Evaluations: Constructive Feedback

Blog prompt: Think about a colleague with whom you are familiar (present or past) who would have been helped through a professionally challenging time with a constructive evaluation process — one that’s a developmental process, effectively constructed, and delivered by a supervisor. What could have been some positive outcomes for this colleague had such an approach been taken? Use pseudonyms for people, organizations, etc.

I’m thinking of a colleague who was an executive level administrator at a community college (Seashore College). She reported directly to the president, yet due to the large geographic area covered by the district, her place of work was actually some distance from the president. It was about a two-hour drive from the president’s office to my colleague’s office. My colleague, we’ll call her Susan, was hired to serve as the administrator for the educational center. She was a perfect fit for the area, got along extremely well with the faculty and staff, and was admired by the community. The board member who represented the area where Susan worked was very impressed with Susan and her work. Like all of the executive managers, she was hired by one president who subsequently left the college to accept a position in a larger district. The president who left, let’s call him Fred, supported his executive staff and gave us all tremendous latitude in our work. Some might say he was generous to a fault in this way. But he basically  provided overall direction then got out of our way so we could get our work done. He was the perfect boss for someone like Susan who appreciated freedom and the flexibility to run the educaitonal center in the way that met the community’s needs. She also had tremendous respect for Fred. Our evaluations from Fred were all generally positive and also included ways we could develop our skills; for example, Fred was the president who encouraged me to get my doctorate and then adjusted my schedule so I could go to class sessions each month.

When Fred left the college, the interim President essentially maintained Fred’s approach to working with the executive staff. He also provided important feedback, letting us know when we had done something well and also when we made a mistake. He discussed the mistakes with us informally and worked with us to see how we might avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

What I think the interim President could have done for Susan was to better prepare her for the new President. For some reason, the new President didn’t approve of Susan’s approach to running the center and began to micromanage and criticize Susan’s efforts. This ended up bringing out the worst in Susan who then became less attached to the goals of the district as a whole and more focused on the goals of the center (and its surrounding community). The interim President could have used the evaluation process to address Susan’s shifting perspective. Perhaps discussing the impact of her approach to running the center, the need to be more of a team player (less of a maverick), and the importance of staying focused on the district’s goals would have smoothed the transition when the new President joined the district. As it was, Susan left the district about 18 months after the new President arrived.

While Susan left Seashore College to become a President herself, the new college was about 2 hours from the district office and she ended up repeating the pattern she established at Seashore: She focused on the local goals of the college to the near exclusion of the district’s goals. Perhaps if both the interim President had given her more explicit feedback she would have been more successful in both situations.

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