One of the things I’ve loved about writing this blog has been hearing from readers who have come forward with suggestions for topics. Today’s post is inspired by one of our clients here at Benefex, who was interested to hear my views on approaches to performance management.
Performance management in itself is a fascinating phrase. Dependent on your school of thought, it can be anything from disciplinary proceedings to the weekly one to ones you hold with your employees. Different organisations and different individuals interpret it in very different ways… which is perhaps why it so often goes wrong.
Like many other elements of people management, I think performance management is something that we often in danger of over-complicating. It is actually surprisingly easy to get right… provided we follow these basic principles.
#1 Make it ongoing
The annual appraisal has a lot to answer for. For many managers, it set out the fallacy that performance management should be a one off, annual process. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. You only need to examine the phrase ‘performance management’ to realise that this simply doesn’t make sense. We want to ensure we are supporting our employees with their performance day in, day out. We should see every single management intervention – be that a one to one, a team update, or a quiet chat over coffee – as an element of performance management. If you haven’t already, buy yourself a copy of the One Minute Manager (still, in my view, the best management book I’ve ever read) and familiarise yourselves with the principles within.
“If managers would only intervene early, they could deal with one behaviour at a time and the person receiving would not be overwhelmed. They could hear the feedback. That is why I think performance review is an ongoing process, not something you do only once a year”
summarises the One Minute Manager. I could not agree more.
#2 Ground it in evidence
The very worst examples of performance management I have seen (apart from those managers who don’t manage their people at all!) are those where the feedback which is being given is extremely subjective. This can not only damage the relationship between manager and employee, it runs the risk of also being inaccurate and thereby jeopardising an employee’s delivery. Strong performance management must be grounded in evidence based statements. “I am really pleased with how your client management skills are developing, based on the feedback we’ve had from Client X and Client Y, and the meeting I observed you run for Client Z.” “We need to address your time management skills based on the fact you have now missed the deadline for these reports for the last two months running.” This is particularly important in the case of negative feedback. While nobody likes to be told that they are performing poorly, hearing the evidence which backs your statements up means the employee is far less likely to argue your views, and will instead focus on the agreed remedial methods to turn their performance around.
#3 Give your employees ownership
Great performance management shouldn’t feel like being back at school. Your employees are adults, and should therefore actively own the development of their own performance. Here at Benefex, we have recently rolled out our own employee scorecard, designed to provide structure to quarterly performance reviews. Employees are asked to score themselves from one to five across a number of competencies and in alignment with our values, providing evidence based statements to provide their scoring rationale. This also allows this to form part of their CPD record, and enables employees to assess their own performance development and improvement. Employees and managers then meet to discuss the scores both employees and managers have given, and agree a developmental action plan for the next quarter. It moves the conversation away from being that very hierarchical approach annual appraisals have typically had, and instead puts it onto more of an even footing, with the employee very much being given the tools to lead their own personal development.
#4 Focus on the outcome
Too many performance management interventions fail because line managers stop at the point of feedback, rather than agreeing an action plan to address said feedback. If all you’ve done is told your employee how they are doing, you have left the job half done. Every good performance management discussion ends with an agreed action plan for both parties, to be regularly reviewed and success measured against.
#5 Be human
Finally, and perhaps most importantly… be human. Too many of our performance management interventions are designed to treat our people as though they are robots, not feeling, thinking, human beings. Every great people manager is an expert in human interaction, which makes the tangible outcomes of their inputs that much greater. Think before you act. Remember that each individual in your team is just that – an individual. What works for one person will very likely fail with another. Your performance management approach is a fundamental component of your overall employee experience. It is not something you can afford to get wrong.