Performance Management – A bit of a rant!

OK here’s a warning – I’m going to go on a bit of a rant. I’ve seen lots of articles recently that says appraising performance is de-motivating. I’ve also come across organisations where ‘being in performance management’ means you are going into a formal disciplinary or competence process.

So let’s just deal with some of the myths around performance management or to put it another way managing performance. First off context. Managing performance is a basic and fundamental activity that managers of an y organisation should be seeking to do. Basically it means trying to maximise the benefit / impact delivered for the minimum amount of effort. There’s of lots of other phrases you can use – maximise share holder return, maximising ROI, delivering the numbers and so on. But it does need to happen at all elves in an organisations and needs to happen well. At the senior level it means setting strategy, creating culture and allocating resources; at the front line it means ensuring everyone is clear on their role, their contribution, that they have the skills to do the job and that they are appropriately recognised and rewarded for doing so.

It’s nothing bad or scary or inappropriate – it’s how organisations work. even ones with no formal hierarchy or in self managed environments – these things need to happen and they are part of performance management or managing performance.

So once you get the context clear we come to the real bugbear in performance management – typically this is the annual appraisal. Done badly once a year as a mark out of 10 from some remote supervisor who wanders in delivers their verdict and wanders out it can be a massively destructive process. And yes that’s not far short for what does happen in some organisations – too many in fact!

Managers’ behaviour has always had a big impact on their staff’s motivation and performance. Look at First Break All the Rules and the birth of the while Q12 empire. That started out as a search to identify what it was that the best managers did to get performance from their staff. Yup it was about performance management initially not engagement. Research repeatedly shows that the worst thing a manger can do with highly trained and motivated staff is to hinder them in performing, but its exactly what many do.

A recent article trumpeted that ‘even those pre-disposed to perform were de-motivated by criticism’. and that’s what happens too often in Appraisals – a once a year criticism of what you have done all year.
No wonder its de-motivating. The same article went on to say that all performers were encouraged and engaged by feedback that asked them how they could improve.

So let’s set out again the basics of managing performance well – or doing good performance management. First off it’s not about the appraisal – that’s a once a year summary and the whole process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. It should all have already been said so where’s the need! Remember if you say anything in an appraisal you haven’t said during the year its not a good appraisal!
Invest your time the other way around – set the ‘process’ piece up for success; as well as making life a whole lot easier for you and those you manage. so step one – recruit the right people. OK I know that’s a bit of a divergence at this point, but it is where so many of the issues start, with either the manager or their report being recruited because they were good at their old job not that they were likely to be good and wanted to do the new one.

Then take time to understand what is required and what the person is capable of doing and wants to do – what their hopes and aspirations are. Then you can contract well to show how doing the job and being clear about what it is you want done will help deliver the organisation/team goals and theirs as well.
Oh and since this is a complex subject having set the direction you’ll need to provide some steering along the way – this is what feedback is for. It says what needs to keep going, be better or stop. This isn’t because they are thick or rubbish, but because we understand things differently – even numbers. It’s actually quite unhelpful when someone who has bags of energy, skills and motivation rushes off and does things that you don’t need doing, or disrupt others for whatever reason. So say what’s going right – that way it will get done again; and what’s wrong so it can be stopped.

Now it’s never going to be that easy and that’s where training and coaching come in. They are the dialogues you have as a manger to ensure that people are able to do what you need them to and so they can reach their aspirations.
Occasionally you are going to come across people who want to take your money but don’t want to keep their side of the bargain, but in actuality they are very rare. Most people want to do a good job when they come to work and that’s what is driving them. But when you do have a bad apple you need to act assertively, fairly (that’s fairly to everyone and not just the non-performer) and most importantly swiftly. The sooner you act the easier it is to deal with and the less chance that person has of ruining the rest of your team. And if the individual doesn’t want to take accountability for delivering what you are paying them for – they will have to go. It’s a nightmare when it happens but thankfully its quite rare.

It all sounds so simple I hear you say – well yes it is. But the tricky bit is its actually hard to do well and most mangers don’t invest enough time and energy into doing it well. why is that? I don’t know for sure but I have some ideas. Firstly they are still too busy doing things other than managing performance; secondly they lack the inter-personal skills and comfort to have those dialogues; and thirdly most of us have never experienced being well managed. well have you? I haven’t! But speak to those that have – wow you understand the difference that it makes. Oh yes and the research shows the bottom line notices too.

So Performance Management, managing performance – remember it’s the dialogue not the annual appraisal; and it’s not complicated – it’s hard. Understand the difference and focus on doing the basics right and don’t worry about re-engineering your appraisal process!