A common theme I've heard from creative leaders is that the standard corporate performance review forms and criteria does not provide an appropriate framework for evaluating the contribution and value of their creative services team members. In addition, many creative leaders find that their team members have difficulty accepting feedback on work for which they consider acceptance/approval to be subjective in nature. On the other hand, many creative leaders would argue that corporate graphic design and writing is rarely subjective when both a strong creative brief and brand standards exist. The other challenge creative leaders bring up when discussing performance reviews is that their team needs to be reminded that being an in-house creative services team member is about more than having strong design, writing, editing, or account management skills--there is a "total package" component that goes beyond their functional expertise in their core capability. To address the above challenges, some creative leaders have created supplementary review criteria and forms to complement the company-wide performance review process. One such creative leader, Sarah Durling, Director of Global Brand Strategy, Global Strategic Marketing at Hexagon AB, developed "Required Skills of a Design-Driven Organization" to more accurately review the performance and development opportunities of her staff. Sarah based her assessment grid on Brigitte Borja De Mozota's Competency Model for Designers from her book Design Management; Using Design to Build Brand Value and Corporate Innovation which identified five competencies (Driving the Process, Design Ability, Business Orientation, Perspective and Framework, and Interpersonal Skills) and related skills within each competencies. Sarah's assessment requires each team member to evaluate themselves on a 5-point scale in 20 different skills. The individual's manager then uses the same form to evaluate those 20 skills on the same scale. The manager, as well as the staff member, is able to provide comments to substantiate their scoring in each of the skills. Interested in learning more about how Sarah was able to implement the supplementary review process and feeling that our community of creative leaders would find value in the same, I reached out to Sarah to learn more.

CreativeExecs Spotlight--Sarah Durling: Creative-Specific Performance Reviews

Jackie Schaffer: What drove you to create this performance assessment? Sarah Durling: As an in-house agency for a global provider of measurement and positioning technologies, the employee evaluation process currently in place, while incredibly valuable, is not geared specifically towards design professionals and competencies. I thought it would be valuable to develop an assessment that specifically addresses and evaluates areas essential to the success of an in-house designer in conjunction with the more general and often vague questions included in the typical employee evaluation.

Jackie: Is this assessment completed in tandem with the company's formal performance review cycle? Sarah: The design-specific performance assessment is completed in conjunction with the annual employee evaluation and is shared and reviewed with each designer as part of the same process.

Jackie: Has your HR team blessed this "addendum"? Does it have any formal weighting when it comes to the performance review of record and/or promotions, pay raises, or bonuses? Sarah: The design-specific performance assessment has not been officially blessed by HR as an addendum. However, it is used within our team to evaluate an employee for promotions, pay raises and bonuses.

Jackie: How did you introduce this new review format to your team, and what has the response of your team been to this additional review? Sarah: The assessment was introduced in 2008 in the typical review cycle. The response to the assessment has been great. My team is very interested in how they can improve in each area, and looks forward to viewing the improvements they've made year to year. We are currently in the process of adapting the applicability of this assessment to the brand and marketing communications team, as well as deploying an electronic version to view year-over-year results.

Jackie: Have you seen performance changes as a result of the more pointed performance reviews this format creates? Sarah: Yes, the more targeted the criteria the easier it is to identify specific areas of improvement and incorporate these improvements into the employees' goals and objectives.

Jackie: What, if any, are the challenges associated with this format? Sarah: The current challenge with the 1-5 rating is limiting, as its range is quite small so year over year differentiation is difficult to depict. Converting this into an online assessment that asks questions pertaining to each competency and then converts the answers into an overall score (e.g. 6.4), ranking in order of strengths, would add to the value of this assessment.

Jackie: Some of the related skills are subjective, what tips do you have for other creative leaders when assessing subjective skills such as "conceptual ability"? Sarah: Employee assessments are typically subjective as they involve a manager's view and perception of an employee's performance over the course of a year. It is, however, important to remain as objective as possible. As such, I felt that it was important to put each competency into context by providing a short description to aid in this process. It's also suggested that specific examples are cited to support each competency ranking. Additionally, creating projects and exercises that put each employee to the test on these competencies is also helpful in ensuring appropriate marks.

Jackie: What has been the greatest benefit of rolling out this creative-specific review format? Sarah: Each employee feels that the assessments are more indicative of their specific skills, performance and the value they bring to the organization. In addition, this format allows for easy identification of improvement areas to incorporate into annual goals and objectives as well as noting the strengths of the employee that should continue to be exploited.

While the Hexagon performance assessment addendum may not be right for your organization, it provides a great jumping-off point and discussion basis for developing a creative-specific performance evaluation--whether included formally or informally in your corporate performance review process. Your team will benefit from more specific feedback within a standard format, thus it's worth your time to adapt the review process to your team's needs. Partnering with HR to ensure your adaptation is created and managed in a manner that complements the formal review process will aid in acceptance by your team and negate any future concerns an uninvolved HR team may have. For information about how Cella can add value to your business through consulting, coaching, and training, please email [email protected]. ***Join the Cella team at "Beyond the Creative: Business Operations for Creative Leaders" training and learn why one of last year's attendees "felt [the conference] was the perfect blend of tools, discussion, networking and philosophy [and] love, love, loved it!" ***
Jackie Schaffer has more than a decade of experience optimizing creative teams. Most recently she directed an international team of 80 creatives. During her tenure, she spearheaded the launch and development of the group's India-based team, built an interactive media division, and executed against a new visual identity. Jackie's management competencies lie in workflow, technology, and talent management, and she has a deep passion for balancing the creative and business needs of in-house shops while providing fulfilling opportunities for the team.