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Performance Review and Professional Development Planning Process for Professional Staff

Managers and department chairs are asked to complete a performance review for each full- time and part-time member of the professional staff who reports to them. Performance reviews are normally completed during late winter or early spring. A formal review is generally not required for those who will resign or retire by July 1; for temporary staff members; and for part-time staff members who work seasonally or very sporadically.

The performance review form for members of the professional staff is available from the Human Resources public folder in eDisk ('Groups', 'Human Resources', 'Public', ‘FORMS’, ‘Performance Review Forms’). Text included on the performance review form will prompt managers and department chairs to complete each required step of the performance review process.

These 3 basic steps are to be completed by the manager or department chair:

  1. Review past performance: Objectively review the professional staff member’s work performance for the current fiscal year based on his/her accomplishments and actual results achieved, as compared to previously established goals and priorities, and the extent to which the staff member fulfilled required job responsibilities and achieved expected standards of performance.
  2. Plan for the year ahead: Clarify and document performance standards and expectations applicable to the staff member’s position, and jointly (you and the staff member) identify the staff member’s goals and priorities, aligned with department and College priorities, for the coming year.
  3. Focus on professional development: Describe and document the staff member’s professional development needs, and create a professional development plan with the staff member. A professional development plan is appropriate for everyone; those who need to make immediate improvements, and those whose performance is already strong.

The manager or department chair will also need to document, on the performance review form, whether the professional staff member's performance over the past 12 is Highly Commendable, Successful or if Improvement is Required (the written review must support the determination).

After the manager or department chair has completed a draft of the performance review form, he/she is to meet with the staff member to discuss the staff member’s past performance and expectations going forward; to establish objectives and priorities for the coming year; and to identify professional development opportunities. The performance review meeting should be scheduled in advance to give the staff member time to prepare, should be held in private, and should allow for input from the staff member. By the end of the performance review meeting, please assure the staff member knows whether his/her performance is or is not Successful, and what he/she can do to enhance performance.


A critical responsibility of each manager is to help members of the professional staff enhance their performance, so that each individual contributes fully toward achieving department and College objectives. Managers can help enhance performance by:

  • establishing and communicating performance standards, and department and individual goals and priorities,
  • providing regular, constructive performance feedback and guidance throughout the year,
  • identifying professional development needs, and helping to identify appropriate development activities and resources,
  • promptly initiating corrective measures when necessary to address unsatisfactory performance.

Annual reviews serve important functions:

  • They provide individuals with constructive feedback regarding their job performance. The performance reviewdiscussion reinforces for the individual how well his/her job performance is aligned with the manager's expectations and the requirements of the position, and whether the staff member has achieved desired results.
  • They provide an opportunity for the manager and the staff member to clarify performance expectations and to jointly set goals for the coming year, and to discuss anything hindering performance.
  • They provide an opportunity to formally recognize strong performers.
  • They allow the manager and staff member to identify opportunities for professional development, and to create a development plan in order to enhance performance and achieve desired results.
  • Information from performance reviews is used to help guide employment decisions, and the annual review is the primary means for determining eligibility for a merit increase. (The review becomes part of an employee's permanent personnel record and, therefore, must be objective and accurately reflect the individual's job performance during the fiscal year.)

The annual performance review does not take the place of providing regular feedback and coaching to staff members throughout the year.

The Review Process

The manager or department chair will need to document, on the performance review form, whether the professional staff member's performance in the fiscal year was Successful, Highly Commendable, or if Improvement is Required. 

If the staff member was in the position for less than one year at the time of the review, then this may be selected as well.  This evaluation level means that the staff member’s performance has been successful given his/her length of service, and he/she continues to learn and enhance performance, and that the staff member has demonstrated the potential to perform at a successful level once he/she gains more experience.  If the staff member has not demonstrated this potential, Improvement Required should be checked as well.

Additionally, the manager should meet privately with the staff member to discuss his/her performance and the manager’s expectations going forward; objectives and priorities for the coming year; and professional development needs. This discussion should be scheduled in advance so the staff member has time to prepare, and should allow the staff member to provide input.

Key Information

  • Assure the review process is two-way; encourage the staff member to provide input regarding his/her performance, his/her objectives for the coming year, and professional development needs. The staff member may be asked to complete a self-review.
  • The written review does not need to be lengthy. Think about the few key messages you want to communicate, and then write a clear, concise assessment of performance and expectations going forward.
  • View yourself as a coach who is trying to help the staff member maximize his/her performance.
  • In addition to reviewing past performance, be sure to clearly communicate your expectations going forward: your performance standards and what you expect the staff member to accomplish during the coming year.
  • The performance review discussion should hold no surprises for the professional staff member being reviewed. Managers should keep staff members informed throughout the year regarding how well their performance is meeting expectations, and address any issues as they occur.
  • Do not make any references on the review form or during the performance review meeting regarding the professional staff member's health status, medical condition, or disability; pregnancy, family, or marital status; age; race/ethnicity; or other similar factor.
  • For any member of the professional staff not meeting expectations, his/her review should be discussed in advance with the Assistant Director or Director, Human Resources. Additionally, a detailed, written performance improvement plan must be developed with the staff member, with a copy sent to Human Resources.

Some studies have found that:

  • Criticism hinders achievement of goals. Defensiveness resulting from a critical performance review produces inferior job performance.
  • Collaborative, continual goal-setting, not criticism, improves performance.
  • Performance improves most when specific goals are established with a staff member.
  • Participation by the staff member in the goal-setting process helps produce favorable results.
  • Coaching by the manager should be a daily, not a once-a-year, activity.

Before the Performance Review Meeting

Keep documentation regarding performance throughout the year:  Managers are encouraged to make and keep notes, in a confidential file, regarding the performance of each of their direct reports. Managers should document specific incidents and examples of good performance as they occur throughout the year, as well as examples of performance that does not meet expectations. Referring to these notes when it is time to prepare a formal performance review will make the process easier, more accurate, and more reflective of performance over the course of the entire year.

Review each staff member’s position description: The manager should assure an up-to- date position description is available to serve as the basis for discussions of past performance and expected job output. It is important that each position description accurately reflect the current requirements of the job. Therefore, managers are asked to review each staff member's position description and work with the staff member, if necessary, to update the description. An electronic copy of updated position descriptions must be submitted to Human Resources.

Consider gathering input from colleagues: To gain a more complete understanding of an individual's job performance, the manager may consider soliciting constructive feedback from others with whom the individual interacts on a routine basis, including co-workers within and outside the department and direct reports. The staff member being reviewed may feel the review is more accurate if the manager has formed opinions, in part, based on input from others with whom the job holder regularly interacts. Individuals providing such feedback should remain anonymous unless the individual is informed in advance that his/her name will be revealed to the job holder.

In order to help keep the review process objective, the manager may find it helpful to ask colleagues of the individual being reviewed to provide specific information versus generalizations. For example, you may wish to ask the job holder's colleagues to provide specific examples of how the job holder has worked collaboratively to resolve a problem, or to describe how the individual being evaluated has assured he/she shares relevant information with colleagues.

All feedback provided by co-workers and direct reports should be shared with the professional staff member being reviewed only in a compiled, summarized format, rather than sharing comments verbatim. The manger must take care to share only valid, reliable, and constructive feedback with the professional staff member being reviewed.

Give the staff member the opportunity to complete a self-review: The manager may find it helpful to give the professional staff member the opportunity to evaluate his/her own performance and begin to establish job-related objectives, through a self-appraisal. The professional staff member can complete the performance review form for him/herself. It can be helpful to ask the staff member to develop a list of his/her accomplishments during the past year, and note anything he/she wishes could have gone better. In doing so, the staff member is given the opportunity to document work activities he/she is proud of, is asked to think about his/her development needs / areas for improvement, and has input into the review process. The individual's self-evaluation can then be incorporated in the formal review. However, the individual's self- appraisal should not take the place of your careful review of his/her job performance.

Carefully consider the key messages you want to send: The written review does not need to be lengthy. Be sure, however, to clearly communicate your assessment of the professional staff member's performance, and your expectations going forward.

Complete the performance review form: The manager is to complete a performance review for the professional staff member, using the appropriate form.  Text included on this form will prompt the manager to complete required steps of the review process.

Discuss the draft version of the written review with your department manager and/or Senior Officer: It is recommended you assure the department manager and/or Senior Officer for your area agrees with your assessment of the professional staff member's job performance, before you meet with the professional staff member.

When completing the performance review, avoid these pitfalls:

  • Avoid using the annual performance review meeting as the one time during the year during which you let the staff member know whether he/she is meeting your expectations. The performance review discussion should hold no surprises for the staff member; it should truly be a review of your discussions throughout the year. The staff member should have received regular feedback throughout the year regarding his/her performance and progress in meeting objectives, and any performance issues should have been addressed promptly during the year.
  • When evaluating performance, try to avoid focusing solely on the individual's most recent accomplishments or problem areas. The performance review should accurately reflect performance over the evaluation period.
  • Try to avoid focusing on just a few good or very poor results.  Point out work the staff member has done well, and areas where improvements can be made.
  • Try to avoid comments that are vague, or so general or broad the staff member does not understand or learn anything from the review. Provide at least a few specific examples of good work performance (document specific assignments that were handled well), and as applicable, a few specific examples of assignments that were not completed as well as you had expected.
  • Avoid generalizations such as, "You need to be a better problem-solver." Instead, provide more details so the staff member understands what you really mean: "I appreciate that you bring office problems to my attention. I would also appreciate if you would recommend possible solutions...".
  • Describe the actions or behaviors of the individual that need to be modified, rather than making critical statements regarding the individual's work ethic, personality, etc. (for example, instead of "You don't seem to care about your work", try "I expect you to be at your desk by 8:30 a.m. each morning ready to start your work day").
  • When completing the performance review form, do not attempt to assign a  motive to a staff member's actions, and avoid subjective terms when describing performance problems. For example, avoid statements such as: "Due to laziness, Joe failed to complete several reports over the past few months." Instead, document the facts: "On March 16, Joe failed to turn in a required report. This was the second time this month Joe failed to complete a report on time."
  • Do not attempt to make excuses for an individual's work performance. For example, avoid statements such as: "Pat has been under a lot of stress this past year, and I believe this has impacted her work performance." Instead, document only the facts: "Pat failed to return three phone calls last month, and a report was missing several important details...".
  • Avoid commentary that does not directly relate to the staff member's work performance.

Define Results to be Achieved During the Coming Months

Clarify your expectations of the individual being reviewed: Define what it takes to be effective in the staff member's position - the key skills, abilities, and knowledge the staff member must possess to be an effective performer, and the behaviors and conduct he/she must exhibit to be most effective on the job.

Define and document the results to be achieved by the professional staff member being reviewed: Document the goals and priorities of the staff member as aligned with department goals and priorities.

Goals / objectives for the staff member should be specific, measurable whenever possible, and realistic yet challenging. The staff member's objectives should reflect the requirements of the position, and be aligned with department and College goals and priorities. Try to avoid identifying more than about three or four goals so the individual feels challenged, but not overwhelmed.

When establishing goals for the professional staff member being reviewed, first think about:

  • the College’s strategic plans and priorities
  • department objectives and priorities

In particular:

  • What does your department / office need to accomplish to support College strategies and priorities?
  • What do your internal and/or external clients (including students, parents, faculty and professional staff, members of the Lancaster community, alumni, Trustees, and donors) expect from your department?
  • What activities are other similar departments / institutions engaged in successfully that your department could implement?
  • What new programs, policies, procedures, databases, etc., could be developed to help the department or office meet its objectives?

Then, clarify what the professional staff member being reviewed should accomplish during the coming months:

  • What can / should the individual being reviewed do to support departmental and College objectives?
  • What results is the job holder expected to achieve?
  • Which desired outcomes are of the highest priority?
  • By when should the individual achieve desired results?
  • What can the individual do differently to better contribute to departmental results?
  • What is the individual doing well that he/she should continue to do?

Draft a Professional Development Plan for the Staff Member

Identify professional development needs and resources: Begin identifying the professional staff member's training and development needs, and ways in which needs will be addressed during the coming year. Professional development plans are appropriate for those who are strong performers as well as those who are not meeting expectations; generally everyone has room to enhance their performance.

Development plans do not need to be lengthy; outline a few key areas in which the staff member should enhance his/her knowledge and skills, and how the staff member will do so.

  • Determine what the individual needs to learn or be able to do in order to perform his/her job most effectively, and to be able to accomplish expected results
  • Development needs should correspond to expected results and objectives identified in step 2 (i.e., identify the learning and/or skill development that will help the individual meet expectations and accomplish objectives).
  • Begin identifying how the individual will acquire necessary job-related learning, skills, and abilities. The opportunity for professional development may come in many forms, such as through formal training working on a special project, doing community service work, participating on a committee, leading a project, practicing a new skill, attending a professional conference, researching a topic or the practices of other employers, reading journals or business-related books, and networking with other professionals.

The Performance Review Discussion

Schedule the meeting in advance: The manager and professional staff member should schedule a specific time for the performance review discussion, and should meet where they will not be interrupted. The manager should advise the individual in advance that the time will be used for a performance review so that he/she can prepare for the meeting.  Sufficient time should be allocated to allow a thorough discussion of past performance, and future expectations and development needs.

Review performance: The manager should review his/her assessment of the staff member’s job performance, the staff member’s strengths, and any performance problems and areas where improvement is needed. As noted above, this should be a review of feedback given to the staff member throughout the year. The professional staff member should gain a clear understanding of how well his/her job performance is aligned with the manager's expectations and the job requirements.  The staff member should be told whether his/her performance over the past year has met expectations, exceeded expectations, or failed to meet expectations.

  • Keep feedback objective and factual. Feedback is most helpful when it is objective and specific. The manager should focus on observable behaviors and results as they relate to job requirements, rather than on personality traits. For example, rather than saying, "You are not motivated.", the manager might say, "You did not complete an important project on time." Instead of "You have done a great job this year.", try "The spreadsheet you developed to track claims has been very useful and has helped the department avoid costly errors."
  • Keep the discussion constructive. View yourself as a coach; your role is to help the staff member succeed. Focus on what the staff member has done well, and what you and he/she can work on together to enhance performance.
  • Have an honest, open discussion. Any performance problems must be discussed openly so the staff member has a clear understanding of what must be improved, and why. The manager should explain how unacceptable performance negatively affects the department. For example, "As we discussed previously, you were late three times during the last two months. This was disruptive to the department because your co-workers had to fill in for you and could not complete their assignments." As note above, a discussion of performance issues should be a review of previous discussions. And, the focus of such discussion should be helping the staff member to improve his/her performance.
  • Allow the staff member to provide input. The performance review discussion should be two-way; the staff member should be given the opportunity to explain what he/she feels was accomplished during the past 12 months, and his/her perception of job strengths and areas where improvement is necessary. The professional staff member should be actively involved in determining how any performance discrepancies will be corrected. During the review process, the staff member should also be given the opportunity to provide input regarding anything impeding successful job performance, such as lack of resources, lack of access to information, unclear expectations, lack of job training, outdated processes or procedures, etc. You may want to ask direct reports the following questions:
  • Have I clearly communicated my expectations of you?
  • What do you need to know or learn in order to be able to effectively do what is expected of you?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to complete your work?
  • What information do you need to complete your work properly?
  • Do you feel you receive guidance and feedback on a routine basis?
  • Are you given the opportunity to do what you do best while at work?
  • Do you feel your opinions matter?
  • How does your work impact other department members?
  • Over the past year, have you had the opportunity to learn and develop job skills?
  • What do you like best about your job?
  • What do you find frustrating?
  • Is there something I can do differently to help you succeed?
  • What would you like to accomplish during the coming months?

Describe expected performance standards, and establish goals and priorities for the coming year: The manager should explain what he/she expects of the professional staff member being reviewed and why it is important to the department and College. This discussion should include clarification of your (the manager's) performance standards, and the results the professional staff is expected to achieve during the coming year. The manager should also give the individual being reviewed the opportunity to discuss what he/she would like to accomplish during the next 12 months. The manager and staff member should strive to define mutually agreed-upon goals whenever possible to help assure a high level of commitment. The manager and staff member should discuss the resources needed to achieve desired results (access to information, modification of other job duties, new equipment, procedure changes, etc.).

Identify professional development needs: The manager and professional staff member should consider the learning and skill development that must take place in order for the staff member to enhance his/her performance, and achieve the objectives identified in the step above.

Create a plan for enhancing skills and abilities: Specific plans for addressing professional development needs should then be discussed and documented on the performance review form. Methods for developing skills and knowledge may include:

  • participating in formal training and then putting the information learned into practice;
  • pursuing a professional certification;
  • attending a professional conference;
  • working on a special project;
  • serving on, or leading, a committee or task force;
  • serving with a community organization;
  • taking on a new responsibility;
  • temporarily "swapping" job tasks with a co-worker or filling in for a co-worker who is on vacation;
  • cross-training with a co-worker;
  • benchmarking another organization;
  • researching an issue
  • reading professional journals or books;
  • networking with other professionals;
  • receiving coaching or coaching a colleague


Allow the professional staff member to record comments: Following the performance review meeting, the staff member may write comments regarding the evaluation on the performance review form, or attach his/her self-review.

After the Review

The manager should schedule periodic follow-up sessions (such as monthly or quarterly) to compare the professional staff member's current performance to desired results; to discuss any obstacles to achieving desired results; and to review progress against development objectives. If department conditions or objectives change during the year, the staff member's objectives may need to be revised.

If performance problems are identified during the performance review, a meeting(s) should be scheduled to review the staff member's efforts to improve performance.

Merit Increases

Base salary (merit) increases are generally given once per fiscal year to eligible members of the faculty and professional staff, based on the College's budgetary guidelines. Salary increases for eligible members of the professional staff are based on merit: how well job duties were performed and job performance met expectations, as evaluated by each professional staff member's manager or department chair and Senior Officer.

Each Senior Officer, in consultation with each professional staff member's manager or department chair, determines merit increases for full- and part-time members of the professional staff in his/her area, as follows:

  • Each professional staff member whose job performance is determined, by his/her manager or department chair and Senior Officer, to be Successful is typically eligible to receive a merit increase, based on the College’s budgetary guidelines. To help assure consistency across departments, the percentage increase will be approximately the same for each professional staff member fully meeting expectations. This percentage is established each year by the Senior Officers of the College, based on the total compensation budget as approved by the Trustees.
  • Each professional staff member whose performance review level is Improvement Required, will receive a lesser increase, or no increase. All performance issues must be documented by the manager on the performance review form, and the manager and professional staff member will be expected to develop a written performance improvement plan for the individual.
  • Each professional staff member whose job performance is determined, by his/her manager or department chair and Senior Officer, to be Highly Commendable will typically be eligible to receive a merit increase above that provided to those meeting expectations. The specific amount will be recommended by the Senior Officer with responsibility for the area, based on job performance and the College’s budgetary guidelines. Examples of the ways in which the professional staff member's performance exceeded expectations must be documented by the manager.

Members of the professional staff hired April 1 or later are typically eligible for their first salary increase on July 1 following the year of hire.

Find a Development Planning Worksheet in the Human Resources public eDisk folder ('Professional Development').