American Association of University Professors

 

Higher Ground

Newsletter of the ISU-AAUP
Number 8, FALL 2010


Performance Evaluation in the Light of
W.E. Deming's Principles of Management

by Dennis Bialaszewski

My essay applies principles of management to the recent proposal for faculty performance evaluation at ISU. Since some form of this proposal will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval, and given that the Board of Trustees is comprised of business leaders, it is probably wise to incorporate successful managerial strategies into the evaluation procedure. Even if we accept that universities are not businesses with profit as an objective, they should still manage their workforces efficiently.

Perhaps the administrative strategy most notably associated with successful corporations is the approach of Total Quality Management (TQM). I, too, subscribe to the TQM philosophy and in particular to the 14 points developed by W. Edwards Deming, which have become associated with this approach. Deming first became well known when he helped lead Japan out of its industrial crisis after World War II. Later, his book Out of the Crisis (MIT Press, 1986), provided many examples to demonstrate his 14 points. His approach has helped U.S. industry greatly.

Deming's first point is never to lose sight of long-range objectives. Managers should replace short-term reaction with long run thinking. As our evaluation procedure is being created, we should not lose sight of the long run objective! But what is the primary objective for ISU? What is the long run goal? Is it just to respond to some mandate? Is it to present evidence to a state legislature or governor? Or is it to deliver the best educational product we are capable of delivering, given the constraints of our resources? I argue it should be the latter.

The faculty bodies and administrators creating this procedure should keep the primary objective in mind as they complete their task. Moreover, they should clearly share this long run objective with the ISU faculty. It will be much easier to gain faculty acceptance of a new evaluation system if the reasons are clearly stated and agreed upon. Meaningful input from all faculty and other employees is essential to the achievement of a university's long-range objective.

Deming was also a proponent of continuous improvement. This means continually reviewing all of our processes to determine how they can be improved. This, too, requires meaningful faculty input prior to the imposition of any administrative mandates. Accordingly, one of Deming's 14 points is that change should be the responsibility of all involved, not just management and not just workers, but everyone at every level. This cannot be accomplished without a "buy in" by those affected.

Another of Deming's 14 points states that ranking of workers is divisive and breeds competition rather than cooperation as a team. The draft version of the evaluation procedure was directly at variance with this principle. Deming's principles speak to the divisiveness of merit procedures in general. Merit again has us compete rather than work together, and it does nothing to build up morale. For example, there may be ten very competent and productive individuals in a unit, with three of the ten extremely productive. Moreover, one of the top three could be superior to the other two. How would the second and third feel if they knew they could never surpass the top ranked person? Should one or two workers always be the merit recipients? What would morale be like in a bank if the tellers were given pay increases dependent on some ranking. Would that lead them to help each other and work together? Or might it breed competition and lead those not getting merit pay increases to look for another position because they did not feel appreciated?

If our overall objective is to deliver a better educational product, how would ranking for merit pay help us to do that? How would incorporating merit evaluations help us to better educate our students? Would not efforts to remove deficiencies be a better use of our limited resources? Like Deming, I believe a merit ranking system, on the whole, will not help us deliver a better product. The absence a merit ranking system does not ensure, of course, that all individuals will accept help to address deficiencies or that all will be capable of performing their jobs in a professional manner. However, ISU currently has procedures for dealing with such problem cases; no new policy needs to be constructed for these situations.

Ranking for any purpose is contrary to another of Deming's 14 points: remove fear from the work environment. Quality communication is key to successful TQM implementation. Any scheduled evaluation system should include much communication prior to the evaluation period. If there are deficiencies, there should be support to help the faculty member address them far before any formal evaluation. Effective managers do not go around with blinders unaware of workers' deficiencies. Early feedback and a supportive environment serve to remove fear. The TQM belief is that performance failures are usually attributable to problems inherent to the system rather than to shortcomings of individual managers or workers. As we strive to achieve our long-range objectives, systemic errors should be uncovered and addressed.

Deming also notes that the managerial role cannot be mere supervision, but must include leadership. The leader's role is to help the worker perform better. This should be encapsulated in any procedure being developed. Prior to reprimanding anyone for a deficiency, managers should document their failed attempts at helping the faculty member to correct such a deficiency.

An additional TQM principle states that quality should be built into the system from the start in order to avoid the need for inspection. Inspection should be minimized. If defective products are produced, inspection will catch them, but waste will still have been created. Whatever procedure is produced should minimize the inspection process while taking steps to insure that quality is built into the system. Indeed, Deming's actual principle is to ultimately cease dependence on inspection altogether. Does not the long drawn out probationary period leading to tenure ensure that sufficient effort has been taken to build in quality?

The last TQM principle that I will refer to recommends that management should institute vigorous programs of education and self-improvement for all workers. This does not state that they should threaten workers. The implication is that organizations should adopt systems to better educate its workers and provide opportunities for improving skills. I do not believe the current ISU system for faculty development is as good as we can do. Professional development opportunities should be readily available within a well-organized system and adequately resourced.

When this procedure is finalized, my hope is that it follows best practices of successful corporations and that TQM principles are integrated into it. At minimum, we need a clear understanding of the long-range objectives the procedure is meant to promote.

Dennis Bialaszewski, holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the State University of New York at Buffalo with Econometrics as his dissertation area. He is currently Professor of Management Information Systems at Indiana State University.

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