Case Study – Appraising the Secretaries at Sweetwater University

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CASE STUDY – APPRAISING THE SECRETARIES AT SWEETWATER UNIVERSITY

Rob Winchester, newly appointed Vice President for Administrative Affairs at Sweetwater University, faced a tough problem shortly after his university career began. Three weeks after he came on board in September, Sweetwater’s President Rob’s boss, told Rob that one of his first tasks was to improve the appraisal system used to evaluate secretarial and clerical performance at Sweetwater University.

Apparently, the main difficulty was that the performance appraisal was traditionally tied directly to salary increases given at the end of the year. So most administrators were less than accurate when they used the graphic rating forms that were the basis of the clerical staff evaluation. In fact, what usually happened was that each administrator simply rated his or her clerk or secretary as “excellent.” This cleared the way for all support staff to receive a maximum pay increase every year.

But, the current university budget simply did not include enough money to fund another “maximum” annual increase for every staffer. Furthermore, Sweetwater’s President felt that the custom of providing invalid feedback to each secretary on his or her year’s performance was not productive, so he had asked the new Vice President to revise the system.

In October, Rob sent a memo to all administrators telling them that in the future no more than half the secretaries reporting to any particular administrator could be appraised as “excellent.” This move, in effect, forced each supervisor to begin ranking his or her secretaries for quality of performance. The Vice President’s memo met widespread resistance immediately – from administrators, who were afraid that many of their secretaries would begin leaving for more lucrative jobs in private industry; and from secretaries, who felt that the new system was unfair and reduced each secretary’s chance of receiving a maximum salary increase.

A handful of secretaries had begun quietly picketing outside the President’s home on the university campus. The picketing, caustic remarks by disgruntled administrators, and rumours of an impending slowdown by the secretaries (there were about 250 on campus) made Rob Winchester wonder whether he had made the right decision by setting up forced ranking. He knew, however, that there were a few performance appraisal experts in the School of Business, so he decided to set up an appointment with them to discuss the matter.

He met with them the next morning. He explained the situation as he had found it: The present appraisal system had been set up when the University first opened 10 years earlier; and the appraisal form had been developed primarily by a committee of secretaries. Under that system, Sweetwater’s administrators filled out forms similar to the one in Figure 1.0.

Figure 1.0

| |Excellent |Good |Fair |Poor | |Quality of Work | | | | | |Quality of Work | | | | | |Creativity | | | | | |Integrity | | | | |

This once a year appraisal (in March) had run into problems almost immediately, since it was apparent from the start that administrators varied widely in their interpretations of job standards, as well as in how conscientiously they filled out the forms and supervised their secretaries. Moreover, at the end of the first year it became obvious to everyone...
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