Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Annual assessments

I had the first annual assessment meetings with people in the department today. According to institutional rules the department head must offer one-on-one meeting with each employee once a year. It's an opportunity for the employee to get feedback on their contribution to the group and the institution and a chance to air thoughts or concerns regarding the way the department is structured, projects, responsibility, ambitions, plans or wishes for the future etc. It is where the manager is supposed to give constructive criticism or feedback on how individuals can improve and where our little group is going. It is also a chance to discuss the way the department is run, the quality of management and to which extent we have been successful at creating a sense of belonging. Given that I am young, recently hired and have limited experience it is probably the one thing I've been fretting the most about since I put on the department head hat back in January.

I inherited a very good group of people. We work closely together on a number of projects, our research interests match and individual people's skills fit in neatly with what others are missing. We have a good social life, at least while we are at work. People speak kindly to each other and we laugh a lot. I think most people are generally happy and satisfied, but I do see potential pitfalls and a few clouds on the horizon. The department is expanding and the power balance is changing. Maybe a centre of gravity is developing around certain people while others are being slightly left out. Many new things are happening, and I am not sure they are all as coordinated as they could be.

My ideas about running a department are still developing. Each day brings new decisions to be made and new opinions to be had, and some days it evolves in a more haphazardly manner than I'd like it to. My general idea, besides go with the flow and try not to make too many fatal mistakes, would be something along the lines of creating an open environment where everyone has a chance to be heard, give everybody lots of freedom to decide for themselves how things should be done but listen and take it seriously when people request something from me. One thing I like about the job is way it forces me to care about and point attention towards other peoples work and results in a different way. I also like that I have a chance to distribute resources to the people I think deserve them and need them and how it's up to me to point it out if someone has done a great job. My weak points are definitely my lack of insider contacts higher up in the system and maybe my team building skills (because honestly I wouldn't really know how to do that if the team wasn't already great). I don't know how this kind of management is being perceived and if people think it works at all, so I am very excited to get feedback (sneak peek preview: so far it has been going well, but meetings will run all week so who knows where it might end up). Initially I was also freaked out by the idea of having this sort of conversation with people many years my senior and with far more experience and natural authority, but so far that part has been OK. Most people have asked for a time slot for a meeting so I take that as a signal that they don't mind having this talk with me. We'll see. I'm jumping in for another round tomorrow.

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