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AC Insights

Ensuring Leadership Success with Comprehensive Performance Reviews

Karen M. Whitney, Senior Consultant, AASCU Consulting

This article previously appeared in the September 2019 NASH Newsletter

Ensuring success is no accident. In particular, ensuring the success of single campus presidents or chancellors is no accident and is actually the result of hard work on the part of many. Every semester we all read about real life “accidents” of failed or faltering college presidencies. Given the impact that campus CEOs have on their universities and communities, more must be done to ensure that campus CEOs are successful. An often overlooked effort to ensure the campus CEO success is a comprehensive performance review.

While Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) we were guided and helped by our policy on Evaluating Presidents. This policy clearly articulated the annual performance review and the comprehensive performance review which is conducted every three years. The Triennial Reviews are invaluable both to the president and to the Chancellor as an evidenced based way to guide how the presidency could better succeed going forward.

As such, there is a strong “business case” for an objective external party to conduct comprehensive performance reviews. Comprehensive performance reviews are very different from annual performance reviews. This kind of review is broad in scope, highly inclusive in terms of the participation of internal and external stakeholders, and is usually conducted initially during the third year of the President’s term in office and every three to five years thereafter. A comprehensive performance review allows the President, the System Head, and the Board Chair to realign priorities, agree on accomplishments and challenges, and move forward with greater certainty. In addition, the various constituents who interact with “the presidency” feel and have reason to believe that their hopes, fears, and suggestions for the president and the presidency will be seriously considered and integrated into the future work of the president. As a result, there is a tremendous value to presidents and to System Heads for conducting comprehensive presidential reviews. From my experiences from both sides of a Comprehensive Review, it provided invaluable information and direction to everyone involved.

Karen M. Whitney is former Interim Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and President Emerita of Clarion University. She became Interim Chancellor of the University of Illinois Springfield in July 2020.

Reprinted with permission, National Association of System Heads

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