The Journal of Extension - www.joe.org

December 2019 // Volume 57 // Number 6 // Tools of the Trade // 6TOT1

Tools for a Statewide Performance Appraisal System for Extension Professionals

Abstract
In response to research demonstrating that Tennessee Extension agents desired a performance appraisal system that better reflected their jobs and provided for appraisers' professional development, a committee of University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University personnel undertook a 2-year initiative to revise the performance appraisal system. The committee produced a performance appraisal form and a performance appraisal rubric delineating performance factors, criteria, and performance-level descriptions; a comprehensive appraisal guide; and case studies and training guides for Extension professionals to use in learning about effective performance appraisal. Extension professionals conducting similar efforts in other states may benefit from using these tools.


Joseph L. Donaldson
Assistant Professor
Department of 4-H Youth Development, Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, Tennessee
joseph_donaldson@ncsu.edu
@Joseph_GoPack

Introduction

Appraisal, as a social phenomenon, is a basic human behavior of evaluating the work performance of oneself and others (Dulewicz, 1989). Performance appraisal is a process of interpreting and measuring degree of effectiveness, standards achieved, or performance goals met (Bernardin & Beatty, 1984). Performance appraisal is ubiquitous in the public and private sectors.

Management of employees and employees themselves represent important competitive advantages for organizations as other competitive factors are less powerful (Pfeffer, 1994; Squires & Adler, 1998) and organizations do not thrive without high-performance employees. Performance appraisals of educators must establish whether clientele's and society's educational needs are satisfied (Stufflebeam, 1988). Organizations depend on performance appraisal for a number of uses. Performance appraisal is necessary for organizations to make merit-pay decisions, make determinations about promotions, help employees improve performance, assign work more effectively, and identify instructional needs of employees (Baker, 1988; Bamberger & Meshoulam, 2000; Bennett, 1981; Bernardin & Beatty, 1984; Daley, 1992; Patterson, 1987).

A survey of 218 Tennessee Extension agents showed that the vast majority (78.9%) agreed that the system by which their performance was appraised needed to be improved (Donaldson & French, 2013). Recommendations indicated the need for development of a performance appraisal rubric that would more accurately reflect the Extension agent job as well as increased professional development for county directors who serve as appraisers of Extension agents' performance (Donaldson & French, 2013). In response to this research, a committee of University of Tennessee (UT) and Tennessee State University (TSU) personnel undertook a 2-year initiative to revise the performance appraisal system used by UT Extension and TSU Cooperative Extension. The committee comprised 16 UT and TSU Extension personnel representing county, regional, and departmental offices. As an agricultural and Extension education faculty member with expertise in performance appraisal research, I led the initiative.

Tools

In revising the performance appraisal system, we created instrumentation tools and instructional tools. These tools may be of use to Extension professionals conducting similar efforts in other states.

Instrumentation Tools

Our committee developed a performance appraisal form and a performance appraisal rubric. To select performance factors, criteria, and descriptions, we reviewed (a) actual job descriptions and position description questionnaires for the purpose of ensuring that the revised performance system would reflect Extension professionals' actual jobs; (b) performance appraisal forms used at the University of Florida and Florida A&M State University (University of Florida IFAS Extension, 2014) and Virginia Tech and Virginia State University (Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2015); and (c) feedback from nine high-performing Extension agents and county directors (selected by regional directors) who were asked to review the criteria.

This work produced five broad categories called performance factors and 16 performance criteria distributed across those categories (see Table 1). For each criterion, performance levels are rated using the scale 1 (unsatisfactory), 2 (needs improvement), 3 (meets expectations), 4 (exceeds expectations), and 5 (exemplary) (Donaldson et al., 2016). An example of the performance factors, criteria, and performance-level descriptions is shown in Figure 1; in the example, the performance factor is professionalism, the criterion is customer service, and the five performance levels relate to that criterion.

Table 1.
Performance Factors and Criteria

Performance factor Criteria
Program development Individual annual plan
Program management Implementing
Evaluation
Reporting
Resource management
Program accomplishments Base programs
Equity, access, and opportunity
Outcomes/impacts
Professionalism Customer service
Policy compliance
Professional development
Technology and innovation
Work habits
Community and organizational leadership Interpersonal skills
Leadership
Optimizing human capital

Figure 1.
Customer Service Criterion and Performance-Level Descriptions

The performance appraisal form we developed became the first such document jointly approved by Extension administration, general counsels, and human resources departments of both UT and TSU. The apprasial form is available online at https://extension.tennessee.edu/eesd/Documents/HR/Appraisal/Joint_Appraisal_Form_Final.pdf.

Instructional Tools

In addition to the performance appraisal form and rubric, we developed guidance materials to facilitate the effectiveness of the performance appraisal process.

Discussion

The University of Arkansas adapted the performance factors, criteria, and performance-level descriptions for use in Arkansas (University of Arkansas, 2016). Research to evaluate the effectiveness of the performance appraisal systems in both Tennessee and Arkansas is recommended. Research should address how performance appraisal based on use of the new tools may influence, if at all, effective education and community engagement. Additionally, research should ascertain Extension agents' perceptions of the system used to appraise their performance, consistent with work by Davis and Verma (1993).

Careful planning and budgeting is needed when revising a performance appraisal system. The revision reported here was a 2-year effort requiring a $107,000 budget of state-designated Extension funds that supported (a) one graduate research assistant working 20 hr per week and (b) mileage, meals, and lodging for 16 committee members to participate in five face-to-face meetings (2 days each).

Revising a state performance appraisal system may be an important strategy for generating an instrument that encourages employee success. However, it is just as important to consider how the change can be supported through instructional tools and resources that will produce consistency in implementation and confidence among employees and supervisors. With our initiative, we considered both matters and developed a comprehensive set of relevant materials.

Author Note

Joseph L. Donaldson is currently an assistant professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Acknowledgments

I express appreciation to Dr. Tim Cross, chancellor, UT Institute of Agriculture; Dr. Latif Lighari, associate dean, TSU; members of the Tennessee Extension Performance Appraisal Revision Committee; and all Tennessee Extension personnel who provided feedback and encouragement related to the work described herein.

References

Baker, J., Jr. (1988). Causes of failure in performance appraisal and supervision: A guide to analysis and evaluation for human resources professionals. New York, NY: Quorum Books.

Bamberger, P., & Meshoulam, I. (2000). Human resource strategy: Formulation, implementation and impact. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Bennett, R. (1981). Managing personnel and performance. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Bernardin, H. J., & Beatty, R. W. (1984). Performance appraisal: Assessing human behavior at work. Boston, MA: Kent Publishing.

Daley, D. M. (1992). Performance appraisal in the public sector: Techniques and applications. Westport, CT: Quorum Books.

Davis, W. L., & Verma, S. (1993). Performance appraisal: How Extension agents view the system. Journal of Extension, 31(4), Article 4FEA3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1993winter/a3.html

Donaldson, J. L. (2017a). Appraisal guide: Tennessee Extension performance appraisal system (Publication No. W396-B). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W396-B.pdf

Donaldson, J. L. (2017b). Case studies for assessing performance facilitation guide (Publication No. W455). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W455.pdf

Donaldson, J. L. (2017c). Regional performance appraisal workshop script (Publication No. W462). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W462.pdf

Donaldson, J. L., & French, R. L. (2013). Tennessee Extension agents' perceptions of performance appraisal. Journal of Extension, 51(3), Article 3FEA10. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2013june/a10.php

Donaldson, J. L., Isbell, H., Broyles, T., Dugger, T., Duncan, B., Hagan, T., . . . Turner, G. (2016). University of Tennessee and Tennessee State University performance factors and criteria. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/eesd/Documents/HR/Appraisal/Appraisal_Factors_Criteria_Final.pdf

Donaldson, J. L., Isbell, H., Broyles, T., Dugger, T., Duncan, B., Hagan, T., . . . Turner, G. (2017). Executive summary: Tennessee Extension performance appraisal system (Publication No. W396-A). Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee. Retrieved from https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W396-A.pdf

Dulewicz, V. (1989). Performance appraisal and counseling. In P. Herriot (Ed.), Assessment and selection in organizations: Methods and practices for recruitment and appraisal (pp. 645–649). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Patterson, T. F. (1987). Refining performance appraisal. Journal of Extension, 25(4), Article 4FEA5. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1987winter/a5.html

Pfeffer, J. (1994). Competitive advantage through people: Unleashing the power of the work force. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Squires, P., & Adler, S. (1998). Linking appraisals to individual development and training. In J. W. Smither (Ed.), Performance appraisal: State of the art in practice (pp. 445–495). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stufflebeam, D. L. (1988). The personnel evaluation standards. Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation. Newbury Park, GA: Corwin Press.

University of Arkansas. (2016). Performance appraisal county Extension agent guide [Publication]. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas. Retrieved from https://www.uaex.edu/extension-policies/templates/eeval-149.pdf

University of Florida IFAS Extension. (2014). County faculty appraisal form. Retrieved from http://ded.ifas.ufl.edu/resources/appraisals.shtml

Virginia Cooperative Extension. (2015). Extension agent/unit coordinator performance evaluation. Available from author.