Chapter 2

An Empowering Framework

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Prob­lem 1 – tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance man­age­ment takes up too much time


Let’s take a look at the clas­sic annu­al per­for­mance man­age­ment frame­work. It typ­i­cal­ly starts with annu­al objec­tive set­ting, then has an inter­im review, an end of year appraisal and often a pay and tal­ent review based on the out­comes of the annu­al appraisal. That’s already a lot of work for man­agers. In fact, accord­ing to the CEB, the aver­age man­ag­er is spend­ing 210 hours per year on these activ­i­ties.

So let’s imag­ine we try to add reg­u­lar one-to-one con­ver­sa­tions into this frame­work. If we do this whilst keep­ing all the exist­ing process­es in place, as many organ­i­sa­tions have tried, it’s sim­ply too much to ask of man­agers. The aver­age busy man­ag­er won’t set aside the time to do them all and some things will inevitably get dropped.

Which bits are they like­ly to skip? I recent­ly spoke at a CIPD con­fer­ence where I asked the audi­ence how many of you track the com­ple­tion rate of appraisals?” — near­ly every­one said that they do. I then asked how many of you track the fre­quen­cy and qual­i­ty of one to one con­ver­sa­tions?” — hard­ly any­one said they do.

So what do you think your man­agers are most like­ly to focus their efforts on? Man­agers will grav­i­tate their efforts towards what gets mea­sured and what they are held account­able for – which is typ­i­cal­ly the annu­al appraisal. So unless we remove some of the ele­ments of our exist­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment frame­work and change the basis of our suc­cess mea­sures, we will end up right back where we start­ed where reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions don’t hap­pen, and the only dis­cus­sions tak­ing place are the inter­im and year-end reviews.

Prob­lem 2 – man­agers save up feed­back for for­mal reviews

This then leads us to anoth­er prob­lem. Because man­agers are busy, they often save up their feed­back for the inter­im and year-end reviews. But by the time it comes to the actu­al meet­ing the man­ag­er starts feel­ing awk­ward about bring­ing up things that hap­pened two or three months ago, and so of course, they end up not dis­cussing them. This is how we end up with the all too com­mon sit­u­a­tion where we have an under­per­form­ing employ­ee being rat­ed as good in their annu­al appraisal.

Prob­lem 3 – rat­ings inhib­it mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tions

The sub­ject of rat­ings leads us to our third prob­lem. Annu­al appraisals often involve rat­ing an employ­ee. How­ev­er, a per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tion that ends in a rat­ing will fun­da­men­tal­ly change the dynam­ic of the con­ver­sa­tion.

As a real-life exam­ple of this, at Clear Review we have month­ly check-in con­ver­sa­tions that don’t involve a rat­ing. I recent­ly had a par­tic­u­lar­ly mean­ing­ful check-in con­ver­sa­tion with one of my team where he talked open­ly about his lack of con­fi­dence in cer­tain areas and the impact it was hav­ing on his work. Some real vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties came out dur­ing that dis­cus­sion and we made a huge step for­ward with his con­fi­dence and progress on the back of that meet­ing.

At the end of that dis­cus­sion I asked him whether if there had been a rat­ing involved in the con­ver­sa­tion, then would we have had the same dis­cus­sion and out­come? He said absolute­ly no way”, he would have just talked up his achieve­ments and wouldn’t have spo­ken about any­thing he was con­cerned about or find­ing dif­fi­cult. So hav­ing a rat­ing would have stopped us from achiev­ing the sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance improve­ment that occurred fol­low­ing that dis­cus­sion.

I’m not say­ing that rat­ings are wrong per se – there are argu­ments for and against them.

The key point is that if per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions are to be mean­ing­ful, you have to de-cou­ple them from per­for­mance mea­sure­ments, a point empha­sised by the Char­tered Insti­tute of Per­son­nel and Devel­op­ment (CIPD) in their 2016 report
What works in Per­for­mance Man­age­ment?” , which stated:

What do I mean by empow­er­ment? Empow­er­ment is about set­ting up man­agers to suc­ceed with man­ag­ing per­for­mance. And to do that, the need to give them the right frame­work in which to oper­ate. But here’s the prob­lem. The tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance man­age­ment mod­el is not set­up to sup­port reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions, in fact in most cas­es, it works against it.

We’ve talked a lot about the prob­lems of the tra­di­tion­al per­for­mance man­age­ment frame­work. So how do we cre­ate an empow­er­ing frame­work instead?

In answer­ing this ques­tion, many organ­i­sa­tions get bogged down in con­ver­sa­tions about whether they should get rid of annu­al appraisals and rat­ings. Whilst many organ­i­sa­tions have done just this with great suc­cess, some organ­i­sa­tions are not cul­tur­al­ly ready for this quite yet. How­ev­er, the key to hav­ing an empow­er­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment frame­work is actu­al­ly about chang­ing the empha­sis of the frame­work from the com­ple­tion of appraisal forms to the qual­i­ty and fre­quen­cy of per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions. Most per­for­mance man­age­ment process­es place 80% of empha­sis on mea­sure­ment and doc­u­men­ta­tion and only 20% on the con­ver­sa­tion. To get val­ue from per­for­mance man­age­ment and empow­er man­agers to suc­ceed, we need to flip this around so that 80% of the focus is on con­ver­sa­tions and feed­back and only 20% (max­i­mum) on admin­is­tra­tive activities.

A best-prac­tice ongo­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment framework

What does an empow­er­ing per­for­mance man­age­ment frame­work look like in prac­tice? This is the frame­work that most of the organ­i­sa­tions we work with now use in one form or another:

At the heart of the frame­work is the reg­u­lar check-in con­ver­sa­tion – a future-focused, mean­ing­ful per­for­mance and devel­op­ment dis­cus­sion, held month­ly, bimonth­ly or quar­ter­ly, depend­ing on the cul­ture of the organ­i­sa­tion. These con­ver­sa­tions are short and focussed – typ­i­cal­ly 20 — 30 min­utes, depend­ing on how fre­quent­ly they are held. Between those con­ver­sa­tions we are giv­ing and request­ing feed­back in real-time, as events occur, using a quick and sim­ple feed­back mechanism.

If we need to mea­sure per­for­mance for pay and suc­ces­sion plan­ning pur­pos­es – we do that as a sep­a­rate data col­lec­tion exer­cise. By using tech­nol­o­gy, we can make this process fast and admin­is­tra­tive­ly light. This brings us to the next point – the role of technology.