A New Review

Looking to get more out of your annual performance review? One innovative idea is using a self-evaluation process, which can provide insight into your strengths and weaknesses in a new way.

By David Hill

David Hill is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. Shelly Wilson, also an Assistant Editor at T&C, assisted with the interviews in this article.

Training & Conditioning, 12.9, December 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1209/newreview.htm

It’s a rite of the working world: Once a year, you go into your boss’s office, the door is shut, and you have your annual performance review.

If the boss is conscientious, she or he has kept track of the past 12 months in detail and can list your accomplishments and shortcomings, as well as give you ideas on how to better contribute to the organization’s mission. If your boss is more typical, you get a “good job,” or maybe a “you could do a little better” with few, if any, usable specifics.

Meanwhile, you sit and try to listen attentively, but what you’re really thinking is, “Okay, okay. How much is my raise?”

Is this any way to run an athletic training operation?

If your answer is “yes,” then read no further. But if you want to know how to get a more meaningful evaluation of the work you do—if you’d like to learn how to do a better job, get more attention and resources from your supervisors, offer more guidance to people you supervise, and in general provide better services to your athletes—keep reading.

You’ll see that you need not rely solely on the standard annual performance review for feedback. Instead, you can conduct a self-evaluation.

What is a self-evaluation? Essentially, it’s a survey you develop in order to get feedback on your work. It can take many different forms, such as anonymous questionnaires you give to your staff or group discussions with several coaches, depending on what type of feedback you are looking for. It can be a way to look at a specific component of your job, such as your leadership skills, or answer more broad-based questions you have about your entire program.

Self-evaluations are most often used by department heads, but can be useful tools for anyone wanting more input on how he or she is doing. The purpose is to provide you the feedback you need to grow in your job, not just what fits into your boss’s standard evaluation form.

The first steps in designing and executing an effective self-evaluation are understanding why you’re doing it and overcoming the fear of negative criticism. Fortunately, understanding why you’re doing it can help you get over any fear.

“Some people may not want the feedback. But to me, that’s the only way to get better,” says Julie Ramsey-Emrhein, MEd, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Dickinson College. At the end of each sport’s season, Dickinson student-athletes who’ve been under an athletic trainer’s care are asked to fill out a written survey about the medical attention they received.

“If there’s an area of weakness that I need to be concerned about, something that I may need to further my education in, that would be very important to know,” she says. “People may not want to hear that. But we all need constructive criticism.”

Head athletic trainers, in particular, can benefit in many ways from good self-evaluations similar to the kind done regularly in the business world. Peter Meyer, Principal of the Meyer Group, a management consultant firm in Scotts Valley, Calif., says the first benefit is that they give head athletic trainers feedback on areas that are not easily measured, such as supervising others. Managing a staff doesn’t provide the clear-cut physical feedback of seeing an athlete back on the field after a successful rehab, so the measures have to come from elsewhere, he says.

These types of evaluations can also provide feedback from coaches that a busy athletic trainer won’t otherwise be aware of, says Keith Gorse, MEd, ATC, Clinical Coordinator and Instructor in the Undergraduate Athletic Training Program at Duquesne University. “Everybody talks about NCAA Division I, but at Division II schools, you’re going to have less staffing and thus more athletes and more sports to deal with,” says Gorse. “When you’re working with five to seven coaches in one season, there can be communication loss, things said that you don’t know about or they don’t know about. And that’s why you try to get an end-of-the-year feeling of how to improve yourself for next year with each sport.”

Another benefit of doing self-evaluations is that they give you important connections to everyone you work with. “This is a process by which you actively demonstrate that you’re listening,” says Meyer. “This gets people who might otherwise be unconcerned with your work more involved. If you need their help at a later date for support or to get a project done, they’ll be more likely to help you.”

Ken Cameron, MS, ATC, CSCS, Instructor and Athletic Trainer at the U.S. Military Academy Department of Physical Education, especially agrees with Meyer’s last point. “I think a lot of people don’t understand the extent of things that are involved in being a head athletic trainer,” Cameron says. “I think it’s real important to document those things. And once you do, others start to realize how much you are actually doing and what an impact it has on the athletic department.”

Isn’t the boss’s annual evaluation enough? Probably not, many say, since the quality and depth of those exercises are spotty at best. “Annual reviews are designed primarily to justify: a) paperwork requirements; and b) a salary increase,” Meyer says. “Rarely are they designed to provide meaningful feedback.”

It may help to think of the boss’s annual review and your self-evaluation as separate exercises with different objectives, suggests Gorse. “The athletic director has to know that his or her evaluation is the evaluation for the records,” Gorse says. “Self-evaluations are not something you keep and put in a file. It’s something to use for personal improvement and to see where you’re at with your peers, your coaches, and your students.”

Still not convinced? Don’t have the time? Have a small staff (or maybe you are the staff), and can’t see the point of an extra task? What if a self-evaluation could get you more resources and help?

“Maybe in the future, this type of thing is going to help small colleges get more staffing,” Gorse says. “Coaches and teams might say in evaluations that they’re not getting adequate care because there are five or six different sports going on per season and the athletic trainer is spread pretty thin. These surveys can tell the university that it needs more staffing to help handle all the teams.”

And for those who feel that a self-evaluation is simply inviting people to take shots at you, the results might be surprising. Ramsey-Emrhein says her end-of-season surveys of athletes give her a motivational boost. “I guess I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve received positive comments and feedback, and that helps me continue the job I’m doing,” she says. “People do appreciate what I do, and there are athletes out there who see my strengths.”

Once you’re convinced of the value of a self-evaluation, the question becomes how to perform one. To answer that, you’ll want to first think about what type of input you want. A good starting place is your organization’s mission statement. Think of questions that get at whether you’re meeting its goals.

Gorse says a good source to draw on is the Role Delineation Study developed and published by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Board of Certification. It lays out the domains in which athletic trainers should be functioning—prevention, recognition and assessment, care, treatment and rehabilitation, administrative and organizational tasks, and professional development and responsibility.

At Army, each athletic trainer creates a portfolio for each domain. Then, throughout the year, they place examples of their efforts in each domain into the portfolio.

Your boss’s evaluation of you might be another good starting point. If it’s not thorough enough, you could seek out details by breaking down each major aspect of your job. If your boss is thorough, you could focus your self-evaluation on one or two areas, such as communication skills or developing staff.

The next area to think about is who you want feedback from. Meyer advises casting a wide net. “In a classic self-evaluation you would not just get input from the people who report to you directly,” he says. “You would also ask for evaluations from your peers and from those a level or two higher than you. It’s called a 360-degree evaluation.”

Just be sure you’re querying people involved with and informed about what you do. “While you want the group of respondents to be diverse, don’t cover the waterfront with questionnaires,” says Robert Corran, PhD, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and author of “Self Study,” an article in the October/November 1999 issue of Athletic Management on self-evaluations for athletic directors. “This will quickly diminish the value of the exercise and inflate the value of trivial feedback. Focus on people who care, are interested, and are affected by your performance. This does not mean only those who are supportive of you personally, but should include those you work closely with day to day, those you supervise, and a sample of other stakeholders.”

Another question is when to perform your self-evaluation. Your answers to the “what” and “who” questions will help determine timing. If you’re looking into leadership-type issues, once a year works well, since changes in this area are a gradual process. But if you’re assessing problems with coverage of specific sports, more frequent surveys are better.

“Midway through the year I like to get some feedback on how things are going,” says Gorse. “If you can make changes halfway through the year, that will improve the way things run for the rest of the year. And it’s difficult to think about the problems six months after they occurred.”

Ramsey-Emrhein concurs. “If an area of weakness was noticed in the fall, I can try to correct that behavior so that it doesn’t follow through into the winter and spring,” she says. “If there is something I could do to make myself a better athletic trainer, I would try to do that as quickly as I could.”

Another big question is what form your evaluation should take. Written or verbal? One-on-one or focus groups? If written, a 1-through-5 rating or open-ended questions? Anonymous or signed? There are no easy answers, because they are determined by your objectives and whom you’re surveying.

“It varies depending on the situation,” says Cameron. “One way is small focus groups, developing a short series of questions that get at the goals and objectives you’ve set for your program and how you’re meeting them. That would be best with athletes.

“The military uses what is called the After Action Review,” he continues. “It’s basically a meeting at the end of any type of event where people get together to discuss what went well, what went poorly, and what they would do to change or improve it in the future. I would recommend that the lead athletic trainer working with football, the head athletic trainer, the head coach, and a few team captains get together to discuss how the season went in terms of the care that was provided and how it could improve for the next season.”

Gorse also uses direct discussions. “We sit down with our athletic director, coaches, and team physician at the end of each season and review with these people how my assistant and I have done throughout the year with them,” he says. “We don’t send out an official evaluation because we feel that can set up some road blocks. We’d rather discuss what they feel our weaknesses and strengths are.”

Others like forms. They are more likely than interviews and focus groups to hit all the major specific performance areas and they also allow more honesty. If you use a written survey, Corran says it should cover duties such as communication and motivation if you’re a manager, as well as hands-on activities. Avoid questions about punctuality, dress, and social graces, and instead focus on what you do to reach the organization’s goals, he says.

At Dickinson, student-athletes receive a form that’s evolved over many years. It asks athletes to rate the athletic trainer using a numbered scale and also respond to three open-ended questions. Questions cover topics such as the athletic trainers’ availability, having the team’s respect, readiness to give advice for follow-up, thoroughness, and whether athletes are treated as individuals.

Anonymity is largely a judgment call. Corran says assuring respondents that their identities won’t be known to people reading the surveys increases the rate of response and truthfulness.

“I’d rather have it done anonymously,” Ramsey-Emrhein agrees. “I want the athletes to feel comfortable that they’re not going to be known. If there’s something they don’t feel comfortable about that I’m doing, they should say that.”

With raw feedback in hand—whether from focus groups, one-on-ones, or on paper—it’s time to analyze the data. While a once-raised point may be valuable, what you’re really looking for is trends.

“You’re going to get contradictory information,” says Meyer, “even from the same person sometimes. So you’re looking for trends. ‘Do five out of seven comments say that you have to do this instead of that? Well, then, you’ve got a trend.”

Looking for patterns helps weed out personal grudges, misunderstandings, and the odd respondent’s view, says Ramsey-Ermhein. “If it comes up once, maybe this person really just doesn’t like me as a person. You can get over that,” she says.

Compare what one group is saying with feedback from another, advises Cameron. “If the student-athletes are saying one thing, and the coaches are saying the same thing, then that’s pretty good evidence of an area you’re doing well in or should work on,” he says. “If the athletes think you’re doing poorly in an area but the coaches think you’re doing great, that may just be a misperception. It’s important to see where areas overlap.”

You may want to bring in other people. Sharing the outcome with peers, people you supervise, and other respondents shows that you take the process seriously and share the organizational goals and priorities, says Corran. For head athletic trainers, it also helps to reinforce the climate of positive change through feedback, he adds.

If you haven’t had your supervisor involved up to now, you’ll have to decide whether to bring her or him in at this point. If your newly gathered information conflicts with a negative view your boss might have of some aspect of your job, this might be a good time to share it with him or her, Gorse suggests.

Cameron advocates a conference with the boss no matter the results. “I would meet with the athletic director to say, ‘This is what we did, and these were our goals and objectives. We collected data from these sources, and this was the feedback we received. It looks like we’re doing really well in these areas.’

“Generally, problems have to be solved by the individuals involved with those problems,” Cameron continues. “The head athletic trainer, the athletic director, and maybe the coach tied to the area that needs improvement need to get together and come up with viable solutions based on the resources available to meet that issue.”

If you’re in an organization in which this discussion would happen anyway, count yourself lucky. If not, it’s time to get to work on a self-evaluation. Don’t leave feedback up to your boss, alone.