February 17, 2006

Performance review strategies take shape

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Performance review strategies take shape

Appeals for individual responsibility, accountability and self-appraisal echoed through a Valentine's Day management seminar attended by some 425 Vanderbilt University Medical Center managers and faculty leaders.

The elevate Leadership Development Institute seminar, held at the Curb Event Center at nearby Belmont University, was repeated the next day for another 425 or so VUMC attendees.

To help punctuate opening comments from the podium by Vice Chancellor Harry Jacobson, M.D., Michael Jackson's hit song “Man in the Mirror” came over the loud-speakers at one point; as the sinuous beat took hold, event staff moved among the crowd handing out hundreds of hand-held novelty mirrors, with elevate printed at the top, “It's who we are” at the bottom.

“I want to be reminded every day that if I want change, I go first,” Jacobson said. “Remember that everything you do is a model of behavior for your staff. Always look in this mirror and let it remind you of that simple fact. If you do that you will change Vanderbilt and you will change yourself.

“This is a tipping point,” Jacobson said later in the day. If managers correctly perform certain new requirements, the result will be a very clear change at VUMC, amounting to “one of the most amazing things that will happen in this institution.”

Jacobson was reinforcing the day's main topic, which was how to have effective discussions with staff about individual job performance, and how to initiate any needed job coaching.

Speakers said the purpose of the new program is to prompt higher job performance and help managers retain consistently high and middle performers. It also includes activities which, as speakers admitted, organizations the world over tend to want to put off doing. Namely, managers must tell low performers what they're doing wrong and insist that they change, and any persistent low performers at VUMC need to be encouraged to find work elsewhere.

The seminar was the fifth in a quarterly series devoted to elevate, VUMC's wide-ranging improvement effort.

Jacobson recently held initial conversations about job performance with each of the leaders who report to him, and said he wants those leaders to hold discussions with their direct reports within the next 30 days. This rollout will reach front-line staff by fall, and by next year job coaching should be fully integrated with VUMC's existing annual performance evaluation program.

Jacobson said he needlessly worried at first about telling his reports what he thought about their job performance.

“In almost every instance, irrespective of the level of performance, the discussion was honest. It was focused and it came to a positive conclusion. I felt as though my best performers got a great reward from hearing that I considered them my best.

“At first I was concerned that my discussions with the rest of my group would be difficult. But an honest appraisal of each individual's strengths and weaknesses and agreement on areas that could be improved made these discussions especially positive.”

Chief Human Resource Officer Kevin Myatt explained how job performance conversations and job coaching can best be organized around the VUMC Credo and key job functions.

The elevate quarterly management seminars are a prime opportunity for guiding organizational change and they always feature a very full agenda. Some of the day's highlights:

• Jacobson reported on VUMC's progress toward elevate goals concerning quality, service, finance, growth, job retention and patient and employee satisfaction. (Goals are listed on the elevate Web site; see the link on VUMC's main page under “Faculty and Staff Resources.”)

• Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs Drew Gaffney, M.D., introduced an online statistical report measuring progress toward institutional, departmental and division goals. Measurement of clinical quality is the initial focus for this so-called data dashboard; measures of service, financial performance, growth, job retention and satisfaction will be added to the site later this year.

• Allan Sterbinsky, a manager with Human Resources, explained how HR will help managers and faculty leaders ensure wide participation in Vanderbilt's biannual survey of employee satisfaction, coming up March 20-31.