Performance reviews distributed unevenly across University


Staff Council plans to advocate for a wider, more consistent use of performance reviews by all University units, given that such assessments are currently neither mandatory nor tracked University-wide, and there is no official means for staff members to secure a review if supervisors don’t undertake them.

After the annual call went out from Human Resources for employee self-assessments, followed by appraisals from administrators, Staff Council President Andy Stephany told the organization that there were Pitt staff members whose job performance was not being reviewed and who did not know how to institute the process in their departments. In a follow-up interview, Stephany said his organization “will be advocates … that this is something that is embraced University-wide, to become mandatory and have departments become accountable.”

Performance reviews are valuable, he said, both for the staff member and for supervisors: “I think they facilitate positive relationships in the work environment and give staff members opportunities for development,” including the chance to discuss and hone longer-term career plans.

“Likewise, I hope supervisors are open to conversations with staff” about supervisors’ own performances, he added.

Staff raises are dependent on annual performance reviews, Stephany noted: “The cost-of-living portion of the annual salary pool (increase) is tied to whether a staff member is marked as having a satisfactory performance.” Formal performance reviews are the only concrete indicator of such a performance.

Formalizing process on HR’s agenda

Cheryl Johnson, vice chancellor of Human Resources, agreed: “We believe, and there is a body of research that suggests, that people are more productive when they know … how their work aligns with the organizational goals. They feel valued; they feel heard.”

Conducting performance reviews, and creating a mechanism to better manage the process, is thus important, she added.

Johnson said HR will be looking in the future to institute central management for performance reviews, ensuring they are done by all, and done properly. Today, each Pitt department or unit is in charge of how and whether annual assessments are accomplished.

HR does provide a toolkit to aid both staff and supervisors with performance reviews. Overall, Johnson says, it’s important for each Pitt workplace to set goals and objectives for everyone in the department.

“We're trying to make sure that our goals are stretch goals” – goals that challenge employees but are doable – “they are measurable, they are specific, and we’re not off doing something that doesn’t matter.” She wants every employee to see their part in realizing the larger goals of the department: “We need to know what ‘there’ looks like – when do we get there to our goal?”

Performance reviews also should help people think about what they do well, what they are passionate about and where they want to go with their careers, Johnson said. Supervisors ought to ask, “What can we do to help set you up for success?”

She suggested that Staff Council could get the ball rolling to revamp the University’s assessment oversight by requesting Pitt undertake a study of performance review management at the institutional level, with an eye toward centralizing and standardizing the process.

“Staff Council supports the idea of a broad-reaching University study to design a framework for staff performance appraisals and management,” Stephany said.

“If your manager is not having the conversation (about annual assessments),” Johnson said, “you need to initiate it.”

Performance reviews are always valuable to pursue — and not just once a year, she added: “To be able to see yourself in the future and how what you do helps achieve the goals (of the department and University), that’s exciting.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.