For those keeping score at home, I mentioned a few weeks back the prospect of using Apples to Apples for year-end evaluations. I like the idea of making these final meetings more engaging and less dry, and also giving myself the opportunity to hear students describe things as anything other than “good”, “fine”, “cool”, or wordlessly with a shrug.
I really learned a lot from trying to mix up the evaluation experience, and would highly recommend the method to others!
I don’t have all of the results compiled yet, but I’ll give some of the highlights and the surprises that resulted when I asked students some of the questions. For those who wanted to see the questions I asked, I’ll list a few here too.
Pick a card to describe your experience in Union Productions.
Common Answers: beneficial, stimulating
Favorite Answer: wacky
I made sure to ask in follow up questions if the “stimulating” response was in reference to the number of events we do (anticipating concerns of overprogramming), or simply the amount of brainpower that was going into their work. I was surprised to hear that all who responded, did so in the latter. They felt like they were getting a lot out of their work, but weren’t overwhelmed by the amount of programming that the organization was doing (keep in mind, we as an organization do about 120 events a year!)
Lesson: We see overprogramming as a concern because we have an awareness of all the events going on. However, for students who can filter out what they are and aren’t interested in, chances are they aren’t feeling overprogrammed.
Pick a card to describe how supported you felt by fellow staff members. 
Common Answers:   efficient, beneficial
Notable Answers: isolated, lopsided
For this one, I made sure to ask separately about how staff members interacted (interpersonal), as well as how supported they felt by fellow staff (professional). In many cases, students expressed pleasure with the people that they worked with interpersonally, but some stress in the organization was revealed. The two main problems that were revealed in this process was a feeling of isolation by our production team (who is scheduled separately and doesn’t meet with our PR, programming or hospitality students), and a feeling of lopsidedness concerning motivation for work by staff members (who works because they like it, who works because they need a job, what does each version look like?)
Lesson: One of my students put it best when he said he wanted to see the “union” put back into Union Productions. My goal for the coming year is to find ways to help them blend as an organization, and to help all areas of the organization understand each other so they can work together better.
Pick a card to describe how UP is perceived by others on campus.
Common Answers: offbeat, efficient
Notable Answers: elusive, pointless
As I alluded to in my post on South by Southwest, we are a little quirky in what we do at Union Productions. We’ve heard criticism ranging from “they only do indie rock shows” to “the same 30 people go to their events!”As such, I wasn’t surprised (and was frankly quite pleased!) that many of our students recognize the stigma that they work under each day. That said, they are heralded throughout the department, and at times, heavily relied on to assist other organizations in programming efforts, because they are so good at what they do. As such, the aspiring wellness professional worries about the effect that has on their ability to be successful. It’s a lot of stress to have on them, and we have students who handle such stress with varying levels of effectiveness.
Lesson: Given that they are aware of their reputation, the next step will be to determine if the stigma they carry is one that they wish to change, or wish to work within. Because these students are advised AND supervised by us, my challenge will be to allow them to steer the direction of the organization, while at the same time making sure they don’t alienate the large percentage of the student population who “doesn’t understand them”.

I really appreciated the great ideas that my students came to the table with in this process. And I’m really excited to have found an engaging way to pull their thoughts from their minds. One of my students remarked as she pulled cards from the pile and arranged them, “This is a really cool way to do this!”. I’m hoping that inspiration strikes again next spring, and that a similarly playful way to look at the year will emerge!

How do you conduct year-end evaluations? What have you learned about the state of your organization from these meetings?

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