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Performance management and human resource development

By Margaret Adolphus

Performance management

Performance management is about setting clear and measurable objectives for work, and is an important managerial and human resource tool. A well-run performance management system will provide staff with clear objectives for their job, and plenty of opportunities for feedback and discussion with their supervisor. The objectives will be clearly linked with the strategic priorities of the organization.

The most well-known tool is the dreaded annual appraisal; however, many organizations now take a more structured approach. According to Chan (2006: p. 144):

"Libraries that are concerned with improving organizational effectiveness, creating nimble organizations and enhancing employee performance and productivity are adopting a more structured performance management process based on the use of core competencies for staff."

Performance management comprises three sets of interrelated activities, all of which are linked into organizational objectives (Chan, 2006; McNeil, 2004):

  1. Planning: at this stage, job responsibilities should be defined, as well as goals and expectations based on company requirements. The main tool for this will be the job description.
  2. Coaching: monitoring performance on an informal basis, e.g. by weekly meetings, providing feedback, coaching and development as necessary.
  3. Performance review: a more formal review, based on the appraisal. This is linked with recognizing and rewarding superior performance, dealing with performance which is below standard, and setting goals and training for the following year.

The job description

The job description is the first step to managing performance because it defines expectations (McNeil, 2004). It is the document which tells the new (and prospective) employee what the job entails, and the measure whereby performance can be judged. A good job description should have sufficient detail so that the main responsibilities are clear, and should also define the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to carry out the task.

A job description should have a brief purpose statement, describing what the job is about, the key tasks, and the activities by task. Many job descriptions also include key reporting relationships, as well as key skills and competences required for the job, although the latter may also be in the form of a person specification (usually a separate document).

The following extracts are from a job description for a community librarian in the Scottish town of Aberdeen. Note how the postholder’s duties are clearly described, and therefore provide effective guidelines.

Job description

Job purpose: To assist in the provision and delivery of an efficient, high quality and customer focused library and information service.

Key tasks:

  • Assist the reader services librarian to manage the provision and delivery of reader services.
  • Play a key role in the recruitment, management and development of staff for reader services.
  • Provide, maintain and promote library resources for reader services.
  • Ensure the operation of routines and procedures relevant to the service.
  • Contribute to library and information service development, neighbourhood working and effective partnerships.


Some of the activities relating to the last key task:

  • Promote library and information services through talks, active participation in reader development initiatives and neighbourhood events.
  • Plan, organize and participate in activities for all client groups, including school, playgroup and nursery visits, book groups, workshops, ICT and other user education sessions.
  • Promote and participate in local and national and literacy and numeracy initiatives.
  • Promote family involvement in early years literacy e.g. bookstart project.
  • Actively contribute to neighbourhood and partnership meetings and participate in working parties.

Assessing performance informally

Many organizations tend to review performance only when it goes wrong, or at the annual appraisal. However, having ongoing (perhaps weekly) meetings with a supervisor can be a helpful way of reviewing scheduled work, dealing with problems such as overload, underperformance, sorting out queries, plus receiving mentoring or coaching. This frequent content can also nip problems in the bud, and prevent them becoming major issues.

The performance review

Unlike informal performance assessment, this involves a formal meeting between the individual and his or her immediate superior. It should:

  • relate to the employee's job description and any agreed objectives,
  • include objectives for the coming year,
  • discuss training and development plans,
  • be documented, signed and agreed by both parties.

Quite a lot of organizations now offer 360o feedback, where subordinates and co-workers also comment on one another's performance. The overall objective, however, should be to determine whether someone is fulfilling, falling short or exceeding expectations.


According to McNeil (2004), salary review has previously been linked with performance evaluation, but recent financial constraints in higher education (and presumably elsewhere) have made that difficult. Other ways need to be found of rewarding people, for example, learning new skills, perhaps through a training course, or a new assignment.


Many jobs express the skills and behaviour required in terms of competences. Competences should (Chan, 2004: p. 146):

  • describe a cluster of knowledge, skills, abilities, motivations, beliefs, values and interests,
  • relate to a significant part of the job,
  • indicate effective/superior performance,
  • can be measured/observed against accepted standards,
  • can be linked to strategic direction,
  • can be improved with training and development.

Chan (2006: p. 150) carried out research into the core competences of Canadian public libraries, most of which had competence-based performance management systems. They found that six of the respondents had the same 11 core competences which all employees were required to show. They were:

  • customer service
  • interpersonal skills
  • communication skills
  • analytical skills
  • accountability
  • technological competence
  • planning and organizing skills
  • knowledge of the organization
  • creativity/innovation
  • leadership.

The competences became standards which were used in recruitment, and in assessing training needs.

It is interesting to compare the above list with Dennye Heye’s list of the seven skills of the highly effective information professional. Heye is Shell’s global knowledge manager, and is interviewed elsewhere on this site (see

He also lists leadership and creativity, persuasiveness, and the ability to give good presentations as interpersonal and communication skills. He puts more emphasis on the ability to understand organizational politics however, prioritizing "seeing the bigger picture", and linking service provision with organizational objectives ("Check that all parts of your service add value, and are not just there for historical reasons"), and also lists time management.

What Heye shares with Canadian libraries, however, is a belief in the importance of soft skills and behaviour. According to Chan (2006), competences are often considered not sufficiently rigorous for performance management, not satisfying the need to stand up in a court of law. They are extensively used by libraries, however, and it is difficult not to see their benefit in situations where human resource management is used positively, and not just as a safeguard.

Training and career development

Librarianship, information and knowledge work is a very highly skilled and fast-moving profession. This creates an ongoing requirement for training, as well as plenty of opportunities for career development.

McNeil (2004: p. 63) distinguishes between:

  • staff development (which is the responsibility of the organization),
  • professional development (a personal responsibility and achieved through professional associations), and
  • career development (the responsibility of both the library and the individual).

These all come under the heading of human resource development, which is concerned with developing people so that they can perform effectively both as individuals and in teams.

Staff development

The problem for librarians is that technology keeps changing; knowledge itself moves on; and librarianship requires an intensive input of soft skills. Staff in academic libraries, in particular, need to keep abreast of the new research tools and databases in the subject which they serve. And they also need to develop pedagogical skills as good as those of their faculty colleagues.

There are a great number of ways in which libraries offer staff development. Some training is given during orientation; traditional workshop training may be provided both by the organization and outside bodies; some libraries have regular expertise sharing sessions, or senior colleagues may be sent out for training and then cascade it down to their colleagues.

Paster (2004) reports how at Princeton Library, where she was staff development librarian, the Social Science Reference Center would hold regular informational sessions where staff would share their expertise on a topic, such as a new database.

Training may be facilitated by the human resources department, although some libraries may have (as in the case of Princeton Library) a specialist staff development librarian. The benefit of the latter arrangement is that the training requirements of this highly specialist profession are more likely to be understood by one of its own.

Training needs are also likely to be highly individual to the particular librarian, hence it is not unusual for staff to develop their own learning plans, which focus on their own needs.

At the University of New England, Armidale, Australia, individual library staff members formulate their goals against the annual operational plan, and identify corresponding training goals, which are discussed and agreed with their supervisor. They are also encouraged to take into account their career aspirations and their specific work responsibilities. This information is then used to formulate the training programme (Leong, 2008).

Much has been written about the skills needed for the librarian now and in the future, particularly in academic libraries where the juggling of "space" between the physical and the virtual is so crucial. There is general agreement on the importance of soft skills – communication skills, management, customer service, interpersonal skills, etc. Parry (2007) carried out a literature review and identified the following as the skills that library managers should seek to develop in their staff:

  • IT skills, including web design, metadata, databases and standards.
  • Management skills – of people, budgets, resources, IT equipment, impact and risk assessment, and knowledge of the environment.
  • Communication skills, including presentation, ability to seek funding, marketing and promotion, liaison with external colleagues, negotiating and collaboration.
  • Pedagogic, including e-learning and emerging technologies.
  • Personal qualities – the ability to be flexible, and multiskilled.

The priority which these various skills are accorded will of course vary according to location. It is all too easy to assume prevalence of ICT: in some parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, the priority may be to equip the region with the necessary infrastructure and ensure that there are the digital libraries necessary for education of the population. In which case, the first skill listed above may assume priority.

Career development

Career development differs from staff development in that it is the responsibility of the individual as well as the organization, and involves the individual setting their own career goals and, with their supervisor, finding opportunities that develop them to the point where they can realize those goals. These opportunities will include not just conventional training courses, but also secondments and particular projects, as well as mentoring.

Encouraging career development is very important to motivate staff, and creating a continuing learning environment helps keep people on their toes in a constantly changing environment. According to Sayers (2007), professional development opportunities are crucial in motivating Generation Y.

Human resource development and organizational change

Training and development are crucial in achieving a flexible workforce. Librarianship is currently going through a great period of change. An organizational environment that is supportive of learning and development and providing staff with the direct skills and knowledge they need for new situations (Smith, 2004) will benefit people and help them to be change agents along with the organization.

The following was written in 1992 by a Tanzanian librarian, but is equally applicable today:

"The hurricane which is blowing in the West is likely to hit Tanzania even harder because of the situation which the country is in now. Librarianship and information science personnel, like other professionals, are being forced to face the challenges posed by socio-economic and technological changes. Coping with such changes is not a simple jump. It means learning coping strategies. The most effective way of learning these strategies is through developing concrete training and personnel development plans suitable to the environment. Institutions must realize that learning and investing in retraining must be continuous if they are both to retain, and get the best out of, their existing employees. Developing people must be seen as an added value rather than an added cost which has to be kept low. It should be seen as integral to good management practice, and not something to be done when things go wrong" (Nawe, 1992).


Chan, D.C. (2006), "Core competencies and performance management in Canadian public libraries", Library Management, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 144-153.

Leong, J. (2008), "Academic reference librarians prepare for change: an Australian case study", Library Management, Vol. 29 No. 1/2, pp. 77-86.

McNeil, B. (2004), "Managing workplace performance and career development" in Simmons-Welburn, J. and McNeil, B. (Eds), Human Resource Management in Today's Academic Library: Meeting Challenges and Creating Opportunities, Libraries Unlimited, Westport, CT.

Nawe, J. (1992), "Library and information science: training and personnel development in Tanzania", Library Review, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 65-72.

Parry, J. (2008), ‘’Librarians do fly: strategies for staying aloft", Library Management, Vol. 29 No. 1/2, pp. 41-50.

Paster, L.R. (2004), "Current issues in staff development" in Simmons-Welburn, J. and McNeil, B. (Eds), Human Resource Management in Today's Academic Library: Meeting Challenges and Creating Opportunities, Libraries Unlimited, Westport, CT.

Sayers, R. (2007), ‘’The right staff from X to Y: generational change and professional development in future academic libraries", Library Management, Vol. 28 No. 8/9, pp. 474-487.

Simmons-Welburn, J. and McNeil, B. (Eds), Human Resource Management in Today's Academic Library: Meeting Challenges and Creating Opportunities, Libraries Unlimited, Westport, CT.

Smith, I. (2004), "Continuing professional development and workplace learning 7: human resource development – a tool for achieving organisational change", Library Management, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 148-151.

Smith, I. (2008), "People management – be bold", Library Management, Vol. 29 No. 1/2, pp. 18-28.

Woo, M.W.E. (2007), "Brain drain or tap the strengths", Library Management, Vol. 28, No. 8/9, pp. 501-514.