TITLE: Under Review AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: February 14, 2008 6:43 AM DESC: ----- BODY: Leave it to George Costanza. In the episode of Seinfeld titled The Masseuse, George finally has a great relationship with a wonderful woman. Inexplicably, she likes everything about him. Yet all he can think about is Jerry's current girlfriend, a masseuse who can't stand George. Rather than turn his attention to his own loving partner, he makes such a strident effort to get the masseuse to like him that he drives her even further away -- and loses his own girl, who can't understand George's obsession. But it's really quite simple: George wants everyone to like him. I understand that not everyone will like me. But deep inside it's easy to lose sight of that fact in the course of daily interactions. When I became department head, one of my goals was to treat everyone fairly, to be open and honest so that each member of the faculty could trust that I was giving him or her a fair hearing and doing the best I could to help him or her succeed within whatever conditions we found ourselves to be operating. That's where George's problem tries to sneak in the door. What if I do treat everyone fairly and am open and honest; what if I do all I can so that each faculty can trust me and my intentions -- and still someone is unhappy with me? What then? Trying to do what George tried to do is a recipe for disaster. As hard as it is sometimes, all I can do is what I can do. I should -- must -- act in a trustworthy manner, but I cannot make people like what I do, or like me. That is part of the territory. For me, though, the occasional encounter with this truth sucks a lot of psychic energy out of me. This is the second semester of my third year as head, which means that I am undergoing a performance evaluation. I suppose the good news is that the dean feels comfortable enough with how I've done to do the review at all, rather than look for a new person for the next three-year appointment. He is using an assessment instrument developed by the IDEA Center at Kansas State. The faculty were asked to judge my performance on a number of tasks that are part of a head's job, such as "Guides the development of sound procedures for assessing faculty performance" and "Stimulates or rejuvenates faculty vitality/enthusiasm". My only role in the process was to rank each of the tasks in terms of their importance to the job. I look at the review as both summative and formative. The summative side of the review is to determine how well I've done so far and whether I should get to keep doing it. The formative side is to give me feedback I can use to improve for the future. As you might guess from my fondness for so-called agile software development practices, I am much more interested in the formative role of the assessment. I know that my performance has not been ideal -- indeed, it's not even been close! -- but I also know that I can get better. Feedback from my colleagues and dean will help. Though I was not asked to assess my performance on these issues, I do have a sense of my job performance. I have been only marginal in managing day-to-day affairs. That task requires a certain kind of focus and energy that I've had to develop on the job. I've also had to learn how to respond effectively in the face of a steady barrage of data, information, and requests. I have also been only marginal in "leadership" tasks, the ones that require I take initiative to create new opportunities for faculty and students to excel. This is an area where I have had a lot of ideas and discussed possibilities with the faculty, but finding time to move many of these ideas forward has been difficult. In an area of particular importance to our department given its history, I have done a reasonable job of communicating information to the faculty, treating individual faculty fairly, and encouraging conversation. I recognized these tasks as primary challenges when I accepted my appointment and, while I had hoped to do better, I've done well so far to keep this dynamic front and center. The results of the faculty survey are in; they arrived in my mailbox yesterday. I decided not to read the results right away... I have been a little under the weather and wanted to preserve my mental energy for work. The last session of my 5-week bash scripting course meets today, and I would rather be focused on wrapping up the class than on the data from my evaluation. I can tell myself not to fall victim to George's masseuse problem, but sometimes that is more easily done with conscious choices about how and when to engage relationships. This afternoon, I'll look at the data, see what they can help me learn, and think about the future. -----