The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is implementing a revised annual consultation system that has shifted focus from performance assessment to staff development. Yet, it will also take centre stage in strategic personnel planning. Below I reflect on the opportunities it offers employees, but wonder how it can be used in strategic personnel planning without shifting back to performance assessment.
The consultation system (Dutch: jaargespreksysteem) can be a source of frustration for both employees and their line managers if they perceive it as a box ticking exercise with no meaningful or positive outcome. Several (large) companies now even do without it (see here and here [in Dutch]). However, a consultation system, with careful planning, conduct and follow-up, can lead to positive results for all concerned.
A revised annual consultation system at UvA offers opportunities
The recently implemented, revised consultation system at UvA aims to improve the quality and outcome of annual consultations. A main focus of the revised system is how it can contribute to an employee’s development and institute citizenship, and feeling of ownership of function and career.
The revised system offers staff opportunities. Essential topics to be discussed at an annual consultation at the FNWI are work pressure, feedback to the line manager and career development (and, if applicable, teaching, management and supervision of PhD students). This reciprocal nature of a consultation provides an employee an opportunity to speak out.
Annual consultations at the centre of strategic personnel planning – back to performance measures?
Strategic personnel planning at UvA is part of a move away from the principle of having fixed scientific positions and structure within an institute (Dutch: formatieprincipe) to embracing the principle of career development where an institute attracts, recruits and retains the most able staff across topical and urgent areas of academic activity.
An institute’s manager is responsible for setting future direction and monitoring progress. In this process, the UvA puts the annual consultation system at the core of strategic personnel planning, because it can be used to compare staff competencies and ambitions against the targets set out in an institute’s strategic plan. This raises some questions.
Is each line manager able to, and comfortable with assessing the institute’s strategic targets against an employee’s competencies? And how does this comparison inform on what areas of research and teaching should be invested in if vacancies arise? It will also reveal to what extent staff competencies (still) match the targets of an institute’s strategic plan: what happens if mismatches are identified?
There is potential for an organisation’s consultation process to have a significant positive effect on all concerned. As a core tool of strategic personnel planning to assess competencies, however, the revised consultation system can revert back to an appraisal system with performance assessment, as the reciprocity inherent to an annual consultation falls away.
An institute scientific day or retreat can be an effective way to identify new developments and targets in research, teaching and valorisation. Strategic personnel planning can be used to actively build teams of diverse, talented staff from different heritages and lifestyles during attraction and selection, promotion and succession planning and development activities. Reaching these targets does not require an annual consultation system. The annual consultation system should remain a tool for employees to navigate their career path, supported by their line managers, through reciprocal feedback.