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

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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 are used, and where to go to find resources. It helps give new employees a stake in what the unit is doing, and helps them understand how their contributions will make a difference.

Supervisors who let a new employee know what their expectations are, and understand what the employee needs from them to be effective, builds trust and helps the new hire feel included. Having periodic conversations about what is working and what is not, reduces the likelihood of surprises down the road, and helps supervisors understand what does and does not need fixing.

Maybe most importantly, onboarding and performance management practices help supervisors:

  • Get to know their staff
  • Learn how they can support their staff
  • Listen to what is going on in the department, unit or lab
  • Set a positive tone

Last, but not least, supervisors who are aware of what their staff is doing, and how well they are doing it, are better equipped to know if their employees are in line for a pay increase or promotion, which can in turn help with retention efforts.

Recommended Practices for Initial Onboarding

Each unit should have an onboarding process. If a unit does not already have one, a representative of the unit should work with the 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 will need to be successful in the first year, and get them situated.

As soon as a new person is hired, the supervisor  should:

  • Announce the new hire to other members of the staff or team, and provide his/her start-date
  • Contact the new hire and let him/her know how glad you are that they have been hired
  • Provide the new hire a schedule for his/her first week
  • Choose a peer partner for the new hire, who will serve as a “guide” for them early on
  • Meet with the new hire in the first week
  • Review and be prepared to talk with the new hire about expectations
  • Determine frequencies of meetings with the new hire, and schedule times for those meetings
  • Introduce the new person to unit/team members, and make sure they are 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, supervisors should meet with the new hire to set goals and expectations, talk about the duties of the position, what the priorities are, and how and when his/her work will be evaluated. Supervisors should document the date of the conversation, the goals and expectations, and this documentation should be given to the employee, according to the school or college HR rules.

General Recommended Practices for Faculty Supervisors

During a new employee’s probationary period, faculty supervisors should:

  • Have regular, informal check-ins about what the employee needs, what is expected and how the faculty supervisor can help. These conversations should include feedback, coaching, support, and genuine questions about how well the employee is adjusting to the job.
  • Check in with the new employee mid-way through the probationary period to discuss how things are going, what is working and what is not, what they need to do well in the job, and what they – and the faculty supervisor – should work on improving. This mid-course meeting should be documented according to school/college practices, and the documentation should make clear where the person is and is not meeting expectations.
  • Have a summary evaluation at the end of the probationary period; this should involve a meeting where the faculty supervisor and the employee talk about whether the employee has met work expectations, whether he/she has achieved his/her goals for the year, what professional development opportunities would help support him/her, and what other work skills and talents he/she would like to develop further. Again, this evaluation should be documented according to the unit’s HR practices and guidelines.

After the probationary period, the faculty supervisor should:

  • Start each year by setting expectations and goals with the employee(s) they will be working with.
  • Regularly have informal conversations with their employee(s) about duties, expectations, and the work they are doing; meetings should include feedback, coaching, and support.
  • Have a mid-point conversation half-way through the year, which should be documented according to the unit’s HR conventions.
  • Set aside time at the end of each year to have a discussion like the one at the end of each employee’s probationary period, which includes the questions that were developed at that time. Each year, the faculty supervisor and each of their employees should work together to understand what the job they are doing entails, how they are 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 is being done – over the course of the next year.


Beth Meyerand
Vice Provost for Faculty and Staff
Office of the Provost

Office of Learning and Talent Development
Office of Human Resources