Performance Management that works

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Performance Management That Works

Have you ever been “Performance Managed” or had to do it with a direct report?  How about entering a Performance Appraisal where you were suddenly informed that you were the worst thing in your department since the tinea scourge of ’06?

What about conducting those appraisals? You know that your staff are just filling in the form the week before and don’t care a jot about the results.  It’s just a matter of ticking the boxes, quickly gathering proof about all the “projects” and training they’ve undertaken and talking about how next year will be even better.  As long as they get their pay cheque or annual bonus then they’re happy.  Worse still, maybe you’ll get your staff resisting all your suggestions or a full-blown argument.


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Performance Management is an oft-maligned and misunderstood process.  Managers usually hate it, leaders don’t see the point of it and staff dread it.  That’s because Performance Management is not used the way it should be – as part of a system for creating great results in your business, not as a way to check whether someone should be in or out.

We recently consulted with and conducted a performance management workshop with the Executive Director and senior directors at the W.A. Department of Public Health.  After initial consultation on their needs, I took these very experienced and proficient managers and leaders through some of the great potential of Performance Management systems that really work – for improving performance, engaging staff and sustaining continuous improvement.

During the session we were recounting some of our best and worst experiences with performance management.  There were some great stories.

When I was a staff member at a bank (which shall go unnamed), my performance appraisal once took the form of my manager telling me that I was smarter than she was, hence should already be a supervisor and that she wanted to fire me on the spot.  It took some wrangling from the higher-ups and a job relocation to prove to her that I was a valuable employee whom she poorly managed.  Thankfully, the faith of upper management in my ability (plus, I suspect, doubt in my line manager’s motives) won out for the bank and for me.

I’ve had some much better performance management experiences since then, though I’ve had more than a few that have come close to being less than fantastic for all involved.

Performance Management has the potential to be a catalyst for tremendously productive relationships, focussed on high performance and improvement.  But you have to approach it the right way.

What Are Some Wrong Ways to do Performance Management?

1)      Do a ‘PM’ just once a year.  This is really a Performance Appraisal, not Performance Management.  And a Performance Appraisal is not the time to finally tell that employee that they need to lift their game.  They’re not in the mood then – they’re in fear for their jobs, stressed by the appraisal, don’t have ongoing communication with you or may be thinking that they’re absolutely fantastic, while you wouldn’t let them buy you a coffee at the Dome without a work buddy.

2)      Let all your job allocation decisions ride on your PM meeting.  The meeting should be maintenance and confirmation, not the time to let the employee come up with a grand self and business improvement plan that you then sign off on the spot.  There should be more consideration given to those decisions.

3)      Let PM stand apart from business improvement or the business’ goals.  As one of our senior directors said, you don’t want the employee suddenly saying that a refreshing trip to Sweden would be just the thing.  Personal and Professional Development, sure.  But an Ocean Cruise is not what this is for.  (Although I do know an engineering support company housing its people on two cruise liners while they build at a remote island.)

4)      Without warning, tell the employee in the meeting that you’ve decided that they will now be reallocated to another job – no warning, no discussion, no arbitration, no . . . .  That’s a good way to lose good staff.

5)      Reserve the process for “Performance Managing” of poor performers.  You’ve heard it before: “I have to ‘Performance Manage’ that staff member, because they’re not meeting targets.”  This is management laziness, if nothing else.  At worst, it sets up your staff to never want your help or talk with you about their performance, because then it’s a sure sign to you and everyone else that they are inadequate and can’t be relied upon.

Making Performance Management Work

1)      Use a Performance Management process that involves discussions and support throughout the year (in shorter sessions and timeframes), with a supporting Performance Appraisal as confirmation and formal review.  By doing this, you set up an ongoing relationship that will actually decrease the amount of time you have to spend dealing with problems and increase the productivity of your discussions and initiatives.  This means that you can …

2)      Use PM to drive business goals.  The goals of the overall business should always match the results of the PM process.  I’m not talking about using PM merely to hit KPIs all the time, but ensuring that staff development, business improvements and staff goals are aligned with the business’ needs and vision.  I used PM processes to introduce initiatives that I wanted in my workplace, and I was able to get managers to sign off and commit to my initiatives through the PM process.  By the same token, when using PM with staff, I encouraged them to create innovations that they were passionate about, but that would benefit the business.

3)      Use separate Performance Appraisals and Poor Performance systems.  Keep the Performance Appraisal for a specific point during the cycle, one that makes sense for your business cycle.  And when someone is a poor performer, put the person through a separate process – and don’t call it ‘Performance Management’.

4)      Reinforce Vision, Mission, Values, Progress.  Use the PM discussions to reinforce core messages within your business.  You’ve set aside formal time to lead your people one-on-one.  Use it!

5)      Use the PM process to reward your staff.  Feedback is a vital aspect of any performance loop.  Use your Performance Management as a repeated opportunity to show your people what they are doing right and to help them improve in other areas so they can do better.  It doesn't have to be money - positive relational reinforcement is one of the key drivers of high performance.

6)      Approach the process with respect.  If you don’t approach it with respect, how will your people?  Prepare, make appointments a priority, give useful information, don't treat your meeting as a meaningless exercise.

There are many other ways to make Performance Management more meaningful and more effective.  The Department of Health are now implementing a system that will continue to put them above the bar in comparison to any public or private agency.  The results will be outstanding for them – they can be outstanding for you.

Performance Management isn’t about putting someone under the thumb, but managing for high performance.  It should be a part of your overall improvement strategy and can be a valuable tool in your leadership.  So use it to help your organisation leverage the talents of your people.

Peter J. McLean

Managing Director

Lamplighter Performance Consulting can consult on Performance Management Systems, including design and implementation of systems, leadership development and software solutions for your business.  We can also run workshops for your people in order to make performance management work for you.  Contact Us for more details.

Lamplighter’s original 227 point People Performance Audit can help you identify strengths and weaknesses across your organisation – including your Performance Management processes, Leadership and Communication.  It is a unique tool that we have developed and used to help organisations quickly and accurately determine how to immediately start improving their results through their people.

The People Performance Audit is conducted with the Managing Director, General Manager or Head of a Large Department for accurate overview.

Call us at +61 8 9288 1780 or contact us to arrange your People Performance Audit.

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