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The conundrum of the manager-coach: Are we asking too much?

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Our UK Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Report 2019 is now live. We quizzed HR lead­ers, peo­ple man­agers and employ­ees so we could under­stand how per­for­mance man­age­ment works in the UK. One of the ques­tions we didn’t ask out­right (but want­ed to under­stand nonethe­less) was this: who is respon­si­ble for per­for­mance management? 

It sounds like a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion. The answer depends, to a large extent, on the pur­pose of PM in your organ­i­sa­tion. If it’s based on pay, or rank­ing, or suc­ces­sion plan­ning, it’s a process that serves HR. If it’s devel­op­ing per­for­mance (as was the case with only 39% of the HR lead­ers we sur­veyed) then it becomes a more demo­c­ra­t­ic institution. 

If per­for­mance man­age­ment is to become per­for­mance devel­op­ment, it needs to be a process that serves every­one. It needs to start with the employ­ee prompt­ing their man­ag­er to have check-ins and to receive feed­back. It needs to con­tin­ue with the man­ag­er aware of their employee’s con­cerns, chal­lenges, strengths and needs. HR gets the data they need. Senior man­age­ment can see their peo­ple grow­ing, devel­op­ing and being reward­ed for their efforts with greater respon­si­bil­i­ty, auton­o­my… you name it. 

The astute among you will have noticed that a lot of respon­si­bil­i­ty falls on the man­ag­er in this sce­nario. They need to act as the hub both for the process of per­for­mance man­age­ment — meet­ings and feed­back — and the cat­a­lyst for devel­op­ment. Either they devel­op the employ­ee direct­ly or they mar­shall oth­er resources to make that train­ing hap­pen. A man­ag­er needs the capa­bil­i­ty and desire — and capac­i­ty — to coach their team. With­out this ful­crum, the sys­tem fails. 

This is where the data in our report real­ly starts to bring the sto­ry to life. On the one hand, almost every HR leader (more than 83%, in fact) told us that they pro­vide train­ing for man­agers on how to have bet­ter per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions. Even more man­agers (92.2%) said they felt equipped or trained to have these con­ver­sa­tions with their teams. And yet 40% of HR peo­ple said the rea­son these con­ver­sa­tions weren’t hap­pen­ing was because man­agers don’t have the skills they need. 

Something’s not quite right there.

Can you train some­one to have empa­thy? Per­haps not. Can you train them to have the per­spec­tive and clar­i­ty they need to iden­ti­fy devel­op­ment areas and sup­port someone’s growth? Prob­a­bly. What you can’t train peo­ple to have is the time or the incli­na­tion. And it’s these last two points that we think are worth explor­ing, espe­cial­ly in light of our research results. 

Man­agers often — if not always — receive their pro­mo­tions because of exper­tise. The busi­ness can’t afford to lose that exper­tise. But some of the behav­iours which marked the man­ag­er for pro­mo­tion become redun­dant once they’re a man­ag­er. Organ­i­sa­tions need great man­agers. But what they need, even more, is peo­ple with the time to be great man­agers. As a wise per­son once said: there are plen­ty of books show­ing you how to get that pro­mo­tion. There aren’t quite as many show­ing you what to do once you’ve got it. And this leads into our sec­ond point: desire. 

Peo­ple may not want to man­age. Employ­ees are com­pli­cat­ed, messy, nuanced things. They take time to under­stand. They need care and atten­tion. And plen­ty of busi­ness­es sup­port man­agers in their lack of desire to be that coach. If you’ve worked hard for six years to get where you are, the com­pa­ny owes you. It may well be quick­er and sim­pler to shunt a recal­ci­trant employ­ee out of the door — well, their man­ag­er says they’re a pain in the rear — than it is to invest the effort in coax­ing and cajol­ing them to greater heights. This is why man­agers need to be held account­able for devel­op­ment. If they’re not respon­si­ble for it — if it isn’t a pri­or­i­ty — then they’ll under­stand, con­scious­ly or not, that it isn’t a pri­or­i­ty for the business. 

Get the first com­pre­hen­sive report on the state of per­for­mance man­age­ment in the UK, right here. Down­load it now or dis­cuss online with #ukpmreport2019.

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