Part One: A Better Approach to Superintendent Performance Review

Although most boards believe that performance reviews are important, many still rely on traditional review processes that while fulfilling contractual requirements do little to actually improve performance or board/superintendent relationships. This series will outline some of the challenges with traditional performance review processes and offer a proactive alternative.


What is the Problem with Traditional Performance Reviews?

Years of research shows that performance reviews usually do not result in any long-term performance improvement and may, in fact, do more harm than good. Although they won’t often publicly admit it, both boards and superintendents dislike having to go through the activity. Boards feel uncomfortable judging their most important employee and think the process is time-consuming, costly, and awkward. Superintendents feel like their work is under a microscope, aren’t convinced that boards fully understand all of the aspects of the role and, understandably, feel uncomfortable being judged. A root canal would be more welcome.

In addition to this mutual awkwardness, the most frequently used review processes have been shown to be flawed and of limited value. These once a year (or less) reviews tend to be more like annual report cards focusing on past behaviours, are heavily subjective, and often purport to measure a wide range of indicators that are of questionable value and are generally unmeasurable. I have examined many processes that attempt to report on a wide array of superintendent leadership, communication, and relationship skills. Some are paper-based, some on-line, some are 360-degree processes, some use interviews, some focus more on behaviours and others on outcomes. Most suffer from the same flaws. They tend to be retrospective snapshots, are “done to” rather than “with” the superintendent, they focus on too many areas, are not aligned with the board’s strategic plan, not connected to the board’s own self-review process, and fail to build a culture of continuous improvement and planning for the future.

Unless there is a major problem (and a board shouldn’t need a performance review to reveal that) both parties are relieved when the annual awkwardness is over, the report is filed away, and everyone can get back to the real work of running the school district.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. While there will likely always be some degree of discomfort in any performance review process there are ways to minimise this and increase the potential for performance and relationship growth.

Part Two of this series will discuss the question: Why bother at all?

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