Managing Performance

Sections included in this page:

An effective performance management process sets the foundation for aligning your employee’s efforts with Northwestern's goals. Performance management is larger than the annual performance review. The process includes setting clear and specific expectations, and providing specific and ongoing feedback both informal and formal. When an employee’s performance is thoughtfully managed, it can be a very effective motivator and help drive employee and organizational success.

Staff Handbook

The Staff Handbook provides current information on the policies and programs that define staff member responsibilities and Northwestern’s commitments to its staff.

Evaluative Authority

For information on supervising or evaluating a relative that might be hired, please see the policy on Employment or Evaluation of Relatives.

Northwestern Performance Excellence Process

Northwestern University provides a framework for the performance management process called Performance Excellence. In this process, employees and managers partner to set goals, discuss progress throughout the year, and review performance at the end of the performance year. By the end of a new hire’s first month, you will want to discuss expectations and goals to set him or her up for success in the year ahead. One-on-one meetings should also be formalized by this time.

Probationary Period

All staff members are on a six-month probationary period from the date of hire. Additionally, staff members who apply for and receive a transfer or promotion are in their probationary period for the initial six months in the new position. This period of time provides the University an opportunity to observe and evaluate the capacity of the staff member.

In rare instances during the probationary period, the University may terminate employment immediately, with or without cause and with or without notice. Managers may extend the probationary period after consultation with their HR Consultant/ Business Partner.

For information about the orientation and review period of police officers, contact the University Police Department at Staff members who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement should consult with their Department/ Business Administrator or local Human Resources.

Staff Employee Relations Matters

On occasion, a matter may arise related to your staff member that needs to be addressed. Depending on its nature, you may even be obligated by law to report the matter (for example, sexual misconduct and suspected child abuse or neglect). In these cases, there are various offices on campus who may be involved in helping to reach resolution. In general, you will want to contact your Department/ Business Administrator and HR Consultant/ Business Partner who can help you identify and make connections to other resources when necessary.

Corrective Action Process

Staff members who are not performing as expected are advised of the inadequate performance and counseled on needed improvement through a corrective action process or plan. You will want to partner with your Department/ Business Administrator and HR Consultant/ Business Partner on this process. In cases where the individual is a Postdoctoral Fellow, you will also want to partner with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. The process is designed to encourage development by providing staff members with guidance in areas that need improvement. However, if a staff member fails to meet the expectations included in a corrective action process or plan, the consequence may be termination of employment. Staff members who have been issued a corrective action process or plan within the last six months are not eligible for a promotion or transfer. Additionally, there are infractions that warrant immediate discharge (see “Involuntary Termination of Employment” on page 2.13 of the Staff Handbook).

The corrective action process outlined here does not apply to temporary employees. If you have a performance issue with a temporary employee in your area, contact your Department/ Business Administrator and the Temporary Center.

Staff Recognition Programs

The Office of Human Resources honors and recognizes staff members throughout the year for length of service, as well as for service excellence when going above and beyond their regular assignments. Visit the employee recognition web page for information about each program and details on how to recognize your staff member for his or her contributions.

In addition, The Graduate School (TGS) annually recognizes outstanding members of the community committed to service excellence through The Graduate School and Ver Steeg Awards. For more information on these honors or to review the nomination procedures, visit the Graduate School’s recognition awards home page.


Mentoring can positively impact an employee’s development and has also been show to offer reciprocal benefits for mentors willing to invest their time in developing someone else. One formal mentoring program is offered through The Association of Northwestern University Women (ANUW). The ANUW website provides information about the program and eligibility requirements.

Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) provides a Compact Between Postdoctoral Appointees and Their Mentors that can be used to initiate discussion about the postdoctoral appointee-mentor relationships and the commitments necessary for a high quality postdoctoral training experience. Research has shown that mentoring postdoctoral fellows and doctoral students positively affects their productivity and success. The Excellence in Mentoring Initiative, sponsored by The Graduate School and the Office of the Provost, and the Feinberg School of Medicine Mentor Training program provide resources, tools, and information to help faculty develop their mentoring skills, as well as special topic workshops and mentor training sessions.

A Career Development Plan or Individual Development Plan (IDP) aims to identify professional skills already acquired, professional skills that need to be developed or enhanced, research training goals, research project objectives and a plan to combine these skills and objectives within a reasonable and obtainable timeline. The IDP is also a discussion tool for developing mutual expectations for research performance. MyIDP is an online, interactive planning tool. The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) also meets individually with postdoctoral fellows and faculty on the Evanston and Chicago campuses for one-on-one IDP consultation sessions.

Informal mentoring can also be useful in guiding your staff member’s professional growth. Northwestern has a vast number of organizations across campus in which your staff member can participate to grow his or her network and identify an informal mentor.

Leadership Development

Northwestern offers workplace learning in leadership development. Consider these opportunities to develop your own leadership abilities or those of your team member.

Job Reviews

At times, a department may submit a request to Compensation for review of roles that have evolved, such that duties and responsibilities have undergone significant changes. Please consult with your Department/ Business Administrator regarding these requests.

Approving Time Cards

If you are listed as a supervisor in Kronos, Northwestern’s timekeeping system, it is important that you know how to approve your employee’s time in the system. The system is used by biweekly-paid (non-exempt) staff, temporary employees, and student employees to log hours each pay period. The system is used by monthly-paid (exempt) staff to record vacation, sick, and other leave time each month. For more information, visit the web page on the Kronos Time Entry System.

Work Period Limitation for Temporary Employees

Temporary, non-student employees can work for up to 1,000 hours in a 12-month period of time. Hours worked will be monitored through various lookback periods. If certain hour thresholds are met, the temporary employee may be offered medical insurance in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) guidelines. For more information, visit the ACA Value PPO webpage and review the Frequently Asked Questions. When a temporary employee is close to having 1,000 work hours, he or she either needs to be hired into a regular, benefits-eligible position or terminated from the temporary assignment. The Office of Human Resources strongly encourages making the decision about whether to hire a temporary employee into a regular, benefits-eligible position once the temporary employee has reached 60 days worked. ACA has requirements to offer health care coverage after 90 days worked when certain hour thresholds are met.