A ResLife Supervisor’s Guide: Preparing for Performance Evaluations

This post is part of a three-part series on starting a supervisory relationship in residence life. Following a chronological timeline, this series is broken up into three parts:

The Beginning: Staff Performance Begins with You
The Middle: A ResLife Supervisor’s Guide: Managing Performance Through Inquiry
The End: Preparing for Performance Evaluations

The end of the year has arrived and it’s time to formally evaluate your team.  If you are a supervisor who started the first few months with a strong foundation while also engaging in intentional check-in conversations along the way, then the last part is easy! However, there are numerous reasons why this may not have been possible. This final segment will provide considerations for having “the conversation” from the lens of both being prepared and unprepared.

The End

Month 11 – Month 12

Unprepared: “Am I Forgetting Something?”

Typically, the last two months of an evaluation cycle coincide with a time of year I find to be hectic and fast-paced.  It is the season of banquets and ceremonies, it is a transition to summer operations and planning, and it is the final hurrah for residential students before a mass exodus from our residential halls.  As supervisors, our focus is likely to shift toward one or more of these large-scale initiatives as we undoubtedly have some stake in ensuring their success.  As such, what tends to fall to the wayside during this time are the less flashy administrative aspects of our jobs—end of year reports, balancing budgets, and, as you might have guessed, performance evaluations.

Does this ring true for you?  If so, it has happened to even the best supervisors, however, that does not take away from the significance that a formal evaluation has on the trajectory of our team.  If you find yourself at the end of the year struggling to compile a fair and honest assessment of your folks, consider these things 

Timing Matters:  With everything going on in the Spring semester, the real enemy in the evaluation process can be time or lack thereof.  In cases when time has gotten the better of us, it is easy to scramble to find a block of time to do all of your writing and to meet with your team soon after in order to stay on top of things.  As someone who has used this approach before, I can honestly say that while my evaluation was completed on time, there was a lack of quality and thoughtfulness because I tried to crunch a years-worth of observation into about 2 to 3 hours.  A better tactic to this predicament is to identify a few pockets of time where you can tackle the evaluation in pieces and most importantly, give yourself at least a day off before reviewing it.  By writing it in smaller chunks, you allow your mind to work at a more sustainable pace and thus, may find you have more content to offer as you come back to it.  

Be Open to Compromise: a challenging task for supervisors can be admitting the failure to complete something to the level that was required. Doing so comes with the risk of losing face or trust, which can impede our ability to lead going forward.  While setbacks such as this can result from acknowledging our shortcomings, they can conversely be a boon in our working relationships with others if approached in the right way.  For example, having the humility to invite your staff to provide challenges or counterpoints on the accuracy of your evaluation can be an equalizing experience for both parties.  In part, it allows the staff member the chance to co-create an evaluation that feels representative of the work they have put forth. This is especially beneficial should your relationship with your staff be strained or if you find your evaluation particularly leaning in one direction over another (i.e. more negative or positive).  For the supervisor, this exercise can fill the missing pieces needed to build a more holistic review of their staff member’s performance (the goal of an evaluation).  However, while this can successfully combat the incompleteness of a performance review, a supervisor would do well to recognize that the lack of preparedness on their part may require some rebuilding of the supervisory relationship in the long run.  After all, a one-time instance can be forgiven, but it is hard to say the same for a regular occurrence.

Minimize Power Tactics: As supervisors, we may unknowingly structure the meeting for our benefit and comfort.  This can be a result of many things such as a lack of time and preparation, a strained relationship with a staff member, or perhaps a lack of confidence in being the bearer of news we perceive might not land well.  As mentioned before, the fear of losing face can override our best intentions so consider if these behaviors are ones you find yourself leaning into when preparing to meet with your team.

  • Asking staff to write their own self-evaluation—only to copy it as the formal evaluation 
  • Sharing feedback for the first time leaving no opportunity for improvement
  • Setting up the physical space to promote distance (where we meet, where we sit, what our body is doing).
  • Not providing staff with their evaluation in advance, which limits the ability to come prepared with questions or feedback.
  • Sandwiching the meeting in between others as an exit strategy if things go long

Curious why these approaches are best to avoid? In these instances, consideration for the staff member’s needs comes second to their supervisor.

Prepared: Taking it from Good to Great

Now let’s say you were one of the supervisors who made it a point to stay on top of managing your team throughout the full year.  While the evaluation process is certainly going to be easier, there are still some considerations we should have when going into this to create the best experience possible for those we oversee.

Demystify the Process: Have you ever felt a bit of nerves or tension with your staff at the beginning of your evaluation meetings despite how good your relationship maybe?  Oftentimes, I feel we as supervisors miss the opportunity to offer insight to our staff on the evaluation process as a whole and how we, as evaluators, are looking at their performance and are measuring or defining success.  When I started seeing my staff with jitters whenever the end-of-year conversations came around, I made a shift in a few ways.  First, I gave them about a month’s notice that the process was beginning and shared all the steps as per HR’s expectations.  Second, in follow-up one-on-one conversations, I posed some questions about how they felt their year had gone as somewhat of a barometer of their sense of comfort but also to see if their informal assessment matched what I was starting to highlight in their performance.  Lastly, I gave each staff member a copy of their evaluation prior to the meeting itself with an invitation for them to review and to create questions for conversation the following day.  The goal of these conversations is not to intimidate our staff.  Whether it is their first job or not, there will likely always be a bit of uneasiness for this type of conversation, but little effort on our part to make it seem less ambiguous can lead to a more reflective and comfortable exchange on both ends.

Go Off Script: Performance appraisals come in many forms.  Sometimes supervisors are able to use a metric developed by their respective office while other times, they are expected to use the university-standard tool provided by HR.  While both options come with pros and cons, what often can be impacted is the areas in which you are asked to examine your team’s performance.  For example, at a prior institution, my department was expected to use a stock evaluation template created by HR that grossly oversimplified the work for university professionals into vague categories.  Core job functions such as “community building,” “leadership skills,” and “crisis management” were at best, captured in what HR defined as “administrative duties” and “clerical skills.”  If this system is similar to your own, consider supplementing the written portion of your evaluation meetings with a verbal portion that addresses more specific functions of the job.  While the contents of your conversation might not make it to the paper, it can flesh out a staff member’s understanding of how they are doing and what to look at in the future.  This approach also has merit in evaluation tools that more closely match our staff’s job description.  The nature of our role is complex and predetermined categories may not fully target the skills, development, and growth we see in our team.  Instead of using the evaluation tool as a script, consider it a guide that can be customized stylistically to best deliver an honest and accurate portrayal of how your team is doing. 

Make it a two-way conversation: Even if you feel you have written a holistic review of your team, know that the paperwork is only half of the experience.  What holds equal if not more importance is the conversation that ensues about the past year with some consideration for the areas of focus going forward.  Oftentimes, we allow the written portion of the evaluation to take the lead (regardless of whether the staff member is a rock star or underperformed) and inevitably lose out on the opportunity for reflection and feedback.  It is worth restating that these types of conversations can be a bit awkward or challenging to conduct, however, a simple way to move past that is to share and spend the majority of your time hearing your staff member’s perspective of their review and to gauge if they are feeling or thinking any differently after seeing it all laid out.  Here are some stock questions that could help serve this purpose:

  • “Are you surprised by anything you’ve seen referenced?”  
  • “Does this feel like an accurate portrayal of your work?”  
  • “Is there anything you would add or change?”
  • “How are you different today compared to the first day on your job?”


My 10 years plus in this field has exposed me to a multitude of approaches and delivery styles when it comes to performance appraisals.  For me, the conversations in which I was the most invested, comfortable, and receptive, were instances in which I was working with a manager who had cultivated a positive and trusting relationship with me.  I did not have to update them on everything that I did.  They watched.  They listened.  They knew.  While the steps they took to complete my evaluation looked like all the others, the manner in which it was facilitated and the care and observation that was put into it left me feeling valued and seen.  Here are some final thoughts for both staff and supervisor as we go into evaluation season.

For staff, remember that feedback is a gift.  Its purpose is rooted in improvement and growth and in order to cultivate that, we have to get uncomfortable at times.  Remember that your relationship with your supervisor is a two-way street, and with that, you have the ability to shape that relationship as well.  Furthermore, when you go into these conversations, consider what you are feeling and why.  Do you feel you are at risk of losing your job or other serious ramifications?  Or are you nervous of hearing what others have to say about you?  The former is a sign of a larger issue while the latter is just a part of being human.  Consider these questions to gauge where you might be at:

  • “What am I feeling going into this conversation?” 
  • ”What do I need going forward in order to be successful?
  •  “What do I see as my areas of talent and my areas of growth?”

For supervisors, it is simple.  Be Present. Pay attention.  Be invested.  You set the tone for your staff and to some extent, their trajectory as well.  Given the impact an evaluation can have on one’s sense of safety, belonging, and well-being, the primary goal when having these conversations should be to center the experience on our staff—it’s not about us.  Asking yourself these prompts beforehand can help frame the conversation:

  • “How might my team be feeling going into this conversation?” 
  • “Do I feel this evaluation is holistic and fair of my team’s performance?” 
  • “What role have I played in my staff’s experience?”

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