Demystifying Performance Evaluations

By Deb Callahan, Giggletree

I’ve recently been reviewing the performance assessment and evaluation processes for an organisation. Having seen many incarnations of these systems throughout my career, I thought others might find it useful to walk through the little reality checking session I gave myself when launching into this project.
I had to realise that within the early childhood education field, the concept of performance evaluation is relatively new. Many educators are aware of “performance improvement” or ‘performance management’ processes—which usually have a negative connotation as they’re associated with someone being told they’re not doing their job (or at least something in the workplace) the right way, and that there are clear expectations of improvement… all those confronting closed-door meetings and anxiety! That is NOT performance evaluation!

To my mind, here are the top five reasons why we do performance evaluation (from least to most important):

Number 5 Because we have to! Yes—it’s in the National Quality Standards. Element 7.2.2 reads:
“The performance of educators, co-ordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement.”

Number 4 Because it’s important to get feedback about our performance. You need to know what your boss (or company) expects from you and how you are or aren’t achieving those expectations. You could be focussing on the wrong thing to achieve the success you’re after! This process, again, allows you to develop a better understanding of how you’re perceived and understood by others who can or do have an influence over your professional future.

Number 3 Because it’s important to continually review our OWN performance. The performance evaluation process just ‘forces’ us to! It’s critical for ongoing growth and development to look at where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, where you want to go, how you think you can get there, what help you need from others, what formal training is required etc. Remember how important it is to reflect within our professional practice? Performance evaluation is just a different form of that.

Number 2 Because it’s important to recognise achievements! It can be very easy when we’re in the thick of the day-to-day, to forget to stop, breathe and realise what has actually been achieved. I think we all deserve the opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve done.

Number 1 Because it’s vital to continually DEVELOP and the concept of performance evaluation should be about DEVELOPMENT.

And, it’s ok for different team members to be at different places with their career. We all know team members who feel happy about where they are, who are performing well and don’t want to see any changes in their work life… however, the only guarantee in this life (of which I’m 100% confident) is change. No one can afford to NOT update their knowledge or skill sets, even if they just want to continue to do what they enjoy doing. The industry changes and sometimes theories and models for early childhood education change, so be open to getting out there and seeing if it’s true.

A major reality for me is why would we expect our children to learn from someone who isn’t passionate about learning? For some people this may mean achieving a Bachelor degree or even a PhD…for others this will be a two-hour online training course in time management! Everyone’s needs and expectations for development will be different—but to have an expectation that you have no development needs is unrealistic—if not ridiculous!

Just to be clear—professional development can also be a whole lot of fun! I’m always amazed at the reluctance of some of my colleagues to participate in training courses and conferences…it’s an amazing way to get out and see different perspectives, to get new ideas or techniques, to talk to different people about what happens at their Centre and so much more. Sometimes it’s even just an amazing feeling to know that what you’ve been doing is RIGHT or to understand how truly magical your workplace is (because now you’ve got an idea of where other people work)!

I think some educators (and their directors) can be overwhelmed with the amount of documentation associated with the performance evaluation process…

“Do we have to go through every NQF element? The entire QIP?
Do we have to go through each and every part of the job description?
I just want to know what I’m doing well or not doing well and how to get better!
I don’t have the time or inclination to do all of this paperwork.”

I get it! There’s a lot to consider when reviewing and evaluating what has occurred over a 12-month period (the usual period that an evaluation document covers).

Breaking the process down further—i.e. doing more frequent evaluations—can be a good starting point. In some professions, evaluation of performance is necessary very often. With early childhood education, we generally have some continuity as we’re usually in the same role (i.e. room) for around a year, so this is why a yearly review is a good idea. Having a touch base/check-point at the 6-month mark is also helpful.

If you read anything about performance evaluation, the constant is that ‘nothing should be a surprise’. This means that we should all be giving and receiving feedback throughout the year. We should be taking the time to praise each other for ‘good work’ or to point out where improvements could be made. (I’m sure communication will be the topic for another blog at a later date!). Again, the performance evaluation process allows for all of that growth to be recognised, acknowledged and documented.

For our profession, the challenges associated with getting ‘quiet time’ or ‘time off the floor’ need to be recognised—we’re not working in offices where we can put our headphones on and simply sit at the computer for a few hours! If we’re in our rooms, we’re working, and we must constantly be aware of what’s going on around us. We need specific time to prepare for these professional conversations. ‘Management’ must understand and support this by giving their staff adequate time to prepare for and participate in the processes.

Celebration and recognition are important, but it must be understood and respected that not everyone in a Service will be at the same place in their performance, at the same time—and different assessments will mean different things to different people.

As I review this article I can see that the process of performance evaluation may feel like a scary or negative process. If you walk away with nothing else, walk away with my affirmation that IT IS NOT EASY. Giving feedback and hearing feedback is sometimes not comfortable.

But as a profession, maybe it’s time for us to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’—if we want to be seen as professionals, we have to conduct ourselves as professionals. This means our workplaces must have professional systems and process in place—and this also means we must take responsibility for our own personal and PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

This is what the performance evaluation is all about. Not only can we do this, but I also believe that we can be more motivated, stimulated, excited, recognised, rewarded and satisfied as a result!

I’m going to keep working on making the process more easily digestible and meaningful—keep your minds and hearts open to this change (another of many) and trust that the motivation and outcomes will be POSITIVE!

Deb Callahan Giggletree

Deb Callahan is currently working in Early Childhood Development but has a background in Retail Management, Administration, Human Resources Management, Project Management and Training. She has attended many and varied professional development programs throughout the years and is a voracious reader/reviewer of self-improvement strategies/theories and philosophies! She has recently joined the Giggletree team currently adding value to their documentation and processes.