University of Wisconsin–Madison

Onboarding and Performance Management for Faculty Supervisors

As part of the Human Resources Design Project (HR Design), every department and campus unit should have established onboarding and performance management processes.

HR Design was developed in 2012 to give UW-Madison more discretion in how its human resources system works. The system treats the university more like a university, and less like a state agency. HR Design also strives to make the relationship between employees and their supervisors better, more effective, less rule-bound and more mutual.

Two important changes have to do with onboarding and performance management.

  • Onboarding –  refers to the process of bringing on new hires, helping them get acclimatized to the unit (department, lab, office), and giving them the information they need to get going and to work effectively.
  • Performance Management – refers to the process where you and the person or people that you supervise talk together about setting and meeting goals, about what each of you expects, and about evaluating the work.

Recommended Practices

  • Purpose and Importance of Onboarding and Performance Management Processes

    Onboarding is important because it helps bring new people up to speed on how the department, lab, or office works, who the key people are, what processes you use, and where to go to find resources. It helps give new arrivals a stake in what you’re doing, and helps them understand how their contributions will make a difference.

    Letting employees know what your expectations are, and understanding what they need from you to be effective, builds trust and helps them feel included. Having periodic conversations about what’s working and what isn’t means that there won’t be surprises down the road, and it helps you understand what does and doesn’t need fixing.

    Maybe most importantly, onboarding and performance management help you get to know your staff, how you can support them, gives you a chance to listen to what’s going on in your department or lab, and helps set a positive tone.

    Last but not least, knowing what your staff is doing, and how well they’re doing it, is the only way you’ll know whether they are in line for a pay increase or promotion, and will help you retain your excellent people.

  • Recommended Practices for Initial Onboarding

    Each unit should have an onboarding process. If you don’t already have one, you should work with your school or college HR person to create one. Each unit should also have an onboarding coordinator, who is the person who works closely with the supervisor to orient the new person or people to the unit, provide them with the information and resources they’ll need to be successful in the first year, and get them situated.

    As soon as a new person is hired, here’s what should happen:

    • Choose a peer partner for the new hire, who serves as a “guide” for them early on
    • The new hire should get a schedule for their first week
    • The supervisor should meet with the new hire in the first week
    • Let other members of the staff or team know who the new hire is, and when they’ll start work
    • Reach out to the new hire and let them know how glad you are that they’ve been hired
    • Review and be prepared to talk with the new hire about your expectations for them
    • Figure out how frequently you want to meet with the new hire, and schedule times for those meetings
    • Introduce the new person around, and make sure they’re connected to the people that will be instrumental in their job
    • Make sure the new person knows how to get a hold of you with any questions, and let the new person know who else she or he can go to with questions

    Within the first 30 days, meet with the new person to set goals and expectations, talk about the duties of the position, what the priorities are, and how and when their work will be evaluated. You should document the date of the conversation, the goals and expectations, and this documentation should be given to the employee, according to the HR rules in your school or college.

  • General Recommended Practices for Faculty Supervisors

    There are only a few things that you must do. During the employee’s probationary period, they include:

    • Regularly having informal conversations about what they need, what you expect, how you can help. These conversations should include feedback, coaching, support, and genuine questions about how well they’re adjusting to the job.
    • Mid-way through the new hire’s probationary period, check in with the new person to discuss how they’re faring, what’s working and what’s not, what they need to do well in the job, and what they – and you – should work on improving. This mid-course meeting should be documented according to your school/college practices, and the documentation should make clear where the person is and isn’t meeting expectations.
    • At the end of the probationary period, have a summary evaluation; this should involve a meeting where you and the employee talk about whether they’ve met work expectations, whether they’ve achieved the goals they set for the year, what professional development opportunities would help support them, and what other work skills and talents they’d like to develop further. Again, this evaluation should be documented according to your unit’s HR practices and guidelines.

    After the probationary period, they include:

    • Start each year by setting expectations and goals with the person you’re working with.
    • Regularly have informal conversations with the employee about duties, expectations, and the work they’re doing; meetings should include feedback, coaching, and support.
    • Have a mid-point conversation half-way through the year, which you should document according to your unit’s HR conventions.
    • At the end of each year, set aside time to have a discussion like the one that you did at the end of the probationary period, which includes the questions you developed then. Each year, you and the employee should work together to understand what the job they’re doing entails, how they’re doing it, what they need in order to do it better, and what should change or shift – both in the job description and in the work that’s being done – over the course of the next year.


Michael Bernard-Donals
Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff
Office of the Provost

Office of Learning and Talent Development
Office of Human Resources