5 Tips for Better Performance Management

Performance management has gotten a lot of bad press lately. Speaking to many CEOs and HRDs, as well as drawing on my own experience, I almost have a feeling that the process gets in the way of the purpose.  For me, the purpose is alignment and transparency; aligning effort, aligning development, aligning support, aligning priorities, aligning values, and aligning motivations.

Good Performance Management is More Than Once or Twice a Year

Performance Management is also about aligning managers with their teams, teams with each other, and the collective impact the company has with its key stakeholders i.e. customers, shareholders and the environment. Transparency is also important because I generally believe that all people (from Ministers to people in a warehouse) have a genuine need to find out how they are going. They want to get regular feedback in a good, constructive way to verifying their results, recognizing good work as well as areas where more effort can be put in.

Unfortunately, the performance management systems many companies use have little to do with alignment and transparency and more to do with compliance. Less to do with increasing performance and more to do with reducing the need for managers to actually manage, and don’t get me started on performance ratings! Most people are not so great at assessing even their own impact, let alone that of others.

So if performance management (PM) systems are so bad, what is the alternative? The last thing we should do is get rid of PM, and instead what we need to do is change how we are doing PM. After all, PM is just a tool and the impact any tool has is determined by the user not the tool itself.

Here are a few tips for better Performance Management

1 Don’t wait till the half year or end of year PM discussion to talk about performance.

Performance conversations should be ongoing on a very frequent basis and associated with growth and success, not correction and discipline.

2 When discussing performance, focus on the future, i.e. how can you achieve your goals by year end and what can others do to clear the way or help you get there.

3 I find it far more enjoyable and engaging to focus on how the employee can use their strengths to achieve their goals. As well as strengths, explore how they can align their passions with their goals.

4 It is also good to remember that if not all is going well for an employee it may be that they are overusing their strengths. For example, an employee who has great attention to detail may come across as micromanaging others if they get too close to the action.

5 Asking lots of questions is a great tactic too. Employees often know what they need to do more of or differently to be successful without you saying anything.  Don’t forget to ask them how you can help too.

Two weeks ago I spoke at the AHRI conference in Brisbane and had the good fortune to meet Dr David Rock. He is helping companies around the world to improve how they manage performance based on the latest research on how our brains work. Dr Rock believes most performance management systems and performance ratings in particular are perceived as a threat and our brain goes into flight or fight mode. Not exactly an ideal state for performance, unless you are fighting a sabre tooth tiger!

So to avoid PM being at best a chore and at worst a major threat to your employee’s security, I strongly encourage all managers to stop and reflect on how they talk with their team about performance. If you forget everything above remember one thing (which is a twist on an old saying); treat others as they wish to be treated. Applying this mantra to PM, and in life more generally, goes a long way.

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