the results: what performance management pros said about performance management

Today’s business world is uncertain. Situations change at the speed of technology. Plans shift, people move from job to job, demand changes on a dime. So, it might seem logical that when it comes to our people, we focus on what we can tangibly measure rather than that amorphous future… right?

The old model of performance management says yes: career-focused engagement between employees and managers/HR has traditionally centered on taking a ratings-driven look at past performance. You know, the stuff you supposedly can measure.

But in a survey given by PeopleFirm CEO Tamra Chandler to the hundreds of HR professionals who attended talks she gave this year, the majority had a different opinion.

A whopping 71% of respondents said their company’s performance management needs a reboot, and when asked what they thought would make the most difference to their organizations, the majority named changing their performance management focus from the past to the future as one of their top concerns.

Chandler, who’s book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance—and What to Do About It was published in March of 2016, used the unique opportunity offered by this year’s speaking engagements to gather a little more first-hand data from the people actually in the trenches of the performance management world. Are people ready to “let go of archaic traditional practices and tap into the power of people in today’s increasingly connected, customizable, and millennial-driven business world”, as Chandler writes? If not, what’s holding them back?

In all, the survey asked just four questions. In addition to those mentioned above, we also asked: If you want to reboot but haven’t, what’s stopping you? And, is there anything you’re doing currently for performance management that you do find effective?

One of the largest issues standing in the way of rebooting performance management was how to determine rewards without ratings to fall back on (45%), followed by respondents not trusting their managers to handle a less proscriptive rating system (34%), the belief that their leaders/C-suite would never give up the traditional methods (28%), too much investment in the current system to turn back (19%), and worries about legal not allowing it (8%), as well as just how weird it is to walk away from so many years of tradition (6%).

When it came to techniques that respondents have already tried and found effective, checking in with employees with increased frequency was the most popular (at 25%), followed by improving manager coaching skills (23%), reducing paperwork (21%), removing ratings altogether (8%), adopting new, real-time technology (7%), using a peer-review model (5%, and deploying social or crowd-sourcing tools (3%).

It’s not surprising that these respondents should have so many different concerns — or that they’ve tried so many different techniques for improving what so many believe to be a broken system. Chandler writes in her book that each organization will – and should – require a different approach when it comes to rebooting their performance management systems, because each organization is different, with different cultures and strategic goals. They key, Chandler writes, is in shifting the way an organization looks at and manages their people (Chandler calls them the Eight Fundamental Shifts), then building a customized program that fits their distinct needs.

Competing for STEM Talent, and how Performance Management can Help

It seems like nearly every company I’ve worked with is struggling to attract and retain strong technical resources, whether their organization competes in the technology space or not. We can chalk up the demand to the advancement of science and technology’s role in nearly every industry, service, and product out there — combined with a shortage of the necessary STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent to support those needs. And while there’s a lot of literature available on how to meet the needs and expectations of this audience, it seems worth adding a few words on this tricky employee group, specifically in regards to performance strategies.

Let’s start with the employee’s point of view. While acknowledging that no two people will ever want or care about exactly the same things, we can still recognize some macro themes that come up again and again that resonate with STEM-oriented personalities. First, this group cares a great deal about their skills, knowledge, and experiences. They want to be current in their field, work with the latest and greatest in technology or science, and rub elbows with the best and brightest. Second, they like to be recognized for that mastery. This recognition can come in many forms, such as awards and certifications, patents, published works, or speaking at conferences — or simply being recognized by their peers as a ‘rock star’ in their space. They also care deeply about having the freedom to invent, build, design, explore, and play in their field. After all, how can you ever be the master if you don’t have the time and space to practice your craft?

First, this group cares a great deal about their skills, knowledge, and experiences. They want to be current in their field, work with the latest and greatest in technology or science, and rub elbows with the best and brightest.

Now let’s look at what the organization needs from this group. Clearly those mastery skills are important to organizations, too. Yet many companies struggle to give STEM talent the tools, training, and experiences needed to stay on the cutting edge of their field of practice. The more the performance solution you build for them can focus on identifying and aligning your best technical talent to the ‘coolest’ work, the better.

Another common tension organizations face is wanting all that STEM brain power aimed at the right work, rather than being distracted by other things. While we definitely want to put more focus on directing that talent to the best work, we also need to balance that with this groups’ desire for time and space to do their own thing. I get it: when you’re short on critical technical talent, it’s hard not to dedicate the talent that you do have 120% to your priority agenda items. However, you need to be a little more flexible in order to keep this very mobile group happy. Google and other forward-thinking companies have proven that letting your people use some percentage of their time on their own pet projects pays big dividends down the line.

This group tends to hate formality and bureaucracy, so do you really want to irritate them with the process?

So how should the desires and interests of both employee and employer influence your performance design? I recommend focusing on what both care about – in other words, the win/win. Here are some ideas on how to do that:

  • Keep your approach simple. Why? This group tends to hate formality and bureaucracy, so do you really want to irritate them with the process? Also, this is a valuable resource, so optimizing their time is essential.
  • Push as much authority and ownership as you can down the ranks. STEM folks don’t like hierarchy any more than they like bureaucracy. The flatter your structure, the better. Create more opportunities that allow them to work in networked teams with control over their own resources. This also means more employee-driven and peer-based approaches. Let them be the rock star in their crowd.
  • Invest in building clear technical career paths, and in creating the content necessary to enabling and communicating those paths. Share information on how they can build their mastery within your organization, and provide them with resources outside the walls as well.
  • Build a model where you can assess the technical skills, knowledge, and capabilities that are housed within your organization. A strong technical competency/capability model will do this. It will also help to have the technical career path agenda mentioned above.
  • Ensure that your talent review processes prioritize mobility. In other words, keep your STEM talent moving to increase collaboration, the sharing of knowledge, and to enhance their growth, experiences, and learnings.
  • Celebrate their brilliance (often). Find ways to highlight progress, solutions, invention, things of beauty, and innovation. This may be at a team level as much as it is at the individual level. Recognition can be as simple as a toast at the Friday happy hour or as formal and high-visibility as company-wide recognition like displaying patents or other awards prominently in the office halls, or granting annual innovation awards internally

And remember, always connect your investments and their rewards to the things they care about: building their mastery, recognition of that mastery, and the time and freedom to play.

Happy Rebooting,
Tamra

These are concepts from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. Check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

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Remembering the diversity: performance management for organizations that span the globe

I’m not going to lie to you: rebooting your performance management to effectively drive organizational performance, develop people, and reward equitably requires a good deal of serious thought. Managing performance at a global level, however, warrants serious thought on steroids. You must have a solid understanding of the legislative and regulatory issues and demographic trends and labor laws from every jurisdiction in which you’ve got people. Hard enough. But the most critical global consideration for rebooting your performance management is to understand the cultural differences in your workforce. 

If we were to take a peek at what organizations have historically done to recognize these differences, we’d see that the tactics range dramatically from barely a nod (bad) to localized approaches custom-designed for each unique culture (excellent). Sadly, ‘barely a nod’ tends to prevail. And so many global organizations continue to struggle to optimize their talent management processes in the ever-expanding global market.

What is the right approach for implementing a performance management program for a global workforce? Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But if you agree with me that culture is the most important factor, then you’ll be sure to put a respectable amount of effort into understanding those cultural differences and how they will weigh into your solution design. And you’ll make sure your leadership is aligned on how you plan to manage various global employee groups differently from one another.

If you want to gain an appreciation for what will and won’t work here, I recommend turning to the extensive research conducted by Geert Hofsted on cultures in the workforce . In his research, Hofsted found five fundamental value dimensions that can be used to explain cultural diversity in the world. The “5 Dimensional Model”1 is one of the only models out there that’s based on rigorous cultural research, rather than opinion (which is why I like it). The five dimensions are:

  1. Power Distance (PDI): The degree to which people accept that power is distributed unevenly within a group or society.
  2. Individualism (IDV): The degree to which taking responsibility for oneself is more valued than belonging to a group that will look after its people in exchange for loyalty.
  3. Masculinity (MAS): The degree to which people value performance and the status that derives from it, rather than quality of life and caring for others.
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI): The degree to which people develop mechanisms to avoid uncertainty.
  5. Long-Term Orientation (LTO): The degree to which people value long-term goals and have a pragmatic approach, rather than being normative and short-term oriented.

What does this all mean for designing performance management systems? Well, let’s take a look at the traditional review process. The annual review is a widely accepted practice in countries like the US and the UK. In the US (and other countries with similar cultures) we score low on power distance (the degree to which people accept that power is distributed unevenly within a group or society) and high in individualism (the degree to which taking responsibility for yourself is valued more highly than belonging to a group that will look after its people in exchange for loyalty). With those defining cultural factors, we find it easy to accept the idea that very direct feedback is “the right way” to improve performance. This notion falls flat in high power distance countries, such as Japan. In fact, very direct feedback in these cultures is likely to be seen as dishonorable and disrespectful. This means that we have to take a different approach that fits these cultural norms and expectations.

Another interesting dimension to consider is how your planning horizon may vary from culture to culture. When I was at Hitachi Consulting I learned to appreciate the very real impact of working within an organization heavily influenced by Japanese leadership. One of the most notable differences was the manner in which the Japanese leaders thought about the short and the long view. In the US we had a much shorter planning horizon in contrast to our Japanese peers. This difference in focus radically influenced how each group defined what ‘good’ looked like in both the short and long terms. At times this created conflict and stress when setting targets and measuring success.

When putting together your team to build your new global performance management solution, remember to include individuals who can help you understand cultural differences.

Rewarding equitably can be another tricky area as you navigate from culture to culture. The cash-is-king individual performance bonuses that we default to in countries like the US and UK are not a good fit in cultures that focus on greater responsibility, larger spans of control, and wider territories, as preferred rewards. Again, this showed up in my experience at Hitachi; the Japanese executives were quite surprised by our vice president’s bonus model, while the US leaders were struck by their Japanese counterparts’ lavish spending allowances. As they say, different strokes for different folks (or in this case, different cultures, different expectations). In some cultures cash rewards may even be perceived as petty. The headline? Tread carefully in this arena. If you’re planning a bonus program, be sure to consider which cultures value and expect bonuses, how you should measure them if you use them, and whether team or individual incentives would work best.

Beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed? Let me reinforce a few ideas that may help keep you grounded. First, when putting together your team to build your new solution, remember to include individuals who can help you understand these cultural differences. They can be a voice for what will work and what is likely to fall flat. Get comfortable with allowing for differences across cultures. Your goal will be to find the best balance between meeting your desire for consistency and creating great experiences for your global team. Also, before you roll out your solution, test it in different geographies and cultures — not just the solution itself, but also the supporting content, since some degree of localization is likely to be needed on that as well.

In the end, keep humanity at the forefront of your design, and never forget that this is about your people, not the process!

Happy Rebooting,
Tamra

These are concepts from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. Check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

 

1 Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations (London, UK: Sage Publications, 2003).

Pay Attention to the Mission: How Performance Management can Drive Non-Profits

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to talk a little bit about what performance management might look like in different industries – and the unique challenges you may face building a PM program that functions well in them. Remember, a great PM solution will be tailored to your organization’s specific needs, so it pays to be aware of the nuances of your terrain.

Let’s start with an area close to my heart – and one often very challenged by traditional performance management programs. Nonprofit organizations struggle when trying to apply for-profit performance models to their own, very different, organizations. Let’s take a look at why those cookie-cutter performance programs so often miss the mark with this sector.

Defining performance. First, it’s hard to define organizational performance in the traditional sense in the nonprofit sector. For-profit organizations can use a clear bottom line as both their reason for existence and their performance measurement, but nonprofit organizations are often built around varied and complex missions. This makes it difficult to pick out an obvious measurement of success. Since mission achievement is not typically tied directly to the organization’s ability to generate income, natural performance measures simply do not exist.

Cultural resistance. Although nonprofit organizations are increasingly embracing traditional business practices, many others still resist these changes on a cultural level. And there’s nothing that is more “corporate” than a traditional performance management program. Interesting research from the University of Georgia notes that “there is a high degree of idealism within the nonprofit sector and reluctance among nonprofit employees to acknowledge that they are involved in competitive, market-based activities, and, for ideological reasons, they are reluctant to use market analysis.i

In fact, the idealism prevalent in nonprofits can be a huge strength or a significant weakness, depending on how well it’s captured and leveraged.

Having worked with a lot of nonprofit organizations, I’ve often experienced these struggles first-hand. But here’s the thing: the focus on measurement is less critical if we can unite those groups of passionate people to work collaboratively toward a compelling and shared goal. In fact, the idealism prevalent in nonprofits can be a huge strength (or a significant weakness, depending on how well it’s captured and leveraged). The strength of the idealism is realized when your performance design effectively taps into each individual’s connection to the mission. But that idealism can become debilitating if you introduce performance approaches that are perceived as being a distraction from productive work or contrary to the mission.

With these ideas in mind, here are a few tips for designing performance solutions for the nonprofit environment:

  1. Keep it simple: research has shown that particularly for non-profits, the success of a system is directly proportional to its simplicity.
  2. Heavily emphasize the role of the mission in your solution design.
  3. Clearly define strategies or actions that will help your team bridge the gap between the lofty mission and your near-term goals and needs.
  4. When looking for metrics, consider impact, the level of activity, and outcomes related to your program mission and purpose.
  5. Be creative with reward strategies. Understand what motivates the people in your organization. Reward with experiences that are connected to your mission. (Tip: it’s unlikely that pay is their top driver).
  6. Don’t try to force models that are contrary to the culture or mission.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the challenges of organizations that are spread out across our connected globe. Until then,

Happy Rebooting,
Tamra

These are concepts from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. Check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

 

i Lindenberg, Marc, “Are we at the cutting edge or the blunt edge? Improving NGO organizational performance with private and public sector management frameworks,” Nonprofit Management & Leadership, Volume 11 Issue 3, 2001, 247-270. Page 255.

Selecting the right frame: what a little girl and her bike can teach us about performance management.

You must choose the right bike...

You must choose the right bike...

We're going to talk about performance management, but first I want you to think about a young kid getting her first bike.  In the beginning she’s just focusing on the basics, like how to keep from falling down, coordinating her pedaling to actually  go forward, steering to get where she wants to go, and braking to avoid the family cat. The basics of what she needs to know to operate a bike, and nothing more.

But then she gets older and decides to take up mountain biking.  She would then have different requirements for her bike, such as thicker tires for bumpy terrain, extra shocks, a water bottle holder, and a stronger frame.

Later on, she might venture into the world of road racing. This means she must evaluate just what she needs in order to gain peak efficiency in her riding. She’ll invest in custom biking shoes, special narrow tires, an aerodynamic helmet, and she’ll replace the bike altogether with a sleek carbon frame designed for speed and agility.

What does this have to do with performance management?  Well, just like choosing a bike, you should choose your performance management system only after carefully considering where you want to go, how fast you want to get there, what load you will be carrying, the terrain you’ll encounter, and what is truly essential to reach your strategic goal. Every company, in every stage of development, and every organization - and often will have different needs.

Why am I introducing this bike analogy?  For several good reasons, actually.  First, the three sides do the core triangle of a bike frame helps us visualize and remember the three goals of performance management (develop people, reward equitably, and drive organizational performance). 

Second, I’m hoping the idea of the bike helps us to get more comfortable with the view that it’s okay to pick a different bike than your next-door neighbor or the competitor across town.  We are in an age of rampant customization, in which we can get one-of-a-kind cell phones, automobiles, clothing—you name it. Your organization’s approach to performance management should be no different.  Yes, I’m telling you right now that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for moving toward a desired performance management program.  What is right for your organization may not make sense for the next, depending on their maturity, objectives, culture, leadership style, and organizational mission. 

Finally, I’ve found that the bike analogy reminds us to design for our end goals — to really design with our strategic objectives in mind. It reminds us to decide for ourselves early in our design journey what those Three Common Goals mean for our organizations.  Are they equal or is one more important than the other for our culture and organization? Are the tightly connected or loosely coupled?  As we move through the design process of rebooting our performance management, remember the idea of that little girl and her bike as you ponder those vital questions.

Riding the wrong bike
The problem with performance management today is that we have been riding the same performance management bike since the 1950s, and more often than not wekeep pulling the same bike out of storage every year without much thought about whether it has the features we need to drive real performance in today’s world.  Technology, the way we do work, and our concepts of motivation and collaboration have all changed. Most importantly, we (as humans) have changed. You’re simply not going to see a true competitor pulling up to the starting line of the Tour de France with a banana-seat bike decked out with training wheels, a daisy basket, and streamers.  When real performance is required, this kind of bike is a joke – as is the idea that conventional performance management will get today’s organizations where they wish to go.

Let’s get to work designing the bike that will allow us to shoot to the front of the pack!

 

Happy rebooting,
Tamra

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The Building Blocks of great performance management: the three common goals

Before we hit that reboot button on our performance management programs, let’s get absolutely clear on what performance management actually is... and why we should be doing it. As diverse as organizations are (and as diverse as their PM solutions should be) it is helpful to anchor our thinking with a basic framework. This framework represents the universal outcomes of strong performance programs, outcomes that I’ve come to recognize as indicators of great organizational performance. Think of these three interrelated goals as the essence of all performance programs and the basis from which each organization’s unique differences evolve. More simply, consider them the fundamental building blocks for the design project ahead of you.

In my experience, every high performing organization is ultimately using its performance management program to:

  1. develop people’s skills and capabilities
  2. reward all employees equitably
  3. drive overall organizational performance

How these goals are prioritized or emphasized—what “good” looks like related to each goal—will differ from organization to organization. So, too, will the way in which each organization sets about making those goals a reality. But any high-performing organization will have some combination of these three ingredients in its performance management recipe.

Let’s get familiar with our ingredients.

Goal #1: Develop people
It seems obvious that the development of employees should be a key outcome of any performance solution. After all, isn’t that what performance reviews and career discussions are all about? Well, yes, they should be. But as we discussed earlier, this objective is often the one that loses out. And things get especially muddled when we get hung up on our rewards and ratings processes. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

So let’s think about what a strong performance management solution truly focused on developing people might look like. First, it would provide in-the-moment coaching, helping individuals to understand what went well and what could be enhanced the next time around. We all know this intuitively, but many of us are so used to stockpiling this feedback for the annual review that we don’t do this for our employees. Further, they’d receive suggestions to support their growth in an environment that would allow them to absorb the suggestions without feeling threatened or having something at risk (like their pay raise).

Next, individuals would also have information at their disposal that would provide insight into what is expected in their current role and any future roles to which they hope to advance. Resources for development might include mentors or coaches who are their advocates within the organization. There also could be self-assessment and training tools that would link to their development plan, providing ideas and resources to support their unique goals.

Goal #2: Reward Equitably
First, let’s be clear on what the word really means. ‘Equitable’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘fair and impartial.’ It’s important to note that ‘equally’ and ‘equitably’ are not the same thing. For example, let’s say you worked for three weeks writing a strategy for a new business unit, and your peer had proofread it and tuned it up for you over the past few days. I’d sure hope you'd want your peer to receive some recognition for her support, but I doubt you’d be happy if her reward and recognition was equal to yours. Instead, you’d want the recognition to be equitable, meaning each of you would get as much credit as you’d deserve.

When organizations speak of differentiated pay and rewards, then, they are looking for those rewards to be distributed in an equitable manner – fairly, unbiased, and consistent with the level of contribution or impact. It’s also important to note that rewarding equitably is not just about pay. We’re talking about total rewards: compensation, formal and informal recognition, benefits, promotions, project assignments, you name it.

From an employee’s perspective, equity is all about fairness. While extrinsic rewards are rarely a driver of human behavior, the belief that a system is unfair or biased is a significant driver in dissatisfaction. In other words, confidence that the system is equitable makes for happy and engaged employees. In order to achieve that sense of fairness, you need to get a clear view of what reward equitably means to your organization and how you can best achieve that goal in your unique environment.

Goal #3: Drive Organizational Performance
There’s been plenty of research that has demonstrated the correlation between an employee’s connectedness to the mission and vision of his or her company and the measurable performance of that organization. We now understand how important it is to assure that teams and individuals are fully aligned to the goals of the company.

I’m talking about individuals and teams feeling an emotional connection to the purpose of the organization. That means they understand the vision, they believe in it, they want to be a part of it, and they see how their work and roles contribute to the broader goal. Remember, however, that this connection also must translate into a framework that helps each employee make good decisions and focus on the right work, day in and day out.

Drive organizational performance might sound like it has more to do with the organization than the employee, but it doesn’t. Sure, organizations want their teams and employees aligned, doing the right work, and not wasting time on efforts that are off-strategy. But we have to recognize that, as humans, we also crave the feeling of being a part of something. Most people want to feel like the work they are doing is important and purposeful. This connectedness is a vital part of an employee’s career satisfaction and overall performance, and considering that career satisfaction is of value to both the organization and the individual, we have to find ways to make it sure it happens.

As I've said, each organization is unique, with different levels of maturity, mixtures of employee demographics, and diverse cultures and values. You will — and should — interpret and emphasize the Three Common Goals in the way that makes the most sense for you and your strategic goals. But make sure you think long and hard about each as you’re building your new solution. Ignore these important building blocks at your peril!

Happy rebooting,
Tamra

This was an abridged excerpt from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. I’ve condensed the content quite a lot in order to keep this post shortish here – check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

The Fundamental Shifts of Great Performance Management #6: Stop Policing.

Fundamental Shift #6: Stop policing, start empowering.
Shift from: Control and oversight

Shift to: Managing by exception

As I wrote in a previous post, there are eight “shake-the-kaleidoscope” changes in perspective that you’re going to have to embrace in order to create a high-performing organization in this day and age. They are the givens that should be baked into every aspect of your new performance management cake. I’m sharing a few of them over the next couple of weeks; for the full eight, check out the book!

I’m betting by now you get that one of my hobbyhorses is that control and oversight doesn’t lead to better performance. It might make us feel better, more confident, and, well, in control. But all that oversight comes at a price, one that’s paid by the individuals who engineer and operate our traditional structured performance programs, the organizations that invest in the process, and the employees, who bear the burden of the process. If we hadn’t wasted so much on the controls, systems, templates, tracking mechanisms, rating debates, audits, and oversight, it would be almost comical that we’ve done all this work for questionable results. We’ve got some work to do to bring down this beast that we’ve created.

This shift is about questioning the rigor we’ve built into our one-size-fits-all, manager-led models. It’s about asking ourselves if the control and oversight is needed. On a deeper level, it comes down to having that heart-to-heart conversation with ourselves about why we thought we needed all that rigor to begin with. Often the need for control sits more with us than with our people, due to our inability to select qualified employees or our personal inability to let go. You hired these people because you felt they were the best candidates for the job, you’ve trained them to do their jobs well, and they’ve demonstrated that they’re capable of doing what they were hired to achieve. But now can you bring yourself to back off and give them the space to do it their way? If so, that autonomy will lead to better work, stronger engagement, and improved odds of delivering on the company’s goals.

We still need a solution to deal with problem situations and difficult people when the need arises—and of course, it will. We all make hiring mistakes, and no matter how great a hiring manager you are, there will always be people who need additional attention. I can’t deny that we deal with these issues in the normal course of leading teams of people, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you throw up your hands and ignore them when they arise. Quite the contrary. My advice is to address disruptive or inappropriate behavior, poor work, excessive absenteeism, heinous mistakes, or any other bad juju immediately. But here’s the thing: we don’t need an over-engineered system that burdens all our employees with make-work documentation in order to be ready to take action in these individual situations.

The big idea is to manage these problem situations as the exceptions they are. Let’s imagine that you have an employee who isn’t performing well, and your newly designed approach to managing performance doesn’t include a documented annual review. What do you do? Simple. Talk to him or her immediately. Discuss the issue and how it can be fixed. If you feel the situation warrants it, start your documentation as soon as you become aware that things are going off-track. This allows you to capture a simple, uncluttered account of what’s happening, unencumbered by checklists, ratings, and competency assessments.

It may surprise you to learn that this exception-based approach is quite likely to present less legal risk than what most of us are doing today. Corporate lawyers have told me that many of the annual reviews written today fail to call out these “off the tracks” performance issues, leaving organizations on poor legal footing. In fact, too often reviews look largely the same for average performers as they do for poor performers. Think about it: having no documentation at all would be preferable to documentation that makes the troubled employee look as if he or she is sailing along with no problems. I’ve yet to talk to any HR team that hasn’t found itself caught between reality and what the review says. When performance has gone off the tracks, you can avoid this bind by creating one-off documentation in the moment, when the issue is fresh in your mind. That way, you’re far more likely to have something that accurately reflects the situation. In addition to minimizing risk, this approach spares managers the burden of providing feedback for a troubled performer while their plate is already full with producing reviews for others.

You can see why I’m a proponent of managing by exception. Capture what needs to be captured, and take the burden of documentation off the broader team. Move quickly when action is needed, and keep things simple, factual, and direct.

The point of this fundamental shift is that one should address bad behavior when it happens—but back off when things are going fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As managers, most of us struggle to keep control of our people and their performance, when we really should just let them do what they need to do and only step in when something arises that requires our attention (or if we’re asked, of course). If you’re anything like me, you just read that last bit with a sense of relief. After all, simply trusting your employees is a lot easier than constantly stressing out about how to rein them in and stay on top of everything they’re doing. You’ll save yourself some headaches while seeing improved performance from people to boot. Autonomy for them, less stress and better results for you: it’s truly a win-win.

Happy rebooting,
Tamra

This was an abridged excerpt from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. I’ve condensed the content quite a lot in order to keep this post shortish here – check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

fundamental shift of great performance management #4: abandon uniformity

As I’ve written in a previous post, there are eight “shake-the-kaleidoscope” changes in perspective that you’re going to have to embrace in order to create a high-performing organization in this day and age. They are the givens that should be baked into every aspect of your new performance management cake. I’m sharing a few of them over the next couple of weeks; for the full eight, check out the book!

Fundamental Shift #4: Abandon uniformity.
Shift from: One size fits all
Shift to: Customized and nuanced

We need to stop expecting our people to comply with performance management programs that don’t work for them. Think about it: your software developers in California have very different motivators and PM needs than your shop-floor workers in Vermont. I realize this is a big stretch for many of us, but we need to move away from cut-and-paste bureaucracy with standard rules spread across all employee groups, and instead try implementing a program that shows your employees that their individual needs and styles actually do matter — by the simple fact that the program can be customized.

OK, I get how this might send a chill through your bones. How on earth are you supposed to manage a large organization in which each entity has its own custom PM approach? How can you control all that? Well, what if you tried not controlling all that?

Instead, try offering a menu of options from which groups or individuals within the enterprise can choose. Those options should be rooted in what performance means to your organization and some common principles for how you want to manage to that goal. For this nuanced approach to work, you’ll need to be absolutely sure that you’re starting with a solid foundation that makes absolutely clear what you are trying to accomplish (vision and strategy), and how you expect to accomplish those outcomes together (culture).

Think about it as a menu that provides meal options for defined segments of your organization. First, you might establish some common rules, such as asking that each of the segments include the main course and one or more of the three vegetables listed on your menu. But beyond that, it’s up to them; let them decide if there will be an appetizer, a salad, extra sides, or a dessert.

In the real world, it might look like this: You ask the leaders of your key business units and central support functions to take the lead in designing performance solutions that best fit their teams’ needs. You inform these design leads that all employees should complete quarterly goals in support of the company’s articulated strategy (the main course). Your three vegetable options, from which they can pick one or more, include a social media goal and a feedback process, a project-based expectations and shared-planning template, and a monthly key metrics scorecard (targeted more to your manufacturing- or metrics-driven teams). The other add-on options (the appetizers and desserts) might include a mentoring program, planned talent review discussions, a peer recognition program, a role-based competency assessment tool that requires their support to build out, and team goal setting.

Create these menu items only after thinking about what your talent mix looks like and how that mix creates different needs across your employee groups. With the menu in place, you’ll just play waiter or waitress, offering guidance but letting them make their own choices. Not only does this approach allow your teams to consider what works best for them, but I’m betting you’ll also find that the menu grows over time as your various teams create new methods and tools that work for their groups. If managed well, these ideas can be captured, shared, and adopted by others across the organization.

At this point, you are probably beginning to recognize that this approach turns the role played by traditional HR teams on its head. Today, HR typically designs and pushes standards, then spends months managing compliance with those standards. This shift lets the HR team have a lot more fun than they would merely policing policy, and, importantly, it opens up the opportunity for them to create choices, tools, and content that focuses on helping people improve their performance, connect to the company vision, and grow their careers.

Happy rebooting,
Tamra

This was an abridged excerpt from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It. I’ve condensed the content quite a lot in order to keep this post shortish here – check out the book (you can order it from Barnes and Noble.com or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

the eight fundamental shifts of great performance management.

Give the steering wheel to your employees...

Give the steering wheel to your employees...

The million dollar question – the thing organizations throughout the world are struggling with – is what they should replace their old-school PM programs with. How do we let go of these archaic traditional practices and tap into the power of our people in today’s increasingly connected, customizable, and millennial-driven business world? How do we create culture, structure, leaders, and processes that fuel our companies to outperform the competition? The answer is the Eight Fundamental Shifts.

We have a challenge before us: to move beyond our comfort zone, away from what we’ve known and what we’ve always done, and embrace our changed world—informed by what science, experience, and research tell us about building healthy organizations.

In order to create an agile, involved, and dedicated workforce, we must shift how we’ve been taught to look at our people. And our people must shift their own habits and views on the role they play in their personal development and careers. We’re going to have to apply some new thinking that doesn’t come naturally to those of us who have been working in the business world for, ahem, a few years—thinking that often totally contradicts the way in which most of us have been taught to manage.

There are eight “shake-the-kaleidoscope” changes in perspective that you’re going to have to embrace in order to create a high-performing organization in this day and age. They are the givens that should be baked into every aspect of your new performance management cake. I’m going to share a few of them over the next couple of weeks; for the full eight, check out the book!

Fundamental Shift #2: Give the steering wheel to your employees.
Shift from: Management-driven
Shift to: Employee-powered

We can all agree that we need to treat employees like adults. Your best people don’t want you to tell them how to do their jobs. Instead, they are looking for you to tell them where the organization is going and why. (And that destination had better be enticing, so that those top performers say, “Hey, I want to be part of that!”) They need you to give them the tools, information, and knowledge to make the best choices and decisions on behalf of the organization. Share your strategy freely—the “what” you’re trying to do—so that employees can figure out their own “how” to get there. When employees understand the trust you’re placing in them by allowing them to engineer their own work life and daily functions, they will be more committed and more engaged, and they’ll contribute far more.

What does this mean in performance management terms? It means ditching the scheduled top-down review. Instead, set the expectation that employees should ask for insights, coaching, resources, and, yes, feedback when they want it and need it—in other words, when it feels right to them. Managers need to make it clear that they are there to provide advice and support, and that they will make themselves available on the employee’s timeline. It’s highly unlikely that any employee will walk into a yearly performance review in the proper frame of mind to hear and process feedback, but change that review process into a conversation that takes place on the employee’s instigation—when the employee honestly wants to hear how he or she is doing and talk about the future—and you’re going to have a far richer conversation, and a healthier interaction going forward.
Further, if managers shift their approach to one that builds a collaborative, two-way relationship with their employees, one anchored in frequent informal check-ins to ask how things are going and how they can help, the whole nature of the employee-supervisor relationship will evolve. When a commitment to informal check-ins becomes a habit, manager-employee relationships are likely to thrive as a result of the ongoing conversation that is created.

So what about that person who never wants any feedback? Well, what about him? If there is a problem, address it. If he’s just heads down on his work, chugging away perfectly happily and getting stuff done, well, why should we feel the need to interrupt his flow? I know it’s a hard concept to grasp for many of us, and I’m not suggesting that you let managers off the hook. Quite the contrary: they need to be present and engaged, and provide in-the-moment coaching when necessary.

Now let’s take an even broader view of this idea and talk about putting career ownership in the hands of your employees. Whoa! Am I suggesting that they should decide when they get a promotion? No, nothing so radical. But, although Employee Y might be an awesome customer service agent, his heart is never going to be with your company if you keep him in customer service his whole life (even as a manager), if what he really yearns to do is product development. Instead, try empowering your people to shape the careers they want. Create role definitions with clear competencies associated with them. Make them public. Be transparent about what roles are available in the company (possibly what salaries are associated with them), and what experiences and education that employees need to have to be considered for them. Then talk to your people about which of those roles they want to aim for, and provide support to get them there, from training opportunities to real-world experience in the right areas. Help them to create the career that they want, not just the career that is easiest or best for you as their employer. A career program of this nature isn’t just a pretty idea. It’s also built on the science of what drives true employee engagement. It’s the nature of satisfying work, and the opportunity to have a say in what that work is, that are the key drivers of engagement.

The interesting hitch in all this is the challenge of getting employees to understand that they (rather than their supervisor, their manager, or HR) own their careers. The organization owns the responsibility of providing as much transparency, content, tools, and support as it can muster to help employees achieve the goals they are seeking. But because most of us have grown up being told instead of asked, employees often can’t quite believe that the steering wheel is now in their hands. Getting comfortable with the idea of taking this ownership leap might require concentrated effort. Initially, employees may need to be reminded repeatedly that they own it. If you hear someone complaining that she’s not getting any feedback, your first question should be, “Did you ask for it?”

Happy rebooting,
Tamra

This was an abridged excerpt from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It, due to be published March 14. I’ve condensed the content quite a lot in order to keep this post shortish here – check out the book (you can pre-order it on from Barnes and Noble.com or on Amazon for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas and the book release.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

Your Performance Management is NOT Fine: Defending Against the Naysayers

One busy Friday, I met with a West Coast client in the morning and then returned to my office to take a call from one of my East Coast clients in the afternoon. In the span of a few scant hours, both of my clients used exactly the same phrase to describe their current performance management programs: “Our performance management program is fine.”

All weekend that phrase was stuck in my brain like an annoying popcorn hull wedged between my teeth. I pondered what those words meant to each of them and what ugly truths might lurk beneath an innocuous word like fine. I think that phrase spoke loudly to me because I’d heard it so many times before.

So what do people mean when they tell me that their performance program is fine? Perhaps it’s this:

Sound familiar?

Sound familiar?

The low expectations expressed in the phrase “Our performance management is fine” are indicative of how much we’ve lost sight of our people. We seem perfectly happy to settle for “fine” on their behalf. But if our intentions for investing in performance management are to connect our teams to our strategies and goals, to recognize outstanding contributions, and to enhance the development of each individual’s capabilities, how can we possibly continue to tolerate “fine”?

If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re someone who is already at least partially on board with the idea of rebooting your performance management. But no matter how comfortable you are with the idea of throwing everything out to start over (or not – after all, I’m advocating a custom approach that’s tailored to the needs of your business, and yours might not need a thorough overall), one of the biggest stumbling blocks you’re likely to encounter is doubt, skepticism, and downright antagonism from the old schoolers in your organization.

When I have a debate with someone who is defending the traditional performance management approach or with someone who is fearful of making changes to such a deeply rooted process (and trust me, I have many such debates), I always hear the same counterarguments. So much so, in fact, that it’s worthwhile to prepare you to answer those same objections in your own organization. Do any of these sound familiar?

“My boss will never buy it.”
It is always wise to pay special attention to “the boss.” Engage, educate, and bring him or her with you. Of course, you can’t expect this to happen overnight, especially if the boss in question leans more toward the PM traditionalist mind-set. Meet leaders where they are, build a plan, pace your progress, and maintain your resolve. Find out what they really care about, then connect your case to that theme. Be diplomatic and creative, and make sure they understand the real costs (both soft and hard costs) to your business of continuing with the old way — in terms they understand.

“We can’t trust our managers.”
Other than getting leaders on board, this is the second most common concern I hear from people, and it’s a legitimate one. Since I’m advocating implementing a design that relies heavily on good, or preferably great, managers, this problem often stops teams in their tracks. It’s not a simple issue, either. It’s cluttered with questions of structure, role definition, and manager expectations. Many organizations suffer from being over-managed and under-led. This happens because we often promote managers for technical or functional expertise and not for their people or managerial skills, and because most organizations have historically underinvested in building great leaders.

If this resonates with you, I’d encourage you to use it as motivation to address the bigger problem (i.e., the fact that you don’t trust your managers). Start by peeling your own onion to get at the root of your manager concern. Do you have too many managers or too many levels? Are they not the right people? Are their goals out of alignment with what’s valued by your organization as a whole? I’m not saying that these issues can be fixed quickly or easily; in fact, this may create a completely new agenda item for you. But the fact that you don’t trust the capability of your managers has much more far-reaching consequences than its impact on your performance management. It’s something that you’re going to need to address, no matter what.

“Legal will have a fit!”
We know we need a paper trail to document behavior and performance problems, and we think our annual review cycle does that for us. Too often, though, it doesn’t. We’re human: we tend to rate people too leniently, and to downplay or completely gloss over potentially awkward issues. This is one reason why the reviews of underperformers and good performers often read very much the same. The problem then is that if a legal issue does arise, or we simply want to take action in response to an employee’s behavior or performance, we’re caught in a bind between what we really know about that employee’s history and a series of reviews that don’t appear all that bad. This can lead to a messy situation. It’s better to avoid this potential pitfall by documenting issues as they arise. Then the issues will be fresh and more accurately recorded—giving you a better legal footing and a more actionable position overall.

“Why change? Everyone else does it this way!”
While the majority of organizations still use a traditional system, the tide is definitely turning. Today we’re seeing respected and forward-thinking organizations trying to drive organizational performance, develop people, and reward equitably in new and innovative ways. These pioneers have received significant positive exposure for their innovative programs. And that attention certainly doesn’t hurt their employer brand (a measure of how positively prospective employees view you compared with your competitors). You have a decision to make here: Are you ready to be out front, or would you prefer to wait until your competition has passed you by before you take action?

Maybe you have to wait because you feel you have bigger issues to tackle. Or maybe you’re simply going to procrastinate until you’re finally dragged kicking and screaming into the new world of performance management at some point in the future. But like it or not, the world is changing, and our old accepted practices will eventually crumble under the weight of the research and the evolving expectations of our employees.

Lead or follow—the choice is yours.

Happy rebooting!
Tamra

This was an abridged excerpt from my book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It, due to be published March 14. I’ve condensed the content quite a lot in order to keep this post shortish here – check out the book (you can pre-order it on from Barnes and Noble.com or on Amazon for the “full meal deal” – MTC

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas and the book release.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

Fatal Flaws #4 and #5: No Man (or Woman) is an Island, and We are Not Machines.

The following is an overview and one of the Eight Fatal Flaws of traditional performance management from the book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It, due to be published in early March. I’ve condensed the content and removed much of the research in order to keep this post shortish – check out the book (you can pre-order it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon) for the “full meal deal” – MTC

As I’ve written before, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are eight basic reasons that our old standby performance management process creates as much distrust, disengagement, and wasted effort as it indubitably does. In other words, eight reasons why traditional performance management is almost universally hated, and eight reasons why it simply doesn’t work. I call them the Eight Fatal Flaws.

Here's #4 and #5 of the eight.

Fatal Flaw #4: No man (or woman) is an island. 
The focus is on the individual, even though system or organizational challenges often have a significant influence on individual performance.

Let’s tell a story here about Employee You. Suppose you’re in product development. At the end of last year, the organization put in a new system of checks and balances in order to provide better quality control of the end product. These checks and balances take a lot of your time, so your productivity has plummeted. Then there’s the additional rigor concerning product design that’s inhibited some of your usual out-of-the box creativity. But your end products comply much better with the company standard, and you’ve created some solid sellers. So, how does your manager respond to this mixed bag of results? How can he separate out what’s in your control (and therefore fair game for discussion) and what’s not? The answer is that he can’t.

Unfortunately, performance management is currently designed to focus on the performance of the individual and only the individual. The irony is that current research shows that the system (how work gets done in your company) actually has more influence than the individual can ever hope to have on the performance of both the individual and the organization as a whole. The situation, the environment, and the surrounding team are a large part of what makes a star performer. Meaning your company might gain greater benefit by focusing on improving the system than by trying to improve the individuals who make up that system.

Fatal Flaw #5: We are not machines.
Fairness and standardization in ratings and the judgment of performance simply cannot be achieved.

We are all human. Even the best and brightest among us are astonishingly fallible. Unfortunately, the traditional system relies heavily on the concept of an impartial, omnicient individual who can, without bias, unfailingly assess human output across a variety of roles and occupations. It’s a stretch to assume that even one such person exists, much less to expect that every manager possesses that kind of objectivity and wisdom. And it’s especially ridiculous when it comes to stack-ranking systems, or systems that require number ratings. I’ve seen rating systems that extend to two decimal places. Two decimal places?! Who in their right mind really thinks they can tell the different between a 4.35 performer and a 4.36? Yet in traditional performance management systems, advancement and salary decisions may very well rest on such infinitesimal and arbitrary distinctions. It’s ludicrous.

It’s the use of ratings that seems to draw the greatest ire from the critics of traditional performance programs. I’ve found that most tend to agree on five main points:

  1. It’s difficult to distinguish differences in performance, except in the case of exceptionally good or bad performers.
  2. The more diverse the job responsibilities, the more difficult it is to rate or compare performance. Someone working on a factory line putting two gee-gaws together to build a widget is a lot easier to rate than a manager of a large project with multiple responsibility areas. Then there’s the case of people with jobs that might look similar on paper (say, two management positions) but could nonetheless involve dealing with vastly different projects, stakeholders, geographies, vendor partners, or technology platforms.
  3. People will attempt to fix the results by manipulating and distorting ratings to get to a desired number.
  4. There is a whole host of biases, prejudices, and personal quirks that influence a person’s appraisal of others. While we think our ratings are telling us something about the ratee, they’re actually revealing far more about the rater.
  5. Even for those raters who are trying their best to remain unbiased and fair, it’s almost impossible to remember the whole year with equal acuity. It’s only human to put more weight on an event that happened just last month than on one that took place almost a year ago.

Houston, We Have a Problem

We know that traditional performance management isn’t working, and hopefully I’ve give you a pretty good idea why. The inherent system is broken, having been built upon unfounded, archaic, and poorly conceived assumptions—the Eight Fundamental Flaws.

And don’t worry if you’re thinking all this is rather negative - I’ll go more into how to fix things in future posts… I promise.

Until then, happy rebooting!
Tamra

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas and the book release.
P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing this post with your networks!

Fatal Flaw #2: Nobody Opens Up with the Person Who Pokes Them in the Eye

The following is an overview and one of the Eight Fatal Flaws of traditional performance management from the book. I’ve condensed the content and removed much of the research in order to keep this post shortish – check out the book for the “full meal deal” – MTC

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are eight basic reasons that our old standby performance management process creates as much distrust, disengagement, and wasted effort as it indubitably does. In other words, eight reasons why traditional performance management is almost universally hated, and eight reasons why it simply doesn’t work. I call them the Eight Fatal Flaws.

Fatal Flaw #2: Nobody opens up with the person who pokes them in the eye.
Traditional performance management impedes the reception of feedback and limits honest dialogue.

Imagine that you’re an employee whose third child has just arrived. You really need just two things: more sleep and a raise. At your company, the possibility of that raise is tied to your yearly performance review, which is coming up in a few weeks. What do you do? You plan for that danged thing. You dredge up every last project you completed and work to spin it so that you look golden. You collect evidence and forward it to your boss. You get yourself all amped up for the conversation ahead. You’re pumped. You’re going to kill it!

Now let’s freeze-frame and look at your state of mind at this point. Are you going to be open to hearing anything your supervisor might say that doesn’t support your story? Are you in a mental place where you can take in and process feedback on your performance? No, you aren’t. Your survival is at stake (or at least it feels like it is). Your focus is entirely on making yourself look good, on “winning” that performance review, and the last thing you’re in the mood to talk about is where you need more development.

When we analyze this scenario, we can see that the inherent dynamics of the situation have gone bad in three major ways:

  • It’s made your boss an adversary. Heaven forbid she doesn’t agree with the rosy picture you’ve painted. Any whiff of disagreement between the two of you will only heighten the adversarial tension.
  • Your goal isn’t to have a dialogue. You’re thinking of it first as a sales job and then, if necessary, as a debate. You sure aren’t going in to have a heart-to-heart or to admit to any weakness in front of her.
  • The situation has placed the control in the hands of your manager. This reinforces the superior-subordinate relationship—the opposite of empowerment.

And what is on this manager’s mind, you ask? Well, let’s put ourselves in her shoes for a moment. Imagine you have seven employees reporting to you. Your team has had a solid year, but you have extremely limited resources to offer salary increases. Even worse, your executive leadership has made it clear that if you rank too many of your people as top performers, you’ll be reviewed lower yourself for being too lenient and for violating “top performer” quotas. But there isn’t a clear “low performer” in the bunch: each and every one of them contributed well, collaborated with one another, and ultimately delivered great results. As the manager, are you going to go into this conversation with an open mind and as a keen collaborator in your employee’s success? Sadly, no. It’s likely that you will be defensive from the get-go. How could you not? You’re caught in a bind, denying rewards to employees you feel have earned them while defending a position and a process you don’t agree with. Talk about demoralizing.

But what about the rest of the year, when the performance review isn’t just around the corner? Isn’t everyone inclined to be more open then? Unfortunately, no. The superior-subordinate paradigm set up by the performance review process creates a permanent barrier to open dialogue between managers and employees. There is simply no way you as an employee can have an open and honest conversation about your own performance, hopes, fears, and goals with a person who is going to judge you, especially if her judgment affects such important aspects of your life as salary, recognition, and promotion. And that person who has to judge you? She’s not going to have an honest conversation about how you can grow and develop if she knows that she has to keep your expectations low, or dash them altogether, often for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your performance.

The result? Open communication doesn’t stand a chance. How can we keep on with a system that's so inherently flawed that it actually does the opposite of what we want it to do?

Until next time, happy rebooting!

Tamra

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas and the book release.

P.P.S. Please help spread the PM Reboot revolution by sharing with your networks!

The Eight Fatal Flaws of Traditional Performance Management.

These days most people in HR will agree that something needs to be done about performance management.  I’m obviously one of them – I wrote a whole book on the subject –but I understand that for people who haven’t been living, eating, and breathing performance management for the last few years my blanket statement that it needs a wholesale change might not be enough.  With that in mind I want to share exactly what I think IS wrong with it.  And this isn’t just what I think: in my years of immersing myself in the performance management topic, I’ve read myriad studies; collected every bit of research and anecdotal evidence I could find; I’ve explored perspectives from various angles; I’ve listened to my clients’ experiences; and I’ve worked with companies as they set out to find something better. And through it all, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are eight basic reasons that our old standby performance management process creates such distrust, disengagement, and wasted effort. In other words, eight reasons why traditional performance management is almost universally hated, and simply doesn’t work.

 I call them the Eight Fatal Flaws.

  • Fatal Flaw #1: A theory without evidence is just a (bad) theory: There is no evidence that traditional performance management leads to improved performance.
  • Fatal Flaw #2: Nobody opens up with the person who pokes them in the eye: Traditional performance management impedes the reception of feedback and limits honest dialogue.
  • Fatal Flaw #3: Nobody remembers the good work: Performance reviews generally emphasize the negative, rather than focusing on strengths.
  • Fatal Flaw #4: No man (or woman) is an island: The focus is on the individual, even though in reality system or organizational challenges often have a significant influence on individual performance.
  • Fatal Flaw #5: We are not machines: Fairness and standardization in ratings and the judgment of performance simply cannot be achieved.
  • Fatal Flaw #6: We are not machines, redux: Review output is unreliable for making talent decisions.
  • Fatal Flaw #7: Let me introduce you to your competition—now play nice together! Comparing people against one another erodes efforts to create a collaborative culture.
  • Fatal Flaw #8: We are not Pavlov’s dog: Pay for performance does not deliver improved performance.

 Do I have your attention?  Let’s take a closer look at Fatal Flaw #1.

 

Fatal Flaw #1: A theory without evidence is just a (bad) theory.

...a bad theory.

...a bad theory.

There is no evidence that traditional performance management leads to improved performance.

I think we can safely assume that the expected outcome of the time, resources, and energy we invest in performance management is supposed to be improved performance, both for individuals and for the organization. Yet I’m going to tell you straight out that there is no sound evidence that supports this idea. In fact, impact is often counterproductive and utterly at odds with its core purpose.

Why? Well, people who are engaged make for higher-performing organizations. But performance management as we know it is not increasing morale, and it’s not driving engagement. If it was, we would see an increase in employee morale correlated with the expanded usage of conventional performance management. And we simply don’t. In fact, the data shows that the process is far more effective at creating disengagement.

The brutal truth is, we’ve built old-school performance management on beliefs about how to motivate and improve human performance that we’ve proven to be faulty. Best intentions, wrong tactics. In the pursuit of recognizing differentiated performance, we’ve created unhealthy competition and opportunities to game the system. We’ve built standardized processes and policies in the pursuit of fairness, but what we’ve wound up with are mind-numbing tick-the-box exercises that minimize the human side of a process that should be all about people. Seeking to drive manager-employee communication, we’ve trained people to time-box conversations that should be sought openly by both parties and that should happen in the moment. Dialogue that should be ongoing is instead relegated to a prescribed place and time with a defined agenda that too often creates an adversarial or banal tone. In the interest of accountability, we encourage people to set specific and aligned goals, but too often this system rewards those who undercommit and play it safe.

See where I’m going here? There’s no good reason to continue using techniques that have been shown scientifically to be unproductive or, in some cases, even counterproductive. It’s time to make our good intentions stick by switching to methods that have been proven to increase engagement – and therefore drive real and sustainable business performance.

Until next time, happy rebooting!

Tamra

P.S. Don’t miss a post – sign up here for my email list to keep up to date on PM Reboot ideas and the book release. 

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The previous was one of the Eight Fatal Flaws of traditional performance management from the book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It , due to be published in early March.  I’ve condensed  the content quite a lot, and removed much of the research, in order to keep this post shortish – check out the book (you can pre-order it here) for the “full meal deal” - MTC

 

 

 

March 14th is Fast Approaching!

Well, the big day is coming… our book, How Performance Management is Killing Performance – and What To Do About It,  is due to be published in a few months!  As my first book, let me tell you this has been a journey.  Through countless revisions, scads of input, multiple reviewers, some tough criticism, and some fun praise —well, out of it all, I think we’ve got ourselves one heck of a book, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you!

Over the next few months, I’ll share some performance management tips based on PeopleFirm's PM Reboot methodology, ideas, and excerpts from the book — all the stuff I’m super excited about. I’m going to cover everything from our new PM theory, to the shifts in management approach we’re going to have to make in order to embrace a new PM, to managing the change once you’ve developed your process. So stay tuned. 

It’s no coincidence that the idea of updating performance management is on everyone’s radar.  The old ways of driving performance simply don't work, and we all know it.  It’s time, folks! Let’s start the revolution!

Happy rebooting,

Tamra

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