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President's Letter: Keep Resolutions

Just a few days ago, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. Very often, we choose resolutions that address something fundamental and ambitious—to get healthy, work harder, be nicer. But we can predict the fate of all too many of these resolutions. More than a few optimistic revelers will set a lofty goal—only to lose their way somewhere around February.

Yet those who are really serious about following through will set up a system to measure progress toward their goals, and then stick to that system. They will hold themselves accountable.

When I was elected president of the board of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County two years ago, the District had no formal system in place for staff to create goals and measure progress. There were no required performance evaluations, no regular six-month or one-year check-ins with supervisors to examine areas of strength and weakness. According to the comprehensive desk audit my office ordered in 2011, no staff member had undergone a formal performance review in at least 15 years.

Through the audit, my administration identified this serious issue early on and immediately set about fixing it. We worked with a team, including an outside consultant, to update and clarify job descriptions and reporting relationships. Ultimately, we set up our first comprehensive system to evaluate the performance of every staff member working for the Forest Preserve District.

We piloted the program with a short-term, three-month evaluation period this fall, from September 1 through November 30. Supervisors met with staff to establish expectations in August and began assessments of staff performance for that period in December. The process has already helped supervisors identify and address areas for improvement.

The short duration of the pilot program allows us to adjust and refine the process, after which regular annual evaluations will become the norm. This is already commonplace across the professional sphere. We are serious about holding every single staff member accountable because we know it can result in direct improvements—to the appearance of our preserves, the effectiveness of our land management, the wise use of public dollars and, most importantly, to the experience of every person visiting our preserves.