Saturday, December 8, 2012

End-of-year meetings?

Umberto Boccioni - Visioni Simultanee
(Simultaneous Points-of-view)
As we get closer to the end of the year, I have been thinking about having end-of-year individual meetings to discuss performance, expectations and general issues. During the first few years of my post-doc, my boss conducted yearly meetings to formally discuss the issues that you often do not discuss in science: Are you happy with the lab and with where you are in your career? What are your overall plans for your project and your career development? Do you need a raise? Which conferences do you want to attend?

It was a venue to air professional issues which only come up in passing, and it also forced you to make a summary of the past year and communicate your needs. It made it clear that it was okay to talk about what you want creating an open communication environment. I really liked it, because like a lot of people, I tend to be afraid of asking for things (help, money, advice, etc) and having a forum where I was expected and encouraged to identify what I needed was very empowering.

In addition, being always pressed for time, I realize I now tend to assign tasks without discussing their larger purpose within the project, so I have been trying to communicate more frequently on how everyone's work fits into the global scheme and I have seen how it immediately makes people more interested and engaged. I think it could be a good idea to establish biyearly meetings for my lab members: one comprehensive end-of-year and a 6-month review just to keep things going. It can be an occasion to discuss my vision for the lab so that everyone is aware of where we are going long-term, to address concerns people may have, to get to know their plans for the future, and to give feedback on behaviors needing improvement (giving feedback tips can be found here and here). To avoid giving a daunting corporate feel to the meeting I am holding the meetings over lunch and told them to pick whatever type of restaurant they like.

In preparation of the first of these meetings, I have been asking friends in business on how they like their performance to be assessed and discussed, and one friend raised the issue of "performance standard criteria". Companies have specific criteria for a specific job which must be met and the employee functions according to a framework where behavior and performance goals are set from the manager. This whole concept makes me break out into hives, because as a scientist I don't necessarily have a rigid structure to control my work and do not want one. However, I understand how it can be very reassuring to have performance standards and to know that you are doing a good job. We constantly function from deadline to deadline and have a self-imposed set of short and long-term goals which must be met. How do I develop that? And most importantly how do I teach others to streamline their work and set their own goals? What are appropriate performance standard criteria for scientists?....more posts will follow.

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