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Leadership & Communication Through Evaluation

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Leadership & Communication Through Evaluation

Mid-Continent Public Library

Operations & Management | 2012 |

Innovation Synopsis

Mid-Continent Public Library moved from a tenure-based compensation system to a performance evaluation system that is designed to recognize leadership abilities and results in much more open organizational communication.


MCPL operated for most of its history with a tenure-based compensation system for all salaried employees that did not include any consideration of performance. A desire to motivate and reward staff based on individual performance meant a new system was needed. Among the many concerns around a significant shift in compensation was creating a system of evaluation that could be sustained. An issue with many traditional performance evaluation systems is that they resemble school grading with many employees feeling as if they had failed if they did not get the maximum “grade” possible. “Evaluation creep” ensues and all employees move to the extremes of the performance scale. Unfortunately, this makes it nearly impossible to distinguish outstanding performers from good performers. Another potential issue was that many evaluation systems are a once per year session where employees are often surprised by comments about performance they have never heard about before. While this may be slightly better than no performance review at all, it is not a model that maximizes the usefulness of performance evaluations.

Key Elements of Innovation

We developed a performance evaluation system that focused on the performance of the “quality employee.” We defined a quality employee as one who comes to work, does what is called for in his/her job description and does it well. We wanted to recognize that the majority of employees are motivated to do the best job possible and that a large portion of these employees succeed in doing very good work. However, it was important to recognize those employees who exhibit “leadership qualities” and reward their contributions beyond doing their job well. The Library developed a 1-4 scale for performance evaluations and designated “3” as the indicator of a quality employee. This creates room for the “4” to be used as recognition for special contributions, and keeps the system away from congregations at both ends of the scale. No matter the score, the key issue in the Library’s performance evaluation process is the conversations that supervisors are required to have with every employee at least 4 times per year. These discussions not only help focus on problems that a few employees may be having, but they force managers to talk to their often overlooked high performing employees about their positive contributions to the Library’s success.

Achieved Outcomes

The Library’s performance based compensation program remains a work in progress but has seen several early payoffs. The most significant benefit has been the discovery and recognition of leadership talents within the organization. More mentoring and learning opportunities have resulted from managers realizing the potential of top performers. The Library has used the evaluation system to place several top performers in management positions and leadership roles. Quarterly reviews have given managers more connection with staff, and communication has improved significantly. Among other things, this has aided in organizational efforts to empower staff with many daily decisions.