Performance Management

Performance improvement graph

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Employees are most likely to be successful performers when they clearly understand their assignments, know what level of performance is considered acceptable, and receive consistent feedback. Evaluation of an employee's performance is not just a once-a-year activity done by a supervisor to an employee. It is an ongoing process that involves information from coworkers, customers, the supervisor, and even the employee. The employee is just as responsible for his or her successful performance and evaluation as the supervisor.

A formal performance appraisal is an important opportunity to summarize the informal evaluations of the employee's performance over a longer period of time. Arizona Board of Regents policy requires an employee to receive at least one formal performance appraisal every 12 months.

Supervisors: have the right of final approval on which levels of performance will be considered successful and to hold employees accountable for meeting these standards. Supervisors also have a right to formally evaluate employees on a periodic basis and provide informal feedback on a frequent basis in order to achieve the level of performance required to manage a successful program, service or department.

Employees: have a right to be informed of performance expectations and to be evaluated in as objective a manner as possible. Employees also have a right to periodic performance feedback and to at least one formal evaluation each year.

The first step to successful performance is ensuring that the employee is clear about what he or she is assigned to do. What is the employee's role within the organization? What are the duties and responsibilities? You might say "That's what the University's job descriptions are for." If you look at them closely, though, you will realize that those job descriptions are general in scope because they are used for positions in many different departments at each of the three Arizona universities.

In contrast, each position in a department has its own unique set of duties and responsibilities. For example, not all secretaries perform exactly the same combination of tasks, though much of what they do is similar. An exact description of the duties and responsibilities an employee needs to perform can be provided by writing (or updating) a department (or functional) job description. It can range from a simple list of a few tasks to a detailed description of many paragraphs, but it should be specific to the position(s) in a particular department or unit. It should include the phrase "and other related duties as assigned" to cover unexpected or occasional tasks and should be updated as often as is needed to keep it current.

Clarifying duties and responsibilities provides a framework for the crucial activity of setting performance standards. The supervisor and the employee both need some way of determining how well the employee is doing. It is important for the standards to be negotiated and set before the employee starts performing work that will be evaluated, whether the employee is new to the University or new to the position as a result of transfer or promotion. It is also important to update the standards as the work situation changes.

Negotiation is important because many factors (staffing levels, workloads, or stressful work conditions, for example) can affect the fairness of an expectation. The more the employee is involved in setting/updating standards and agrees they are clear and reasonable, the greater the chances for successful performance.

A standard refers to results that must be achieved or to ongoing performance criteria that must be met consistently and/or results that must be achieved in order for the employee to achieve successful performance. Standards refer to such things as the delivery of service at a specified level of quality, attendance levels, accuracy rates, response times, production rates, safety thresholds, format requirements, and behavioral expectations. In order to write an effective standard for successful performance, it should be as specific, pertinent, attainable, measurable, and observable as possible ("SPAMO").

Standards may be set for each duty or project assigned. They may be set for activities or behaviors that apply to many assignments or projects (for example, computer work or cooperation). The important thing is that everyone who will be involved in evaluating an employee's performance is clear about which aspects of the employee's performance will be evaluated and what successful performance will look like.

Coaching is a term used to describe an ongoing evaluation and feedback process. It tells employees, "How am I doing?" and "Where do I go from here?" How would you like to be a member of a bowling team and go bowling every week, but only get your scores once a year? Coaching is the day-to-day effort to review work, answer questions, discuss progress (or lack of it) toward meeting standards, develop skills, and provide positive guidance.

Is the supervisor the only person who can provide coaching to an employee? Coworkers, other supervisors, and even customers can often be in a good position to compare the employee's performance to established standards and then give helpful feedback. Such coaching opportunities can be part of a planned mentoring or customer feedback process or can occur spontaneously as a result of the employee asking these people for input.

The employee can also be her or his own coach by obtaining feedback from other sources. By reviewing one's own work products, data from reports, or even videotapes (when appropriate and if available) can provide the employee an opportunity for self-evaluation and improvement.

But can't that become a lot of information to keep track of? The most effective way to track and refer to that information is to set up a "memory file." This can be as simple as a file folder. It can include notes on exceptional (positive or negative) performance or behavior by the employee. It can also include copies of exceptional documents such as letters of appreciation or warning. By keeping a memory file on each employee, a supervisor can track an employee's performance progress as well as what coaching has been provided. Depending on how accessible and complete that file is, the employee may want to set up his own memory file to ensure all key aspects of his performance are recorded.

So, it's time to do a formal performance appraisal. Is it really worth doing? There are many good reasons to conduct a formal performance appraisal. If assignments and standards have been clear, if coaching through informal evaluation and feedback has been ongoing, a formal performance appraisal should be merely a summary of what has already occurred. It should include no surprises for the employee or the supervisor, because both should already know how successful the employee has been in meeting performance standards.

The format for a performance appraisal at The University of Arizona has become fairly flexible in the past few years. The traditional eight-factor Report of Performance Appraisal is still an acceptable format and is still used by many departments. Some departments, however, have been authorized to develop their own appraisal format that is designed to better meet their unique performance evaluation needs. Other departments interested in the tools and minimum requirements for customizing their own appraisal format, are encouraged to visit Performance Appraisal Alternatives.

If this much flexibility exists in doing appraisals, then what are the requirements? An employee's performance should be appraised after the first three months of the initial probation period, at the end of the initial probation period, and at the end of the first full year of Regular Staff employment. The policies of the Arizona Board of Regents require that regular employees receive a formal apprisal at least once each year after that. Because appraisals continue to influence decisions on salary increases, layoffs, etc., the appraisal should contain an overall rating on whether the employee is successfully meeting job requirements.

Future performance appraisals usually are done around the anniversary of the employee's date of hire or at the end of the employee's most recent promotion or transfer probation period. They can be done on any date that is convenient, however, as long as the employee receives a formal appraisal at least once every 12 months. (This may mean doing two in one year when changing to a different date.)

Supervisors often coordinate the scheduling of appraisal meetings, but this is also flexible. Some supervisors and employees may negotiate that the employee may do the scheduling, especially if the employee is doing a self-appraisal and/or is responsible for requesting feedback from coworkers or customers for the appraisal. The supervisor may then serve as a central point to receive all the appraisal input.

Those who contribute to an employee's performance appraisal should be as fair and unbiased as possible. Raters should be aware of and try to avoid common rater errors. They should also provide as many specific examples as possible to support each factor rating. Again, a memory file of outstanding examples of the employee's performance can be very useful in this process.

Factors that Impact Performance

Performance may be impacted by vague expectations, barriers to access, medical conditions, personal circumstances, or job dissatisfaction. Determining the origins of unacceptable performance is the first step toward making necessary improvements. The following are typical factors that impact performance and options and resources that may be considered.

Performance may be impacted when a supervisor and employee lack agreement about expectations. The supervisor should make expectations as objective and measurable as possible. For example, instead of an expectation to "complete the report in a timely manner," a more clear expectation would be to "complete the report within two business days."

Unreasonable expectations can also impact performance. Competing priorities, unexpected changes, and inefficient processes can often lead to unfair expectations. The supervisor and employee should work together to identify priorities and revise schedules and procedures necessary for successful performance.

Given the changing nature of work, knowledge and skills that provided successful performance in the past may no longer be adequate. Assessing required knowledge, skills and competencies, and then providing appropriate training and development may significantly improve performance.

Conflict with a supervisor or other coworkers may result in a decline in performance. Conflict may be the result of such things as divergent work styles, disagreement about how work should be performed, or unwillingness to function as part of a team. Determining why the conflict exists is required. To do this, a frank discussion about the existing conflict and possible remedies is advised. For unusually difficult conflicts, mediation assistance is available from Human Resources and the Ombuds Committee.

If the employee's job dissatisfaction is related to a bad job "fit," the employee can contact their Senior HR Partner to explore career goals and job-searching skills.

Sometimes, performance can be impacted by a barrier to access or a medical condition. In some cases, an employee may not be aware of how a barrier to access or a health condition is affecting his or her work. If time off from work will help, the employee may be eligible to take Family and Medical Leave, regular sick leave, or other appropriate leaves. A supervisor may also require a fitness for duty evaluation if there are questions about the employee's ability to work in a safe manner. To make the workplace more inclusive and accessible for disabled and pregnant employees, the University’s Disability Resource Center consults with employees and supervisors on potential solutions, such as reasonable accommodations or changes to the environment that may facilitate better access.

Times of high stress or other personal or family-related issues can possibly have a spillover effect on work performance and/or attitude.  An appropriate resource for the employee that is free, voluntary, and confidential is Life & Work Connections’ Employee Assistance Counseling.  Additionally, you, as a supervisor, can also consult with Darci Thompson, LCSW SPHR at Employee Assistance Services.

Employees may experience childcare arrangement changes that influences work performance. To learn about childcare options and to request an early care and education consultation, visit Life & Work Connections Childcare consultations.

Additionally, under qualifying circumstances, the University of Arizona subsidized, Back-Up Care Program provides employees eligible for full benefits with access to caregiver services for children, adults and elders. The program is available nationwide.

Employees may experience family elder care arrangement changes that influences work performance. To learn about local and national caregiving resources and to request an elder care consultation, visit Life & Work Connections Adult and Elder Care Consultations webpage.

Self-Correction and Coaching

Inadequate performance may result from several factors, but regardless of why performance is unacceptable, the employee is responsible for doing what is necessary to achieve successful performance. Whether giving the supervisor feedback about unclear or unfair expectations, making training requests, attempting to resolve conflicts, or accessing needed campus support services or benefits, the employee has a key role in solving his or her performance problems. While not all the factors contributing to performance problems may be within the employee's control, the employee must take whatever steps are possible to improve his or her performance.

The supervisor also plays a key role in correcting problem performance. Most problems can be prevented or corrected by communicating clear and reasonable expectations and providing feedback through the coaching process. More difficult problems may require a more intensive approach to coaching, however. If performance problems continue despite intensive coaching, the supervisor may need to take more serious action.

Investigation and Documentation

In order to address a continuing or serious performance problem, a supervisor or manager needs to investigate and document the situation. There are many reasons to do a thorough and fair investigation of a performance problem and to obtain relevant documentation. Sometimes, problems are only based on perceptions, with no factual or documented evidence to support such perceptions. Sometimes, allegations come from biased sources. When more serious actions are being considered, information should be organized for review by senior management and management may also seek advice and assistance from the designated Sr. HR Partner. It is important to recognize that actions based on incomplete or inaccurate information may be challenged by eligible employees through the dispute resolution process or with a discrimination complaint.

Corrective Discipline and Discharge

Discipline may be appropriate and necessary for some continuing or serious performance problems. Discipline is often considered a form of "punishment," but that need not be the case. While discipline can have negative consequences and must warn about possible future consequences, it can be a powerful motivator for positive change. By approaching discipline as a strategy of corrective instruction in which the supervisor and employee respectfully work together to improve the employee's performance, discipline can become a problem-solving process. Such an approach also allows for documenting how the employee will be held accountable and a supervisor's commitment to helping the employee become successful.

Regular classified employees who have continuing performance problems can expect their supervisor to follow progressive discipline procedures as outlined in classified staff policy #403.0, Disciplinary Action. Progressive discipline is not appropriate for more serious problems (e.g. theft, threats, etc.), so a supervisor may take a more serious disciplinary action the first time such a problem occurs, up to and including discharge.

The first progressive discipline step, a verbal warning, differs from coaching in that it includes a warning of future discipline. It is not considered to be a formal disciplinary action, however, and is not sent to the employee's university personnel file. It may be summarized in writing, though. A written warning is the second step and is a formal disciplinary action that becomes part of the employee's university record. It describes the type of problems, the corrections that will be required, and the right of the employee to appeal the written warning. Supervisors must contact their Sr. HR Partner prior to initiating written warnings. Disciplinary probation and suspension without pay are each the third step just prior to discharge, but they each address different types of problems.

Disciplinary probation is an action that gives the employee a period of one to six months to correct (and maintain the correction of) work performance and attendance problems.

Disciplinary suspension without pay allows the supervisor to take away the employee's pay for up to 30 calendar days for conduct (behavior) violations.

Discharge is the last and final step of progressive discipline and causes termination of employment for the employee.

In order to determine the appropriate level of discipline, the supervisor must investigate and document the problem and consider a number of factors. These factors include the results of the investigation, the employee's record, the severity of the problem, etc. If, during the investigation, the employee's presence in the workplace may aggravate the situation or impede the investigation, the supervisor may place the employee on investigative leave with pay for up to five days. During this paid leave, the employee must check in with the supervisor as required and must remain available during normal work hours to come to the workplace for any scheduled meetings.

If the supervisor is considering suspension without pay or discharge, a pre-suspension or pre-discharge meeting must be scheduled with the employee to review the investigation's results. The supervisor gives the employee a Pre-suspension or Pre-discharge Meeting Notice Letter at least 24 hours before the meeting to allow the employee an opportunity to organize a response.

Also, prior to the pre-suspension/pre-discharge meeting and prior to taking the actions of disciplinary probation, suspension without pay, or discharge, the supervisor can consult with senior departmental management as well as the designated Sr. HR Partner.

Once the supervisor determines the appropriate level of discipline, a meeting should be scheduled with the employee to communicate the decision and to provide the employee with a letter that documents the action. Every formal disciplinary action must include the employee's right to appeal the action using the Staff Dispute Resolution Procedure.

Supervisors are expected to assist employees in achieving acceptable performance and conduct through frequent communication, performance evaluations, and setting clear standards.

Whenever possible and appropriate, supervisors are encouraged to use informal or formal corrective action to address performance issues, inappropriate conduct, or policy violations. Corrective actions, whether formal or informal, are not progressive and may occur in any order, depending on the individual circumstances.

Informal Corrective Action

Informal corrective action does not require consultation from the Division of Human Resources, although Sr. HR Partners are available to provide guidance. Informal corrective action may take the form of:

Coaching: Ongoing conversations with employees to provide guidance and support in order to successfully meet performance expectations and goals.

Corrective Counseling: Informal conversations for the purpose of correcting behavior and discussing specific actions or behaviors to improve performance.

Verbal Warning: Communication to an employee that behavior or performance is not acceptable and must be improved.

Supervisors are advised to follow up on informal corrective action with a written summary to the employee of the conversation that includes expectations.

Formal Corrective Action

Before initiating formal corrective action, the supervisor should consult the designated Sr. HR Partner within the Division of Human Resources and obtain guidance and approval for corrective action. Formal corrective action may include:

Written Warning: A document notifying an employee that behavior or performance is not acceptable and must be improved. It also notifies the employee of specific policy violation(s) and that the employee may be subject to discharge if the behavior or performance does not improve.

Performance Improvement Plan (PIP): A document that describes the steps an employee must take within a specific timeframe to meet departmental expectations. A PIP is warranted for serious performance/conduct issues or when there is a pattern of sustained issues without significant improvement. The PIP  includes a statement that failure to complete the improvement plan may result in discharge.

Suspension Without Pay: A temporary release from duty without pay, when it is determined that a violation of policy or an employee’s conduct is serious enough to warrant such action.

Whenever possible, the supervisor will issue the corrective action in a meeting with the employee. Supervisors are responsible for providing a copy of the corrective action document to the employee and forwarding a copy to the Division of Human Resources – Employee Records and the Sr. HR Partner.

Level of Discipline Decision Factors

When deciding on the appropriate level of discipline, supervisors should consider the following factors:

  • What are the facts and circumstances of the problem--who, what, when, where, why?
  • How severe is the problem or infraction? What was the impact, or possible impact, of the employee's action?
  • What is the employee's past disciplinary record, and how long has it been since the last disciplinary action?
  • What is the employee's length of service?
  • Are there any aggravating/mitigating circumstances?
  • Were there legitimate obstacles to proper performance?
  • What has department management done in like or similar situations? Has there been consistency in applying discipline in similar situations with other employees?
  • Did the employee receive advance warning of the possible or probable consequences of the employee's conduct/performance?
  • Was there sufficient time to show correction?
  • Was the rule or policy reasonable?
  • Was the investigation objective and complete?
  • What level of discipline will the results of the investigation support?

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