Part 3: What’s stopping you from changing how you do performance management?
Good performance development (what we prefer to call performance management) has a single purpose: it is to focus on the actions that organisations can take to improve employee performance. It is a series of activities that ensures that employees have clarity about what is expected of them. Through more regular conversations about how they are getting on, they stay on track and feedback builds an understanding of how they are progressing.
The three pillars of modern performance development are to:
- set agile goals that can be flexed
- have regular check-ins to discuss progress
- give and receive frequent real-time feedback
Different to more traditional approaches, new world performance development doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the past. Check-ins and note taking are quick and regular, and it’s less about filling gaps in performance and more about developing people to perform and building on strengths. It deals with individual areas for improvement too but in a supportive way, enabling people to move towards where they need to be with greater clarity. It shouldn’t be an HR process but an important operational process.
This evolution in how to drive performance is based on extensive research and a better understanding of what leads to improved individual performance. It is designed to be flexible, so that goals can be adapted and as it is continuous, meaning it’s not based on an annual review, it’s an integrated part of individual development.
Why working in partnership matters?
Partnership is about the relationship between managers and employees. A partnership that is based on mutual respect, trust, open and two-way dialogue, and shared responsibility for results. Employees who see their relationship with their manager like this are more likely to perform better than those who don’t, regardless of the performance management process in place. If organisations do nothing else to drive performance, fostering partnerships will produce improved improvements.
Whereas traditional methods focused more on manager’s judgements on employee’s performance, triggering threat responses that often led to negative impacts on performance, working in partnership is based on regularly discussing how things are going, agreeing on expectations and goals and discussing feedback, in a supportive way.
A natural, everyday process
If done well, there are many benefits to performance development done in this way:
- Greater awareness and honest discussion about the real constraints and barriers that might be getting in the way of performance e.g. processes, resources, support, etc.
- More shared responsibility for results between employees and managers
- More real-time analysis of results so that any issues can be spotted and corrected early
- A focus on meaningful conversations rather than paperwork.
Instead of treating performance development as something separate from work, it should be a natural part of how work gets done. Goals should be set in accordance with the natural rhythm of work.
It’s everyone’s responsibility
In some organisations, peer to peer feedback is as commonplace as the manager’s feedback and with more people giving input and providing support, it can lead to the highest levels of performance. Performance should be the responsibility of everyone in the organisation and the more people that provide feedback, the more rounded an individual’s view of himself will be. They learn more about their strengths in order to build on them and can spot where there are going off track sooner. They also benefit from the knowledge and wisdom of a wide variety of people. When people are skilled at giving good feedback, it can be a powerful development tool.
Employees can take responsibility for their own performance by:
- asking for expectations of their role to be clarified
- getting actively involved in goal setting, even defining their own goals depending on the organisation
- revisiting expectations with managers when performance is blocked or goals need revising
- setting expectations with peers when working together about who is doing what, by when, and what good looks like
- asking for and graciously receiving feedback from managers and colleagues
- using feedback effectively to course correct or improve performance
- giving feedback and coaching to others (in cultures that support it)
The importance of a growth mindset
Given that a key aspect of effective performance development is about individual development, a growth mindset is pivotal in helping managers and employees approach things in the right way.
This is the extent to which people believe they can improve. With a fixed mindset, people tend to believe that intelligence and ability is something you are either born with. With this mindset and where we don’t believe that people can develop with effort, it can be difficult to help others to grow and learn as we make assumptions about what they are capable of. This can lead to managers making less effort to support others or to criticising them when they don’t produce what they would expect. When people have a growth mindset, they believe that if you try, you can learn and develop.
A fixed mindset is a belief that we are no good at things or won’t get better which is why a growth mindset helps us to be more accepting that there is a journey to achieve new learning and that successes and failures will happen along the way. Carol Dweck and others have carried out many studies over the years showing that when you have a growth mindset, you will try harder and therefore in both the short term and longer-term, will do better. Fixed mindset people will tend to look for constant validation and will not admit to, or dwell on, their errors.
Just teaching people about the two mindsets, creates a difference to performance and teaching people about neuroplasticity, how the brain can be reprogrammed and that we can learn, unlearn and relearn, makes a significant difference too.
Managing performance is a skill
Most managers are not naturals at this and so need to learn and develop the behaviours that support performance development until they become automatic ways of working. Especially where managers have been used to more traditional performance management practices, they’ll need time to develop. The Kaizen approach (to make small improvements and build on them) is a great way to build skills. Small questions and actions help this e.g. what small action could I take to improve the quality of the feedback I provide? how can I work with the team to clarify what is expected of everyone?