Why Program Quality Assessments Should NOT Be Tied to Performance Reviews

One of the best parts of my team’s work is getting to consult and train with program quality leaders at Clubs as they take their first steps into continuous quality improvement. It is SO EXCITING to partner with you and learn more about your community and staff, help problem-solve, and follow along your journey of making an even deeper impact on the youth you serve. As more Clubs are taking this work on however, we’ve heard a couple of common missteps emerge, so let’s talk about one of those today.

Sometimes we hear from Clubs that they plan to tie program quality assessments to performance reviews. At first glance, it might make sense. Program quality standards like those measured by the Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) are the practices that we want Club staff to do as they interact with youth, so why not just use those for our annual review process? Turns out, it may actually end up hindering your program quality efforts and sour staff against CQI altogether. Let’s take a look at five reasons why keeping program quality assessments and performance reviews separate is the right call.

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Fear of Negative Consequences: If quality improvement efforts are directly tied to performance reviews, staff might be hesitant to ask for help or share where they are having difficulties, fearing that these could reflect poorly on their performance. This can hinder transparency and the open communication that is necessary for effective quality improvement. This is also why program quality observations should always happen after staff have become familiar with the what they will be measured on and should be scheduled in advance – nothing about this process should feel like a “gotcha” moment.

Short-Term Focus: Improvement work takes time and also has to be sustainable. We all know when we try new things and implement new initiatives, there is sometimes a dip in performance as we adjust. That is normal! And staff shouldn’t be punished for it. Tying program quality to reviews might also encourage staff to try and “game the system” without addressing the root causes of issues, or lead to a culture of checkbox-ticking, neither of which is ultimately helpful.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Program Quality is not an individual task. While there may be specific skills that I personally need to practice, it takes working together across program areas and roles and maybe even Club sites to build consistency. Linking these efforts to performance reviews might unintentionally create competition, leading staff to prioritize personal gains over collective efforts. (And it might intentionally create competition too- we know how we love a Staff Challenge, but this isn’t the right arena for it!)

Stifling Innovation and Risk-Taking: We want staff to experiment, innovate, and take some risks with new practices that may feel uncomfortable without fear of negative consequences. This also goes back to that short-term focus point. For example, if I worry that if I try a new way of providing youth choices in the day and it not working might mean I don’t get as high of a raise? I’m not going to try the new way, which also means I’m never going to learn why it didn’t work and build upon that learning to try something different. That is a lose-lose for everyone.

Unpredictability and Demotivation: Sometimes factors outside of our control have a big effect on the Club. Situations like staff turnover or a tragic community event or even a big new grant opportunity shouldn’t mean that quality work stops, but it might mean a shift in focus or a change to the timeline. Staff might feel demoralized or lose incentive to put forth their best effort if they know that goals are not achievable or influenced too heavily by these external factors.

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So how can we include program quality in our goals and incentivize staff? First, thoroughly explaining the /why/ behind program quality improvement will go a long way to getting everyone on board. We know that high-quality staff practices result in better outcomes for young people, which is our ultimate goal at Boys & Girls Clubs. We can also reward and make goals around participation in the process rather than specific scores or increases. Framing program quality improvement efforts in this way signals to staff that we are all engaging in a culture of learning together, not just aiming for numbers.

Want to learn more about improving program quality? Check out the Program Quality tag here on the ClubX Blog or explore the CQI Toolkit, which includes everything you need for an improvement cycle. Boys & Girls Club staff can also schedule a consultation with a member of the BGCA Youth Development team on program quality or a number of other topics, or sign up for the quarterly CQI Newsletter so you never miss an update.

What are your tips for a successful continuous quality improvement cycle at your Club? How have you gotten staff on board to the CQI process? We want to learn from you! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or by emailing ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

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