A Handbook for Staffing Practices in Student Affairs

"Performance appraisal is an organizational system comprising deliberate processes for determining staff accomplishments to improve staff effectiveness."

Winston & Creamer, 1997

Topics on this Page

Rationale for Policy

Policy Statement

Using Staffing Model

Sample Plans

Diversity in Performance Appraisal





Rationale for Policy on Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal can be viewed as the process of assessing and recording staff performance for the purpose of making judgments about staff that lead to decisions. Performance appraisal should also be viewed as a system of highly interactive processes which involve personnel at all levels in differing degrees in determining job expectations, writing job descriptions, selecting relevant appraisal criteria, developing assessment tools and procedures, and collecting interpreting, and reporting results.

Objectives for performance appraisal policy can best be understood in terms of potential benefits. Mohrman, Resnick-West and Lawler (1989) identify the following:

  • Increase motivation to perform effectively
  • Increase staff self-esteem
  • Gain new insight into staff and supervisors
  • Better clarify and define job functions and responsibilities
  • Develop valuable communication among appraisal participants
  • Encourage increased self-understanding among staff as well as insight into the kind of development activities that are of value
  • Distribute rewards on a fair and credible basis
  • Clarify organizational goals so they can be more readily accepted
  • Improve institutional/departmental manpower planning, test validation, and development of training programs


Policy Statement

Each member of the Division of Student Affairs should participate in a regular process of performance appraisal. It is recommended that individual performance evaluation plans be developed for each staff member. Much like the individual staff development plan, each performance evaluation should be developed cooperatively between each staff member and her/his supervisor.

All positions within the division should undergo a periodic review each year. During this review, the duties and responsibilities of the position should be analyzed to ensure that they match the mission and goals of the institution, division, and department. Performance evaluation plans should be changed to match any changes in job descriptions, missions, and individual goals of the staff member.

Because of the importance of performance evaluation, all staff members should undergo two formal evaluations per year. In addition, it is expected that supervisors meet with individual staff members on a regular basis to discuss performance and expected behaviors within the department.


Using The Staffing Model in Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal should be viewed as a process, and not simply as the creation of ubiquitous standards.

The overriding purpose of performance appraisal is to help staff to improve and, thus, to improve organizational effectiveness. Performance appraisal therefore addresses institutional needs as well as staff member needs, abilities, motivation, and expectancies.

The integrated staffing model suggests two integrated functions toward this purpose: the evaluation of staff relative to job requirements and the development of staff for improved performance. Thus, performance appraisal and staff development are closely related and should operate in concert with one another.

The integrated staffing model also suggests that staffing practices occur within a larger context of institutional culture. Thus, judgments about performance appraisal, as well as the design and implementation of appraisal systems, should be considered contextually.

Effective appraisal systems should address clarity, openness, and fairness; recognize productivity through rewards; and be cognizant of appraiser leadership qualities.

Appraisal System Attributes: Clarity, Openness, and Fairness

The performance appraisal system must possess the attributes of clarity, openness, and fairness. These attributes are related to the historic values of the student affairs profession. While specific implementation of these attributes may vary, the following should be represented in effective performance appraisal:

Ongoing Review of Position and Performance - Effective performance appraisal systems conduct ongoing evaluations of both the position and the staff member occupying it. With ongoing position analysis and performance appraisal, there are few surprises, and changes in the environment are quickly incorporated into the official appraisal system.

Job Descriptions - Job descriptions should be reliable, valid, understandable, and specific enough to provide direction for staff behavior. Job descriptions should focus on what the staff member does (e.g. advises the student government association) and what outcomes are expected. These outcomes should be clearly linked to departmental and institutional objectives and needs.

Job descriptions should use action words such "plans" or "supervises" rather than "demonstrates initiative" or "is likable." Job descriptions should provide guidelines for staff so they know the specific behaviors expected to perform. The responsibilities of the staff member should be listed in order of importance and weighted relative to importance, if possible.

Participatory and Interactive Appraisal - Appraisal system processes should be designed in concert with all stakeholders and open to constant interaction with them. Plans made jointly by staff and administrators have a better chance of working than plans made independently by either party.

Workable Formats that Avoid Systemic Bias - Effective performance appraisal systems must include workable formats that avoid systematic biases. Checklists of performance criteria completed at the same time every year should be avoided. This type of approach simply fails to produce any useful information for individual or organizational improvement.

Other biases include giving preferential treatment to some but not all staff, rating all staff the same, being overly lenient or overly harsh toward some or all staff, and practicing conscious or unconscious racial or gender prejudice.

Adopting a format that includes the standards of clarity, openness, and fairness and that involves more than one appraiser may help to control some of these biases.


Productivity and Rewards

Appraisal systems are related to institutional productivity requirements. Appraisal systems are expected to reveal under-productive units and to serve as a response system to focus attention on problem areas. Appraisal systems should also function to reward productive units and staff.

One of the most crucial response systems is the institution's reward structure. Hypothetically, performance appraisal is used to reward productive staff through upward salary adjustments. While salary adjustment may be fixed, especially in state institutions, alternative reward structures may be initiated by departments to recognize productive staff. Concerns with under-productive staff may be addressed through targeted staff development activities or through other means as appropriate.


Appraiser Leadership Attributes

Supervisor or appraiser behavior may be more important than the format used in the performance appraisal system. Appraisers who act like leaders in their organization are more likely to experience successful results from the appraisal system than will appraisers who behave as non-leaders.

Leaders can model desired behavior and prescribe behavior sought from staff. This modeling carries the advantage of organizational prestige and power associated with the position.


Designing an Appraisal System

With the above discussion in mind, appraisers and supervisors should design appraisal systems that are congruent with individual departmental and institutional contexts. Brown (1989) offers that the following questions be addressed when designing an appraisal system:

  • Is the chief student affairs officer committed to performance appraisal?
  • Are staff members involved in determining the appraisal criteria and standards?
  • Are the organizational goals of student affairs and subunits integrated into the appraisal plan?
  • Are staff members involved in planning and implementation of the appraisal process?
  • Is the appraisal process congruent with the organizational climate and the management style of the administrators?
  • Have adequate job descriptions based on job analysis been written?
  • Have weights or priorities been assigned to job expectations?
  • Is available expertise being employed for consultation?
  • Is the purpose of the performance appraisal system clearly articulated and congruent with the staff and management needs and expectations?
  • Has a process been worked out to monitor and evaluate the system?


Practical Approaches to Performance Appraisal

Creamer and Janosik (in press) note that performance appraisal is not about a single event, such as completing a standard review form, but rather a process that is ongoing. Appraisal activities, as an ongoing process, should connect the process to organizational functioning and have as their focus staff improvement, not simply salary adjustment and/or disciplinary action. Davis (2001) proposed a model of performance appraisal for use in student affairs that includes three phases: Getting started/renewal, Achievement, and Evaluation. The model includes detailed suggestions for conducting an appraisal interview.

Creamer and Janosik outline several approaches to performance appraisal, including behavior based approaches, results-focused approaches, and appraisals of team performance.

Behavior-Based Approaches - These approaches tend to use specific performance factors to evaluate staff. Measures of performance can be either quantitative or qualitative.

One approach is the conventional rating scale (Table 1). These scales use words or phrases to describe the degree to which certain behaviors or characteristics are displayed. Categories for behaviorally anchored scales can be created from job descriptions. If there are no appropriate behaviors or characteristics within job descriptions, supervisors should work with staff to determine what behaviors and characteristics would be most useful in an appraisal setting.

Table 1 - Conventional Rating Scale

Below Average
Above Average
Understands department functions          
Uses participative techniques          
Engages in long-range planning          


Another way of approaching this type of appraisal is the behaviorally anchored scale (Table 2). In this approach, broad categories of practice are identified, ideally through collaborations between supervisors and staff. Specific job behaviors are then linked to the categories. Measures of staff member behavior are rated on a scale in relation to specific behavior items, such as "understands department functions."

Table 2 - Behaviorally Anchored Scale

Job-Dimension: Uses Collaborative Methods in Meeting Unit Goals
Behavior Anchor
5 [ ] Very Good Develops workable plans for collaboration including time lines and budget and works regularly with others to achieve goals. Gives credit to others for their contributions and provides supportive written materials of the work. Always follows up on agreements.
4 [ ] Good Plans for collaboration usually carried out. Helps all members of team make meaningful contributions. Experiences some difficulties in full collaboration among identified team members.
3 [ ] Below Average Has a plan for collaboration, but experiences delays and frustrations with the nature of collaboration.
2 [ ] Poor Has no effective plan for collaboration, but expresses interest.
1 [ ] Unacceptable Shows no interest in working with others. Does not seek direction on how to improve.

Henderson (1980) notes that job-dimensions usually yield similar broad categories, such as planning, setting priorities, and responsiveness to supervision. Categories such as these may be useful in framing evaluation criteria in this approach to appraisal.

Another means of approaching beahvior-based appraisal is the is the behavioral frequency scale(Table 3) . Here, desired behaviors are described and the staff member is evaluated on how often those behaviors occur.

Table 3 - Behavioral Frequency Scale

Job-Dimension: Staff Supervision
Engages in synergistic relationships between supervisor and staff members        
Is ubiquitously involved with and constantly nurtures staff members        
Focuses on institutional and individual needs        
Provides a stable and supportive institutional environment        


The weighted checklist (Table 4)is another way of approaching behavior-based appraisal. This method provides a list of performance related statements that are weighted. Staff members are judged on a scale indicating the degree to which the statement accurately describes performance.

Table 4 - Weighted Checklist

Scale Value
Individual Performance
Interprets institutional culture to staff
Accurate (3); Mostly Accurate (2); Mostly Inaccurate (1); Inaccurate (0)
Work results are high quality 5 Accurate (3); Mostly Accurate (2); Mostly Inaccurate (1); Inaccurate (0)
Holds high expectations for staff members 5 Accurate (3); Mostly Accurate (2); Mostly Inaccurate (1); Inaccurate (0)


A final approach to behavior-based appraisal is the forced-choice method. Here, a list of performance related statements about job performance are evaluated on how well they discriminate among staff and how important they are to unit or institutional performance. Discrimination and desirability statements are placed on a grid in clusters that differ on discrimination but are closely related in desirability. Discrimination and desirability are multiplied to yield a total scale score.

Results-Focused Approaches - Creamer and Janosik (in press) note that there are both advantages and disadvantages to results-based performance appraisal approaches. On the positive side, they produce short and long-term results in the context of original performance and organizational objectives, are generally perceived as fair, tend to generate high levels of commitment to the organization, and they encourage a high level of participation and are thus defensible. On the negative side, they can be overly results oriented - especially in educational organizations, and they may be inflexible.

If supervisors determine that the advantages outweigh disadvantages, results-focused approaches may be incorporated. There are two general techniques of enacting results-focused approaches: Management by Objectives (MBO) and Accountabilities and Measures (Grote, 1996).

MBO emphasizes participation by all organization members. Grote identifies the following core elements in MBO:

  • Formation of trusting and open communication throughout the organization
  • Mutual problem solving and negotiations in the establishment of objectives
  • Creation of win-win relationships
  • Organizational rewards and punishments based on job-related performance and achievement
  • Minimal uses of political games, forces, and fear
  • Development of a positive, proactive, and challenging organizational climate

Additionally, Grote defines eight steps in the MBO Process:

  1. Formulate long-range goals and strategic plans
  2. Develop overall organizational objectives
  3. Establish derivative objectives for major operating units
  4. Set realistic and challenging objectives and standards of performance for members of the organization
  5. Formulate action plans for achieving the stated objectives
  6. Implement the action plans and take corrective action when required to ensure the attainment of objectives
  7. Periodically review performance against established goals and objectives
  8. Appraise overall performance, reinforce behavior, and strengthen motivation. Begin the cycle again

Supervisors need to ensure that appraisal processes are congruent with objectives and goals. An MBO rating form (Table 5) needs to provide space to list staff member objectives in order of importance, as well as space for the evaluator to describe staff member performance using a mutually agreed upon scale. Categories of performance can include: distinguished performance, competent performance, provisional performance, and inadequate performance.

Table 5 - Management Objective Rating Form

Objective 1: (State the objective here.)


Performance Rating:

Objective 2: (State the objective here.)


Performance Rating:

Objective 3: (State the objective here.)


Performance Rating:

Accountabilities and Measures approaches involve the supervisor and staff member agreeing on accountability and performance factors and including them in the job description. Performance is then forecast for each factor to enable quantifiable measures for each factor. An Accountabilities and Measures form (Table 6) can be created, with performance factor categories.

Table 6 - Accountabilities and Measures Form

Principles Accountabilities
Performance Value (Forecast)
  1. Prepares reports in a timely fashion
  2. Manages budgets effectively



  1. Creates a climate for high productivity
  2. Provides opportunities for staff development



  1. Provides appropriate educational programs
  2. Conducts programs that meet the needs of diverse clients





Appraisals of Team Performance

Creamer and Janosik (in press) acknowledge that much of today's work is done in collaborative arrangements. The successful performance of such teams can be critical to achieving organizational objectives and goals. Thus, appraisal of team and team member performance should be integrated into team-based activities.

Appraising teams and team members can, however, be problematic. Creamer and Janosik suggest a team appraisal matrix (Table 7) in which team members are listed on a vertical dimension, and specific tasks on the horizontal. Such an arrangement reelects individual performance, and collectively reflects the overall team performance.

Table 7 - Team Appraisal Matrix

Measure Student Learning
Measure Effects of Leader Behavior
Measure Effectiveness of Educational Processes Used

Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:

Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:

Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:



Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Product shown with indications of appropriateness

Comments about process:


Team appraisal approaches assume, of course, that specific team performance objectives have been agreed upon, as well as individual expectations within the team. Ideally, the process of team performance evaluation will identify not only team performance, but individual deficiencies and paths of corrective action.


Sample Performance Appraisal Plans

Two comprehensive performance appraisal plans are available. One focuses on a specific unit within a division of student affairs and the other offers a division wide plan for performance appraisal. These plans were developed by graduate students in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at Virginia Tech while taking the course, Staffing Practices in Education, during the spring 2004 academic term. Proposal for a specific unit was completed by Connie Wilkinson, Ken Smith, Crystal Armes Joyce, Megan Atkinson, and Jonathan McCloud. The proposal for a division wide system was completed by Tara McCartney, Kelly Rust, Brenda Burke, and Lauren Pigott.


Issues of Diversity in Performance Appraisal

This section will provide some general information regarding the performance appraisal of minorities.  For the purpose of this document, ethnicity will be considered part of the overall “diversity section”.  Because there were some areas where research was more readily available (Religion, Gender, and LGBT), specific information and tips for these populations will follow.  This document does not claim to be exhaustive but is an overview of things to consider.

Religion and Performance Appraisal

Although religion should not be considered in the appraisal process, you may want to be sure that all supervisors or employees to cognizant of the religious customs and practices of employees they supervise. This will make sure that employees are not held liable for actions inappropriately. 

  Gender Issues in Performance Appraisal

  • Evaluate the employee on work related elements, which have been made clear.
  • Do not evaluate on differences in communication style.

  LGBT Issues and Performance Appraisal

According to Blank & Slipp (1994) when conducting performance appraisals, supervisors should clearly convey work expectations and make sure that employees understand expectations. This can be accomplished by incorporating equal performance standards for all employees.  

Equally important is realizing that some managers expect some workers to be superstars and from others they will expect very little.  Supervisors should reexamine judgments to make sure that poor performance is not overlooked due to being uncomfortable about providing feedback to those different than oneself.  If supervisors provide feedback often and equally to all members of the workforce this issue should not prevail. 

Failure to give legitimate feedback because of being feared labeled as sexist, racist, or discriminatory can demean the importance of the workers career goals and expectations. 


Performance Appraisal Resources on the Web


This site, from Archer-North and Associates, contains an introduction to the topic of performance appraisal, including a brief overview of the history of performance appraisal, a discussion of the role of performance appraisal, and a review of the controversies sometimes caused by performance appraisal. Included are links to other web pages that discuss methods of performance appraisal, benefits of appraisal, issues of rewards, how to handle conflict and confrontation, common performance appraisal mistakes, and bias effects.


Current Legal Issues in Performance Appraisal. This document from the World Wide Web provides a comprehensive review of legal principles, specific legislation, and case law relevant to performance appraisal. The author addresses several current topics including privacy, job sharing, and workplace violence.



Updated 2008