Performance Assessment in Engineering – “Get them to like you!”

The transition from academic to professional cultures requires that former students adjust to new forms of feedback.  As students, most people expected continuous, quantitative and prompt feedback on their performance, but as professionals feedback is much more likely to be sporadic, qualitative, and infrequent.  The typical approach adopted by many large, technological organizations is the annual performance review.  The figures below exemplify the types of criteria against which many engineering professionals are typically evaluated.


Unlike engineering school, where students are evaluated largely upon technical, analytical (i.e., cognitive) outcomes, professional settings place greater emphasis on communication, teamwork, leadership and other interpersonal skills.  In other words, performance evaluation in professional settings depends to a great extent on how supervisors feel (i.e, affective) about the employee.

For example, “Values and supports diversity” relates to the affective aspect of the brain (feelings, values), whereas “Organizes and plans work assignments” is conative.  Even a cursory review of the criteria demonstrates that the emphasis in professional settings is heavily on the conative and affective, in contrast to academic evaluations, which are almost exclusively cognitive.

This is a lesson dramatized in the movie The Hunger Games when Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) explains that the key to survival is to get people to “like you.”

One of the objectives of Engineering Business Practices is to professionalize engineering students — that is, prepare them to leave the academic world and enter the professional.  Accordingly, it makes sense to cross-check the learning objectives listed in the #CEE300 syllabus with the performance evaluation criteria listed above.  The table below lists each learning objective and indicates how many of the professional performance criteria relate to that learning objective.  Those that are best represented in the performance criteria are teamwork and communication — two topics that receive a great deal of attention in #CEE300.  Moreover, all of the #CEE300 learning objectives are listed at least once in the performance criteria, suggesting that #CEE300 is designed to fulfill the overall objective of professionalization.

AuditTwitter assignment.  #CEE300 students taking Engineering Business Practices should create two tweets related to this blog post: 1) List the number of performance evaluation criteria that relate to the cognitive, affective, and conative aspects of the mind (by your own count.  Some could count in more than one category), and 2) Pick one conative criterion and indicate to which action mode(s) the activity relates.  (Again, it could be more than one).

Once we understand the evaluation criteria important in professional engineering settings, a few important discussion questions emerge.  Use the ‘reply’ space below to post your answers to the following:

  • Should students their approach to their remaining education, given an improved understanding of workplace expectations?  How?
  • What do the conative aspects of the criteria listed say about the expectations of the engineering workplace?  Is engineering welcoming of a diverse set of conative strengths?

Cognitive tests are useless for hiring decisions

Blogger Adam Bryant asked Google executive Lazlo Bock what he’s learned about hiring after years of rapid growth.  Here’s an excerpt from the full interview:

GPAs don’t predict anything about who is going to be a successful employee. “One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation,” Bock said. “Google famously used to ask everyone for a transcript and G.P.A.’s and test scores, but we don’t anymore, unless you’re just a few years out of school. We found that they don’t predict anything. What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”

Bock’s advice is to ask interviewees behavioral questions, rather than attempt to test their cognitive abilities.  Students in Engineering Business Practices might recognize that behavior is part of the conative aspect of the mind, rather than the cognitive (knowing) or affective (feeling, valuing).

Kathy Kolbe has created a process of conative assessment that might help to Google or other companies trying to maximize employee productivity called the Kolbe A (TM).  Her point is that the behavioral strengths of the employee should be matched to the requirements of the job.  (It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?)

To read more about conation, go back to this blog post on “Glop Shop” and check out how I use it in my undergraduate engineering class.  I’m starting a summer session in July and I’ll be interested to see what behavioral strengths there are to work with in my class of only six students!