How Midtown International School Built a High-Performance Culture with Democratized Feedback

By Melissa Suzuno
on Feb 8, 2018 1:30:00 PM


When it comes to performance management, schools have some unique challenges. Teachers’ feedback is often based on classroom observations, but these take place only occasionally. This can be frustrating since one single day or class may not always be indicative of what happens most of the time. Accreditation is also an important objective for the whole organization, so it’s important to have everyone striving towards that goal.

However, in the case of Midtown International School, there are also some challenges that anyone can relate to. Many teachers found that there was a lack of structure or consistency around the feedback process, which made it hard to focus on development and improvement. Similarly, while the organization on the whole valued respect and responsibility, the performance management process didn’t reflect these values.

Read on to learn how Midtown International School overcame these challenges and improved their approach to feedback and evaluations.

Midtown International School’s High-Performance Vision

Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Midtown International School serves gifted and academically superior students who thrive in small class environments. The globally minded curriculum and problem-based instruction create a community of engaged global leaders dedicated to the values of respect, responsibility, citizenship, and justice.

Limitless learning is at the core of Midtown International School’s mission—a place where academically advanced students reach their potential. With staff members ranging from teachers to administrators, MIS was looking for a way to transition its inefficient and informal evaluation process into a more feedback-driven, high-performing culture. Ultimately, this resulted in a performance management practice that aligns with the school-wide mission and vision.

MIS’ Challenge: Sticky Notes Weren’t Sticking

In the absence of a truly formal performance management process, MIS relied on sticky notes to document goals that would find themselves lost in folders, only to be revisited near year’s end for evaluation. This was coupled with undocumented, verbal feedback between supervisors and reports that rarely led to actionable development. Not only did this process make it cumbersome to look back on performance, but it also made it challenging to identify areas for growth and propel employees to find new paths to grow professionally.

MIS’ New Approach

After rolling out a new performance management process, MIS holds three check-in evaluations throughout the year to talk about goals and hold meaningful conversations. The most notable shift is toward feedback between peers. One of the most notable outcomes of switching performance management solutions was not only creating a rich culture of feedback, but democratizing the feedback itself.

By rethinking the way colleagues work together, Zugata captures data on those you work with most in order to create more opportunities to give timely, relevant, and well-rounded feedback. MIS’ employees can now receive feedback more often, and from a wide range of team members. Breaking down traditional hierarchy paved the way for more inclusive, helpful feedback to drive employee development.

Elementary Coordinator Kascha Adeleye explains, “Using feedback templates has really challenged the team to think about how to constructively effect change, and to not just list positives. By touching on one thing someone could have done better in a template, it really allows peers to receive feedback that pushes them to develop.”

Results: The Feedback Difference

Here are some of the positive changes that have occurred since MIS rolled out their new approach to feedback.

Friendly Competition

  • By taking advantage of a wall of recognition that displays feedback behaviors, such as who gives or receives the most feedback, the MIS team found themselves giving feedback with a spirit of friendly competition.
  • Having visibility into who’s contributing most through points inspires a culture of consistent feedback, especially since they aren’t able to view feedback they’ve received if they haven’t given feedback.
  • Employees like to see themselves in the lead, which creates a culture of recognition and understanding in relation to peers.

Spirit of Positive Growth

  • By utilizing the skills cards and the binary selection of ‘Getting there’ or ‘Rocking it,’ the team is able to harness a growth mindset rather than a negative assessment.
  • ‘Getting there’ doesn't imply you aren’t great at something; it acknowledges you’re on your way and can improve.
  • This helps people stay motivated and positive about their development opportunities and room for growth.

Network Teams

  • Feedback is no longer relegated to superior and reporter thanks to the social graph, which uses data to inform users about who they work with most to prompt useful, relevant feedback.
  • This allows for democratic, well-rounded feedback across communication loops.
  •  No one sees all of an employee's skills in limited interactions, so by gathering feedback across different employees and instances, the feedback can be more informative.

Reaching Accreditation

  •  It can be hard to get randomized feedback in a school setting, and when teachers need to be meeting standards, having a log of past performance is really key for professional development.
  •  If you forgot to say or do one thing while under observation, you can go back and show that you in fact do this most of the time, it just happened to be an off day. This is key for removing bias from the observation process, and ensuring the school has a well-rounded view of performance.
  •  Ultimately, having this retrospective log that can track performance over time without bias helps MIS reach accreditation, which is key for operational efficiency.

“Knowing we have accountability in place with Zugata really encourages everyone to be thoughtful about their interactions with each other, and lets various team members feel like the expert with feedback. It really lets people influence change, and has created an equal distribution of power in the feedback loop,” says Kascha.

Key takeaways

If you’re at a mission-driven organization like MIS, it helps to think about how you can create a feedback process that aligns with your values. Giving and receiving feedback should feel like a natural extension of employees’ work rather than a random and tedious task.

It’s also essential to involve everyone in the feedback process. Don’t simply ask managers to evaluate their direct reports. Ask employees to offer feedback to everyone they work with most closely. And it doesn’t hurt to add a little friendly competition by sharing a leaderboard publicly.

Finally, find a central place to store historical feedback so people can monitor their progress over time and give examples of their past evaluations if necessary.

Looking for even more examples of companies with high-performance cultures? Be sure to download our eBook, “High-Performance Culture Spotlights.

Topics: Employee Development

Author: Melissa Suzuno

Melissa Suzuno is a freelance copywriter who enjoys exploring the intersection of people and work.

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