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Managing Interpreters: Expectations and Feedback

by Ryan Spencer, The Henry Ford on

Firestone-Tom-Kemper-Field-Trip

I’d wager that anyone reading this blog post appreciates a few things from an employer: clear expectations, good tools for completing the job, and feedback on performance. A manager who provides these things for his or her staff is quite an asset. Good employees thrive with clear expectations, good tools, and feedback.
When managing front-line interpreters—whether volunteer or paid—it is vital to keep the same model: expectations, tools, feedback. When managing interpreters specifically, there are some important considerations to bear in mind:

Interpreters fill a unique skill-set. They must be good at processing complex ideas. They must be excellent communicators. They must have good customer service skills.

Interpretation jobs are relatively fluid. Most of these jobs do not pay well—even by museum standards. As a result, it is often a transitional job, attracting college students, job seekers, retired individuals, etc. Consequently, many museums experience a high rate of turnover with interpreters.

In short, museums must recruit and train a skilled team that is often very transient. This makes the expectations, tools, and feedback model all the more important with interpreters. It helps with training efficiently, coaching effectively, and delivering better experiences for guests.

Setting Expectations
At the start of employment, it’s important that front-line interpreters learn what will make them successful. This ranges from basic policies to honing presentation skills. If your site uses a standardized coaching sheet for providing feedback, this is the time to introduce it. If your site DOES NOT use a coaching sheet… consider using one. A coaching sheet is a useful tool for setting expectations and providing consistent feedback.

Tools for Success
A few useful tools for frontline interpreters include:

1. Good mentors. Never underestimate the power of a good example. Identify interpreters who do the job well. Make sure new interpreters shadow them. A good example is often more effective than even the very best training manuals. Conversely, be wary of bad examples. NOTHING will sour a good interpreter like a bad mentor.

2. Good content. Content training manuals must be engaging, well-written, and relevant. Like a well-planned thesis, primary messages should be clear and easy to find. Supporting ideas should relate clearly to primary messages.

3. Manager support. Interpreters are important. Your presence as a supervisor will help them know that they are valued.

Giving Consistent Feedback
Some feedback is better than no feedback; however… you can do better! Feedback should be consistent in format. Remember that coaching sheet? Use it. Feedback should be frequent. Each front-line interpreter should expect to get a set of coaching notes at least once a quarter. An interpreter’s coaching notes will ultimately inform his or her year-end evaluation.

If your organization uses front-line interpreters, how do you provide expectations, tools, and feedback?

One Response to “Managing Interpreters: Expectations and Feedback”

  1. July 06, 2015 at 9:19 pm, Tobi said:

    Hi Ryan! Do you have any suggestions on what a coaching sheet should look like? I’d love to incorporate that into our docent trainings. Thanks for the great post!

    Reply

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