Re-imagining Performance Management

What comes to mind when you think of performance management? Many people think about annual appraisals, executed through an online portal. It’s frequently a tedious task to take all the feedback from the previous year or time period and place it into a predetermined template. Often, the scoring of individuals on the progress they’ve made, or lack thereof, can be a guessing exercise. It reminds me of a couple of college professors I know who say they love teaching, it’s the grading they hate. Managers just seem to want to get them all done and may not be as thorough in their evaluation. Finally, after they’re all complete, they’re shared with the employee. Although the manager may be relieved when it’s all over, the employee often has a less than positive experience.

Keep it simple.

Several years back, a client of mine was tasked to tie every element of each employees’ work to their compensation. After struggling for many months to solve this problem he concluded that “if it’s detailed enough to account for every possibility, it’s too complicated to track.” It appears technology has driven a quest for the perfect performance management tool that will account for all possibilities. However, when we look at performance management, we believe it’s valuable to think about the fundamentals. Regardless of the type of organization you’re in, remember that every employee is owed 4 things from their manager or supervisor:

They are:

  1. Clear and definitive expectations
  2. Consistent and effective feedback
  3. Proper resources and support
  4. Appropriate rewards and consequences

Each is important

  1. Clear and definitive expectations.

What is required to complete the job at hand? Like a friend of mine likes to say, “What are you paid to do?” Is the employee really clear on the goals and objectives? Is there room in clarifying expectations beyond measurable goals such as ways of working? Are there ways of working that need to be more defined, such as timeliness of responses, degree of accuracy, behaving collaboratively, and listening to others with respect? Everything doesn’t need to be a number to be clear.

  1. Consistent and effective feedback.

Obviously, without clearly defined expectations it’s hard to provide feedback, so that’s step one. Once that is established, you can create a way to monitor progress and provide feedback. We find that providing feedback is significant to growing team members. However, it’s often the biggest gap between what leaders should do, and what they actually do. Many people aren’t good at it, mostly because they aren’t specific enough. They focus on broad judgmental statements like, “that was a poor effort,” or “you did a great job,” rather than stating what specifically was done like, “you had 7 errors on that document,” or “you treated that difficult customer with a lot of empathy and respect.” If the feedback isn’t

  1. Proper resources and support.

Individuals need the right tools to do the job. This can be literal if they are using tools or the desk version such as the right software and good lighting. When given a task, the employee must have the right level of support from you. Do they need to check in with you regularly, or do they have the autonomy to act alone? Have you paved the way for them to stand in for you at meetings or have you communicated to another team that they have the authority to make decisions on your behalf? You don’t want to handcuff your employees from doing a task and doing it well.

  1. Appropriate recognition and consequences.

We believe the whole idea of recognition is more of an art decided by the manager, than a universal formula determined by the company. The reason for that is that everyone has a different need for the type and degree of recognition. As their direct manager, you should know the best and know which method of recognition is best for them. Knowing their motivation will help align the type of appreciation that they need the most. And you can’t just focus on recognition without being fair and direct with consequences for poor performance. When other team members see an employee “get away with” poor performance or bad behavior, it decreases your credibility and has a negative impact on morale for the entire team.

Regardless of the system you use, evaluate yourself on how well you perform the tasks above. Tweak the ones you need to address to be more effective and you’ll find you get greater responsiveness, and more engagement when it comes to performance.

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