Doesn’t Work. So, the supposedly business-savvy world of… business, with its much-touted flexibility and efficiency, actually shares challenges and obstacles found in the public sector, and in school systems in particular. Could it be that the human resources problems encountered in schools are really just human resources problems, and not so particular to schools? See if these quotations suggest we’re more alike than not.

“Although nearly nine of ten companies are doing performance management, only about three of ten report that they are doing it well. Added to all of those numbers is this one: of the survey respondents, only 29% reported that their employees find their performance management system to be fair.”

“Over the last three years, only 30% of surveyed respondents said their organizations had made changes to their PM system, and of those changes only 6% could be classified as radical transformations (removal of the rating system or removal of PM altogether).”

And does this quotation suggest that the increased use of ratings and performance pay would necessarily help schools?

“The good news for those organizations that are thinking of moving to a performance management system without ratings–those organizations that have done so such as Expedia, REI, Adobe, and Juniper Networks–have done so successfully. In fact, all four of those organizations have seen increases in either bottom line revenue or employee engagement, or sometimes both.
“The bad news is that performance management is still directly linked to compensation at most companies. Of the surveyed respondents, 73% said their organizations’ primary use of PM is to support compensation decisions–virtually unchanged from 2006, when 72% responded with the same answer. As long as compensation management and performance management remain linked, it is very unlikely that we will see fundamental changes in the core concepts of performance management.”

To be fair, I should note that this article isn’t suggesting an outright elimination of employee ratings (which I would argue are not a productive area to focus on for improved teacher evaluation). In fact, the article highlights the possibility that public sector labor may differ:

“Additionally, there are plenty of organizations that need or even require performance ratings. Companies that work with the public sector, or have highly structured job levels and concrete checklist-driven goals may find real value in ratings. Also, numerical ratings are valuable tools for the datafication of the workforce, allowing organizations to run internal research on correlations between performance ratings and quality standards in a given department, for example.”

Rather than leap from this quotation into a protracted argument about why I still wouldn’t suggest ratings and “datafication” of teacher evaluation, I’ll leave it one simple and clear point of agreement expressed in the article: there are no easy answers – worth keeping in mind when non-educators suggest school systems are uniquely challenged and that the private sector has the solutions.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Alva Wood permalink
    November 7, 2013 8:23 pm

    My husband, who works for a small, family-owned business, has the same problems that LAUSD has with evaluation. No one is really clear on what their objectives are; there is no cross-training of employees; no one knows the Big Picture, so they can’t see their role in it; and without ANY kind of performance review, everything just turns into a blame game. They hire new people because the current ones “don’t know what they’re doing” yet there isn’t any attempt to SHOW them. Let alone support them if they choose to learn more on their own. Shoot. Any freshly-minted MBA will charge you $250/hr to tell you that. Having spent 16 years in outside sales in Seattle and then in rural Oregon, and as a small business owner for that same period of time I will tell you – numbers and results can drive this whole conversation. And some people will do ANYTHING to get their numbers up, at the cost of relationships – which are crucial in teaching.
    Look, no evaluation system is going to work if it doesn’t take the worker’s interests to heart and especially if it’s done haphazardly and feels punitive. Teacher groups have come up with great ideas for designing and implementing a solid evaluation system! United Teachers LA (UTLA, our union) is one. Accomplished California Teachers is another. Educators 4 Excellence referred to both works when they wrote theirs (and it was promptly ignored by LAUSD and UTLA!), so we are really all on the same page here. In spirit – we’re not having the data conversation.
    Greg Solkovitz (running for UTLA president) told me on the phone tonight that the public doesn’t get education because it’s “existential.” Well, why do people in the public sector take THEIR evaluations seriously? Because they GET DONE! Imagine if every teacher actually had meaningful evaluations or some kind of input on a regular basis? This doesn’t happen. The reason, basically, is that we are undermanned and over-tasked at school, everyone is. And that’s an entirely different discussion. But you knew all this.

  2. John Young permalink
    November 9, 2013 7:24 pm

    Reblogged this on Transparent Christina.


  1. No Easy Answers for Performance Management @acmpca… | EducatorAl's Tweets

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