In business today, employee performance is critical. Having a system in place that measures and identifies employee performance is even more critical. Millikin University's Performance Management course in the Tabor School of Business addresses this very issue. It allows students the opportunity to use a model to create an effective and efficient performance management system each spring semester. However, this year's students had the rare opportunity to use classroom knowledge to aid an actual client by designing a performance management system for its employees; that client was Peerless Dry Cleaning and Restoration.
The primary goal of the project was to help Peerless clearly define and measure "world class service," and to develop a system that Peerless can use to identify performance gaps in service provider performances. Led by Dr. Susan Kruml, associate professor of management, the students took full advantage of the project by applying their understanding of performance management from lectures and discussions to a real-world situation.
"In the interest of performance learning, I've done client-based projects before, but this particular project had a lot more client involvement," said Kruml. "Typically, we get some kind of project from a client and then we work on it with the students throughout the semester and then deliver it to the client. This time we wanted more direct feedback from the client and we wanted the students more directly involved with the actual company."
The first phase of the project involved the students working in four teams -- two teams dedicated to the Peerless technicians, and two teams dedicated to the customer service representatives. Both teams for each job competed to produce the best first draft of the system. Each team received a grade on their first draft as well as feedback from Peerless Dry Cleaning and Restoration President Brad Wike, and Vice President Todd Garner. The teams then transitioned from four to two (one team for each job) therefore combining the best elements of the projects to produce the final products.
"This experience was truly a unique and positive one," said Aubri Barnes, a senior from Colfax, Ill. "It is rare to have the opportunity to take the skills and knowledge you learn in a classroom and use it for a real company, but that is exactly what the Performance Management course provided us. We were able to provide Peerless with a performance management system that would easily inform employees of what world class service was, and the opportunity to do that was unlike any other."
One of the priorities while designing the performance management system was developing a job description for the portion of the job related to delivering world class service. By doing so the students had to learn as much as they could about the company and its culture by attending employee and management meetings, job shadowing, and having conversations with employees.
"Working with Peerless on this project was completely different than any project I've ever worked on," said Kristan Couri, a junior from Decatur, Ill. "Not only did we have to learn the material from the class, but we also had to learn about Peerless, their culture, and most importantly, how to tie the information we were learning into what their company needed."
After developing a specific job description associated with world class service, the Millikin students designed evaluation tools using a Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS) method, which provides a rating scale for employees based on specific behavioral expectations for each position.
Couri added, "Many things were learned along the way, but what I enjoyed learning about the most during this project was how a good performance appraisal system works. There is an entire process that goes along with evaluating your employees, and not only did we get to learn what that process is, but we got to create a custom-made performance management system for this company."
The final phase of the project touched on the importance of staying true to the Peerless mission statement as well as core values, new job descriptions, and completing 360 degree evaluations. The Millikin students presented their final project to the Peerless representatives on May 14 during finals week.
Dr. Kruml added, "The overall reaction from the Peerless representatives was good. Some of the information has to be digested, but the students were quick on their feet when they were asked questions during the presentation. The students not only learned how to design a performance management system, they also learned how to measure their own performance, how to conduct a performance appraisal, and how to work in teams."