A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Competencies in Performance Appraisals

This is the second post in a series on competencies based professional development.

In August 2014 I was hired by Bruce County Public Library as the Assistant Director. In June 2015 I became the Director. I currently supervise 22 people in various locations across our 18 locations.  Prior to Bruce County, I worked at Toronto Public Library, Yellowknife Public Library, Lethbridge Public Library and Vancouver Island Regional Library. I have done every job in a public library from page to Director.

In my first supervisory position  with the Yellowknife Public Library I implemented a competencies based approach to performance evaluations for library staff. It was based on the Government of the Northwest Territories HR model. I liked this model because it gave quantifiable standards of performance that could apply equitably to each person. In the management positions I held later, across Western Canada, I delivered appraisal after appraisal and longed for the competencies I used in my first supervisory position. I felt that the appraisals were less meaningful and practical without a competency component. When I returned to Ontario and found the SOLS competencies, I wanted to implement them in some significant way.

In my current role, changing the performance appraisal itself was not an option. So, I wondered how to send the message to staff that competencies are important and necessary to create a culture of continuous improvement. At a staff development workshop in 2014 I presented the customer service competencies and a section of the tech competencies. I explained that these competencies were the assessment tool by which staff would be measured. There were a lot of nods of agreement, but I worried that once staff were back in the branches, the competencies wouldn’t be a conscious part of their very busy work lives. How could I make the competencies an essential part of our jobs, not just a presentation topic?

First, I took the competency profiles that SOLS provides for Supervisor, Circulation Assistant, and Branch Library Assistant and chose the competencies that I felt were priorities for my staff. I then created a very similar document customized for our staff positions. I created a competencies profile for our Public Library Clerks position (this is the title we use), and one other profile for both Public Library Supervisors and Assistant Supervisors.   

I decided to pilot this approach first before rolling it out to all staff. In March and April 2015 I used the supervisor competency document for a couple performance appraisals I conducted with a number of staff who report to me. I sent them the competency package prior to meeting with them and explained that they should pick out three competencies they would like to work toward. They were asked to fill out the learning template for each goal and bring them to the performance appraisal meeting. The two supervisors I met with were happy to have clear guidelines for goal setting and felt filling out the learning template was a useful exercise. I found it to be a positive experience; my next step was to roll it out to all supervisors. 

In mid-April of this year I sent the customized competency documents via email to branch supervisors and explained that we would use these documents to create goals with the staff when it came time to conduct their annual performance appraisal. I asked supervisors to provide the list of competencies and the learning template to their clerks and assistant supervisors prior to their performance appraisal so they could select at least 3 items to work on. They were asked to complete the learning template for each and bring them to the performance appraisal meeting. I communicated my hope that this process would help staff work towards goals that further their own professional development as well as the library’s service goals.

So far over 20 performance appraisals have been conducted and have made use of the competencies and learning template to set goals. It hasn’t been an entirely smooth process. I sent  six performance appraisals back to the supervisors, asking that the goals be changed to reflect the competencies.

Feedback from the branch supervisors has been mostly positive. One supervisor commented that using the competencies and learning template “worked well as I had something concrete to look at when we went over their goals. I like that it allows us to set attainable goals…that I can then go over with them through the year.”  Another supervisor commented: 

It took a little time for staff to wrap their heads around it, especially ones who have been working for a long time and were used to the old ‘goals’ sheets…We did have a discussion about how the templates should work, as some competencies can be completed in a shorter time than others. From my viewpoint I find that having something concrete to choose from, not just writing general goals, and having a time frame to complete them is better than what we have done in the past – as we would send in the performance appraisal and the goals to be filed and that was the last time we looked at the goals.

Overall, we have made great strides to incorporate the competencies into our everyday work. Performance expectations are clearer and staff are creating plans to achieve their goals. We will continue to find ways to create a culture of continuous improvement. There is work to do, but I feel we are on the right path.