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Performance Management: Why is it relevant again?

Performance management video

Part 1: Per­for­mance Man­age­ment: Why is it rel­e­vant again?

Part 2: What is replac­ing SMART goals in suc­cess­ful organisations?

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:

  1. set agile goals that can be flexed 
  2. have reg­u­lar check-ins to dis­cuss progress
  3. 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. 

Three questions to kick start your performance management revolution

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)
Three questions to kick start your performance management revolution

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?

Part 2: What is replac­ing SMART goals in suc­cess­ful organisations?