Calibration, Feedback, & Coaching

Performance Calibration

This best practice when executed appropriately ensures that managers evaluate direct reports consistently throughout Penn State and effectively give feedback and coaching for improvement. Ratings calibration is a process used to gain greater consistency in how performance evaluation ratings are delivered and will help PSU increase the perceived fairness of the final end-of-year evaluation rating.

Groups and units can select from one of the two options below for conducting ratings calibration:

  • Option 1 - Establishing Norms and Standards of Performance at the Group/Unit Level: A discussion among peer managers prior to end-of-year conversations to agree on what ratings mean and how they will know they are exhibited
  • Option 2 - Establishing Norms and Standards of Performance at the Group/Unit and Individual Level: Option 1 plus calibration meetings among peer managers to discuss each staff member, their rating, and rationale for providing the rating

Regardless of which option is selected, all groups will have review and approval of all staff ratings by a Vice President or other form of leadership review. Training will be provided to managers regarding both options; HR Strategic Partners and/or HR Consultants may also take part of the ratings calibrations discussions as needed in order to support the process and the discussion.

It is expected that eventually all groups will transition to Option 2. With either option, a summary worksheet will be necessary. A summary worksheet provides a way to ensure that staff members are rated fairly regardless of who their manager is, and that the department is differentiating performance effectively.

Please see the example of calibration summary worksheet.

A helpful article outlining the benefits of the calibration process is available for your consideration. 

Performance Feedback

Following calibration with other managers (and once ratings are approved), managers are responsible for providing performance feedback to staff members in an objective and helpful manner.

Tips for Conducting a Feedback Meeting:

  • Select a meeting place that is both comfortable and quiet. Schedule the meeting to avoid interruptions. Allow adequate time.
  • Begin the meeting by explaining that the purpose is to make clear how the employee’s performance is seen by yourself and other managers, to acknowledge successes and plan for continuous improvement.
  • Provide a summary of the employee’s performance assessment including the final rating.
  • Allow the employee the opportunity to discuss reactions to the feedback and performance rating.
  • Listen to the employee. If the employee sees their own performance differently from your rating, let them know that it is important for them to understand how they are seen by others.
  • Ask the employee for suggestions about how to improve performance. Introduce your ideas. Emphasize problem solving and concentrate on future actions for any areas that need improvement.
  • In the discussion, summarize the main messages for the future--especially any new actions for improving performance.
  • After the meeting, managers and employees will confirm in Workday that the end-of-year discussion occurred and that a final rating was communicated/received.
  • Present constructive feedback as a portion of the larger context rather than in isolation
  • Avoid the use of global statements such as ‘always/never’ and ‘everyone/no one’
  • Use ‘and’ rather than ‘but.’ ‘But’ tends to negate what came before
  • Replace ‘should’ and ‘have to’ with reasons why
  • Own your feeling. Describe emotions with ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You make me feel’
  • Be very careful about projecting feelings onto others. ‘You make John angry…’
  • Clarifying questions and careful listening are often good ways to move past strong emotions

Feedback can be both positive and corrective. Communicate both. The key elements of effective feedback are:

Timely - Make feedback close to the event. The year-end meeting should have no surprises.

Specific - Make feedback detailed and descriptive with real examples from the individual’s performance.

Behaviorally Based - Address actual observed behavior, not character, motivation or personality.

Balanced - Acknowledge positive behavior as well as opportunities for improvement.

Actionable - Focus on what to do about the feedback, including what to start, stop and/or continue.

Coaching for Performance and Career Development

The year-end discussion should not be just an evaluation of performance-- it should also be a discussion of the future. This should be a “coaching” discussion. Coaching is different from other roles managers play such as directing work and evaluating performance. The coaching discussion should create action items for the staff members to do on their own behalf, although there may be things the manager can do to help the employee grow and develop.

Some managers avoid coaching discussions because they don’t want to create false expectations around future career growth/progression. This is harmful for two reasons:

  1. It keeps employees from reaching their full potential
  2. Prevents the institution from improving its performance

A good rule to follow is that a manager can’t make any promises about what will happen when an employee improves their performance or has their sights set on another role at the University, but a manager can say that not growing and continuously learning/improving can hinder future opportunities.

Coaching can have a short- or long-term focus:

Short-Term - Some employees need coaching for improving current job performance or for achieving short-term goals.

Long-Term - Some employees need coaching on long-term goals or plans, such as moving to a different area, getting promoted, or preparing for retirement.

Key elements of coaching include helping the individual define for themselves:

  1. A need or hope for the future: what would success look like?
  2. Commitment to make a change: Is it important to the employee? Does the employee have the confidence and willingness to try new things?
  3. A path of action: what are the big picture phases or steps in the transition?
  4. Specific next steps: what are the specific micro steps to take to get started?

Unlike a sports coach, managers as coaches are not instructors. In the role of coach, the manager asks the employee questions about the four areas above, listens to the employee’s ideas and brainstorms answers.  The manager does not take notes or take responsibility for the employee’s actions; the employee takes responsibility for the improvement.