BC Links Exempt Compensation to Performance

For several years now in British Columbia compensation for exempt education staff has been frozen by the provincial government. This includes Superintendents, Directors, Principals/Vice-principals and most other non-unionized employees. Started as a provincial belt-tightening measure, over time the freeze created recruitment, retention and salary compression problems as compensation levels for education leaders fell behind. The repeated requests from the provincial associations representing boards of education, superintendents, principals and business officials asking the government to remove the freeze have now been answered – but with a significant condition.  Any new compensation increases must be based in part on individual employee performance. BC school districts must now put in place plans to evaluate the performance of all exempt staff on a regular basis. The full framework document can be found here.

Readers of this blog and colleagues know that leadership performance review is a topic of particular interest to me. It was the focus of my Doctoral dissertation and the subject of a guide I wrote while working at the BC School Trustees Association. After reviewing the framework, I am generally supportive of its intent and, for the most part, its key elements.

The Positives:

  • There is merit in the concept of linking compensation with performance – with some caveats (see below). Being an educator is not about the money but acknowledging and rewarding good performance makes sense – at all levels.
  • The framework calls for a number of elements that are recognised best practice.
  • The framework allows for local context and board autonomy in developing and implementing the process.
  • It calls for a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities between the Superintendent and the board.
  • The framework recommends including both outcomes and competencies in the review process.
  • It recommends collaboration in the development of the review process with those whose performance is being reviewed.
  • The framework calls for a more concise focus on just a few outcomes and competencies in each cycle rather than the more common review of multiple factors.


Some Cautions:

  • Linking compensation to performance also has some potential risks. Base compensation levels before performance lifts must still be sufficient to attract, incent and retain high-quality individuals. The base must still keep pace with other factors such as inflation and bargained increases in wages for non-exempt educators.
  • Merit based compensation is tricky to apply to performance that is not easily quantifiable. It is one thing to reward a salesperson for increased revenue but much more difficult to be objective about the harder to measure attributes of leadership.
  • Performance-based compensation can result in winners and losers. Those who get the increase will be happy – those who don’t will not. This can change the dynamics of a process that should really be based on collaboration and supporting leadership development.
  • There is a risk of relying on review tools and practices that will focus too much on measurement as “evidence” of meritorious performance. Assessing leadership is not like measuring one’s hat size. It’s complicated and involves low-risk dialogue to reach agreement on what’s important and how to know when progress is being made. Leadership performance review is not a scientific process and it is too tempting to want to make it look like one by relying too heavily on rating scales and check boxes.

Most school districts already have performance review processes in place for exempt staff. Linking them to compensation will require a careful review to ensure that existing practices are consistent with the new framework and are defensible to any challenges that may arise now that the stakes are higher. For larger districts with robust HR and legal departments, this will be less of a challenge, but districts with smaller senior leadership teams will be harder pressed to review and implement new processes. That said, this is a perfect opportunity for the various provincial associations supporting boards and exempt staff to step up and support their members. From developing templates and guidelines to facilitating implementation, this is where BCSTA, BCSSA, BCASBO and BCPVPA can shine.

Stephen Hansen sehansen6263@gmail.com

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