Blog: Performance management simply isn't simple

#PerformanceMgmt

Performance management simply isn't simple

Have the attempts to 'simplify' performance management failed to produce effective solutions and trivialized it?
Performance management simply isn't simple

Everyone is getting excited about how to manage performance when using outsourced labor and gig-workers (contractors, consultants, freelancers), or when operating in a multi-cultural environment.

Performance Management simply isn't simple

OK, let’s start by being honest! Performance Management, in any organization, simply isn’t simple! It may have been simple back in the days when you could tell people what to do and then beat or sack them if they didn’t perform well. But we have known since the early 70’s that so-called “traditional performance management” didn’t work, doesn’t work, and never would work.  Sadly, it has taken over 40 years of failed attempts for many to grasp that reality, despite almost universal hatred of the processes by both management and staff.

The evidence is staggeringly clear that attempts to “simplify” performance management have failed to produce effective solutions and, in most cases, trivialized performance management.  Performance Management simply isn’t simple! But that does not mean that it can’t be easy. The two are quite different. Whether we are dealing with direct staff, indirect staff, outsourced labor, temporary staff, etc., the issues faced are the same.  

What does not work?

  • Annual or other short-term goal or objective setting. It does provide some means by which to track progress and determine success, but its motivational value is seriously questionable. Indeed, it probably has little effect on those who need their performance to be managed, and a negative effect on those who don’t.
  • Episodic reviews such as annual and quarterly reviews.  They may create the illusion of working but consume time and emotional energy with little return.
  • Financial incentives. Some individuals are highly motivated by money but they are rare and tend to take jobs that explicitly remunerate in that way e.g., sales, investment management, trading…For others, the impact of financial incentives is often negative or at least distracting.

If you need to influence someone else’s performance, you need to realize that you are doing it all the time!

We have known since the early 70's that so-called 'traditional performance management' didn't work, doesn't work, and never would work. Sadly, it has taken over 40 years of failed attempts for many to grasp that reality, despite almost universal hatred of the processes by both management and staff

Here’s the reality. If you wish to influence someone else’s performance (and, isn’t that precisely what we expect people-managers to do?), you need to realize that you are doing it all the time!  

Each one of your interactions with anyone (including ignoring them!) has an impact on the performance they afford you because of: (a) what that interaction does to your credibility, and (b) what that interaction triggers them to feel, think or do.  

So, if you are to impact another person’s performance, what do you need to talk about? Here is my list of seven critically important topics which apply irrespective of cultures, whether they are internal or external, or your relationship with them:

Priorities 

Do they understand the longer-term goals, why those matters, and therefore what the current priorities are? Don’t just tell them; ask them to explain the priorities, as they see them, to you. This way, you learn whether they really do understand why their performance matters.  Individuals like to feel that they are contributing to something more than a blank “ToDo” list. 

Reset their perceptions if needed.

Standards 

You will have expectations of them in terms of standards. On any aspect of their performance that you know or suspect to be falling short, ask them to explain to you the standard of performance that they should be achieving.  

Do that in terms of the WHAT and the HOW i.e., the results they should be achieving, and how they should be performing the work in terms of process, behaviors and style.

Reset their perceptions if needed.

Development

Given the rate of change that we experience in all walks of life, development is crucial;  without it, we deteriorate or stagnate.

Ask them to explain to you the specific knowledge or skill that they are currently focusing on developing.  Check that they understand that around 70 percent of our capability is developed and refined on the job.

Reset their perceptions if needed.

Self-awareness 

Every interaction is an opportunity to check how self-aware they are. Without self-awareness they are unlikely to improve their performance.  

Ask them to explain to you what they have achieved, how they have gone about their work, and/or how they have grown and to tell you how that compares to the expectations of them.

Reset their perceptions if needed.

Evidence of current performance or development 

Every interaction is also an opportunity for you to learn more.  Actively seek contra evidence to that you already hold. This will ensure that you have a complete picture.  Ask them to explain to you what they have achieved, how they have gone about their work, or how they have grown.

Guide the conversation and/or reset their perceptions if needed.

Feedback on their current performance (output or behavior)

In critical situations, it is sometimes necessary to provide prompt and specific feedback.  This should be positive as often as possible because you want them to know about and repeat any good performance.  

It may also be in the form of feed-forward (rather than criticism) i.e., things they could or should do differently and better in the future.

Enable 

One of the most motivating of conversations for some is being asked what they need or expect to enable them to perform well. 

If you have recently clarified priorities or had a discussion about the expected performance standards, asking the other party a question like, “So, what do you need from me or others to make that possible?” can be valuable.  At worst, it brings out their reluctance to take ownership for their own performance.  Sometimes, it brings out genuine issues that you need to address.  On other occasions, it merely shows them that you care.

The above topics apply whether you are dealing with direct staff, indirect staff, contractors, temporary staff, even vendors and children!  So, how do we use these seven topics?  

Every time you have a meaningful interaction (i.e., more than two or three sentences) with each one, select one of the seven topics to add in.  This can be done explicitly or even casually e.g., adding the phrase, “By the way …” or “That reminds me …” enables you to quickly redirect a conversation adding on something like

  • (Priorities): “So, what are the two most important things for you to be working on over the next few days.”
  • (Standards): “Tell me about the processing of the claims we are getting, what are the key standards we should be meeting in how we handle them?” 
  • (Development): “What are you currently working on to increase your knowledge (or skill) in this area?”
  • (Self-awareness): “I like to keep up to date.  So, talk me through how things are going.  What do you see as your relative strengths and what is possibly holding you back?”
  • (Evidence of current performance or development): “What have you achieved this month?” “What aspect of how you do things are you most pleased with and why?”  “What development have you engaged in this week?”
  • (Feedback on their current performance - output or behavior): “I double checked and you have hit 5 out of 6 of the targets.  Talk me through the other one”  “I looked at the report you gave me yesterday.  I liked the structure and you made a very good choice of tables for the appendix.  You could really polish the next one by including a punchier executive summary right at the beginning.”
  • (Enable): “What do you need from me to enable you to... ?"

It is the cumulative effect of your thousands of interactions over time that leads to better or worse performance from those with whom you interact

You can keep each conversation short – I typically recommend no more than seven minutes.  It is the cumulative effect of your thousands of interactions over time that leads to a better or worse performance from those with whom you interact.  Using the above topics and choosing the most appropriate one each time with each person will dramatically increase your positive influence.

Topics: Performance Management

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