Back to blog

What's stopping you from changing how you do performance management?

Whats stopping you 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?

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.

Three questions to kick start your performance management revolution

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. 

Three questions to kick start your performance management revolution

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.

Three questions to kick start your performance management revolution