Being upfront about the reasons that can stop performance development from working is important. This list is not exhaustive but captures some of the more common reasons, especially for managers who involved in the process:
I’m too busy
Annual appraisals have historically been known to take a lot of time and because everyone in the team is normally seen around the same time, it creates a glut of work. A move to frequent and informal conversations ends up saving time in the long run. It requires less planning, less form filling, and because you’re speaking more often, it leads to better and quicker decisions and to development needs being dealt with more effectively. Although it may take time whilst you’re getting used to it, the aim should be to make check-ins and feedback part of the day job, so it becomes more natural and normal, and less of a project.
I’m worried it will impact our relationship
Having a good relationship with your team is a very good thing to aspire to, but that doesn’t mean always keeping things light. A healthy relationship is one that has open communication, not hidden frustrations. Talking about performance in any respect whether it’s about strengths or areas for improvement can deepen and strengthen the relationship. Delivered with compassion and sincerity, these conversations impact relationships for the better. Things may feel awkward and uncomfortable initially but as trust builds, that will fade and it’s fine.
My past experiences have put me off
Managers and employees alike may be cynical about performance development working. Most of us have had bad or disappointing experiences of performance management with:
- Time-consuming paperwork, or paperwork being left incomplete — so employees aren’t clear about what they need to do
- Notes not truly reflecting performance conversations leading to confusion
- Goals not being clearly defined
- Employees not making little or no progress against goals
- Employees not getting the support or opportunities they need to deliver goals
- Saved up critical feedback becoming the focus of performance conversations
- Rating and pay decisions dominating conversations
- Meetings going on too long and not reaching a conclusion
- Reviewers comments not being added leading to employee frustration/disengagement
As performance development is now about more regular and brief conversations that form part of day to day working, many of these issues become irrelevant as the new process nudges managers and employees to do things differently.
It’s not my job
The role of the manager is central to performance development working, especially as the majority of an employees learning and development takes place on the job. This is through new challenges and developmental assignments, real-time feedback, mentoring and coaching. Therefore, managers must recognise the central role they play in developing the team, seeing it as an integral part of their role.
It’s not a nice thing to do
Given its historic link to underperformance cases, the management of legal risk, and the delivery of difficult feedback, performance management can often be seen as a negative process. That’s why it’s important to separate corrective action processes, where someone is persistently underperforming, from more future-focused and positive performance development conversations. Also calling it performance development helps as it removes the stigma that has now become associated with the term performance management.
I can’t let go
Some managers feel the need to manage closely. It often happens when they believe that giving people freedom over their work could bring inefficiency or risk. When people are empowered to make their own decisions, they naturally feel more motivated, as autonomy is a basic psychological need. The experience of choice is inherently energising and fundamental to psychological wellbeing, it is also pivotal to succeeding at goals.
Limiting people’s autonomy creates a cycle of dependence that prevents employees from taking a proactive approach to their work. When managers attempt to control too much, their employees can become over-dependent and end up lacking the ability to make their own decisions. Through managers giving others more responsibility and using a coaching approach to guide the team through their work, employees can take more ownership.
There is too much focus on what’s not working
Sometimes managers and employees can be so focused on dealing with what’s not working that it muddies what is going well. Some managers can be uncomfortable giving praise and see it as a ‘cheerleading’ exercise that doesn’t sit comfortably with them. Other managers may see that too much positive feedback could affect an employee’s ego or could make them believe that they will get a bigger pay rise or a promotion.
Giving positive feedback and recognition shouldn’t be about ego-stroking and certainly shouldn’t be used as the only indicator of pay or promotion decisions. Employees need the psychological fuel to feel engaged and to perform and be recognised for our efforts contributes towards that. If we don’t feel we are delivering competently in work, we will often seek that fulfilment outside of works which shifts our energy, and our engagement levels.
Through having more regular conversations that will allow more regular opportunity for positive recognition as well as feedback that teaches people to focus their efforts in other ways, it creates more balance and moves away from too much course correction.
Managers can take their seniority for granted
Many managers hold positions of status and are regularly on the receiving end of admiration and respect. It is natural for them to take these benefits for granted, forgetting that less senior employees rarely experience the same level of glory. Giving credit to others is not only an essential part of a manager’s role, it builds their reputations. People like people who compliment them and see them as less selfish.
Giving group feedback can be an easier option
Although it’s important to recognise group efforts when everyone in the team has made a valued contribution, when underserved positive feedback is given, it can be demoralising to other team members. When everyone is given the same degree of recognition, regardless of effort, employees can often become disengaged. This is why it’s important to recognise and give feedback on individual effort, whether this be more publically or on a one to one basis.
We wait until the end of a project
It can be easier to tie feedback to the end of a project or activity but by using timelines to control the flow of feedback, it can feel as though the feedback is being given because it has to be. It also misses the opportunity for real-time learnings throughout the duration of the work.
Other people don’t give feedback
While a manager’s feedback can fulfil our need for competence, the feedback of teammates and other managers can help employees to feel both competent and connected. As a manager, the more peer-to-peer recognition you can inspire, the easier it is to maintain engagement.
As a manager, you can lead the way by making it a habit to publicly recognise employees and through seeking out feedback about the team and encouraging others to do the same. You can also listen when a teammate, customer or other manager mentions how much a colleague contributed and encourage them to give the feedback directly.
Coaching can be hard
Coaching (asking questions that lead to people achieving new insights) requires a longer-term mindset which sees the value of developing capability and ownership in others. It also requires empathy, curiosity, the ability to recognise and build on strengths and to remain non-judgmental and objective. These aren’t natural skills for most managers and need to be developed, and the best way of developing is by practising. A good starting point is to notice how you behave when you’re having performance conversations and identify one or two areas for improvement.
We think high performers don’t need support
Often managers focus the greatest amount of effort on the people who need the most support. It can lead to those who perform well getting neglected and overloaded. Regardless of whether an employee already performs well, real-time feedback and check-ins are important to stay connected, to build relationships, and to make sure everyone is getting what they need to perform.
As an employee who is performing well, they may feel competent and able without additional input but even the best performing and most able employees can benefit with feedback, understanding their strengths, and having someone to support their development.
We’re not in the mood
Moods can impact a manager’s ability to have a good quality conversation with an employee about how they’re doing and can influence how they deliver feedback. This is the same for employees hearing critical feedback. If we’re having a tough day or we’re stressed, we are more likely to be defensive. Before having conversations about feedback or progress, it’s therefore important to consider the mood we’re in and how it may impact the conversation. Through becoming aware and through giving some thought to how we want the conversation to go, in a positive way, we are more likely to achieve better outcomes.
We suffer from a fixed mindset
People with a “fixed” mindset avoid difficult tasks, fearing that failure might expose a lack in ability. Meanwhile, people with a “growth” mindset relish new challenges and view setbacks as opportunities to learn. Unsurprisingly, people with a “growth” mindset display better self-esteem, more resilience, and enjoy better outcomes in life.
This is why developing a growth mindset is important for managers and when we know our people can learn and develop, we are more likely to support them. It’s the same for employees as a growth mindset helps you to more positively receive developmental feedback and makes us more likely to want to stretch ourselves, knowing that extra efforts and focus will help us to improve.
Fixed mindset people can often think the world needs to change, not them. For some employees, this means not wanting to set goals and not listening to feedback. There can be many motivators for this stance including the fear of failure or a lack of engagement.
We focus on what’s happened lately
We can often see performance as binary, so we’re either doing well or not or someone is either performing or they are not. Often, when people are doing a good job we see them as a high performer and when they do less well, we see them less positively. This doesn’t paint a rounded picture and doesn’t reflect the fact that we are human and have good and bad days and strengths and areas for improvement.
There is a tendency for people to focus on “what’s happened lately” when evaluating or judging something and to weight what someone has done in recent weeks or months, rather than looking at their performance as a whole — this is often referred to as recency bias.
We presume people know how they’re doing
Research tells us that people are not good at estimating their abilities. People with a growth mindset tend to be more accurate which is likely to be because they are open to accurate information about their current abilities, even when it’s unflattering. Also, when you like to learn, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively, and so you seek more feedback. People with a fixed mindset will often distort, magnify or explain away the feedback they receive if it goes against their own self-view. These people can, therefore, be more difficult to give feedback to. When everyone understands that a growth mindset is encouraged and that only through understanding where we are doing well and where improvement is needed, can truly optimise our performance.
We are too humble
Although it’s important for managers to show humility, there is a point when humility can drift into an actual or perceived lack of confidence (whether others recognise this or not). This becomes a problem when it comes to managers giving employees less positive feedback or suggesting areas for development. It can also affect our ability to give positive feedback, as we may feel unworthy to critique the performance of others — regardless of the type of feedback we need to give.
If a manager doesn’t believe they have the experience, ability, or influence to develop others, it can stop them from giving people the necessary support. All managers need to understand that it is within their remit to develop their people and to help them to perform. The extends to feedback and goal setting and where employees don’t respond well to a manager’s involvement, an open conversation should take place to understand why the employee is being affected.
We focus too much on performance and delivery
Managers and employee conversations are often focused on task delivery and getting things done which means putting time aside to discuss goal setting and individual development can be overlooked. Yet we know that when people feel they are progressing and developing, it is motivational and people are more likely to be engaged and stay in their roles. This means both types of conversations are important for good levels of performance.
We find feedback uncomfortable
Many managers avoid what they perceive as uncomfortable conversations especially if they think an employee will have a conflicting view of the feedback they have received. Even though managers are more than capable to have the conversation, for some this requires stepping up and being courageous even when they are worried about how to say what they know needs saying.
Kim Scott created the radical candor framework. She says feedback is easier to give when it’s seen as guidance. In order to provide guidance, there are two important considerations. The first is caring personally about the person you’re giving feedback to. The second is the ability to be clear and direct.
We often fall into what’s called ‘The Drama Triangle’ when building up to and giving feedback. In the triangle, there are three roles that people can play, persecutor, rescuer and victim. When we go into a critical feedback situation as the persecutor, we often force the receiver of the feedback into victim mode, making them defensive and feeling as though they have limited control of the situation. Managers can also often feel they then need to rescue the employee if they see them becoming emotional and will soften the blow of any feedback to make it easier to hear.
The key is to for both manager and employee to remain in adult (which removes the need to play any of the three roles in the drama triangle). This means having grown-up conversations based on honest and factual observations that can be rationally discussed — others refer to this as real talk. To do this, employees must feel safe and supported and managers must avoid using accusations or personal attacks.
My direct report used to be my peer
This is increasingly common and requires the manager to honestly and openly redefine the boundaries of the relationship and their expectations. It’s best to have an open conversation about the dynamics of the relationship, how it’s shifted and how both parties are going to operate in this new relationship. Often by simply opening up the conversation and giving the opportunity for any concerns to be aired, it removes any confusion or difficulties that may arise in the future.
I don’t know what I’m doing
If you haven’t experienced performance development before, you’re bound to be anxious about getting it right. Most of us take a while to get used to new things and as with anything, this will require practice. The best way to get better is just to get started. The Clear Review system will by keeping everyone organised and reminding them of what to do.
There’s a lot to organise
The Clear Review system makes scheduling, remembering and capturing performance conversations and feedback easy. It also means that all information is in one place and can be accessed at any time by the manager and employee. Feedback can also be given by others around the organisation using the system. Managers and employees should come prepared for check-ins to get the most out of them but as they are quick and informal, this shouldn’t take long.