Best Practices in Performance Management

Performance Management Cycle

In an earlier article I talked about the business case for talent management. In this article, I want to explore “performance management” as ONE critical element of an effective overall talent management process.

We all perform better when we have help setting direction and a coach holding up a mirror to let us see where we are and suggesting what we might try differently. These two simple elements are the keys to effective performance management: set expectations and provide feedback. CEOs get this from a good board of directors; most of us can remember benefiting from a good manager giving them to us; and solo entrepreneurs frequently flounder when they do without.

My experience tells me that people rise to the expectations established by the combination of setting objectives and establishing high standards. I have observed this outcome time and again; and I have observed the failure of performance when these elements are missing.

So why do we so often cringe at the thought of “performance management”? We cringe because often we make it too hard, too structured, too time consuming, too mechanical. As a result, we avoid the whole process. The solution? Make it simpler, make it more direct, make it part of the flow of your natural interactions and not a separate process layered onto everything else we have to do.

The most important element of good performance management is simply direct, candid and transparent conversation about what is expected in order to be successful and feedback on results: what has gone well and where is improvement possible or expected. Truly effective managers do this naturally and intuitively. The rest of us can learn to do it in a few simple steps. Here are the simple steps I share with managers who want to be successful helping others succeed:

  • Communicate what success looks like in the job
  • Check for understanding and needed support, then provide the appropriate skills development or encouragement to improve competence or commitment
  • Have regular conversations about what is going well and where one can improve
  • Hold everyone accountable for achieving expectations

The steps are fairly simple. Execution of the steps can require development of some skills and learning what to look for and how to provide what is needed. For example, managers whom I’ve trained in applying the skills of situational leadership frequently report much more effective performance of their teams once they’ve started changing their own behaviors as leaders to match the needs of those on their teams.

Organizationally, good performance management can be described as a continuous cycle of painting a picture of what success in the job will look like (planning), followed by coaching and feedback (updates) and then assessment Performance conversation cycleof outcomes (evaluation).

Planning is simply painting the picture of success in meaningful terms. When described in terms of what the organization needs to accomplish, success begins to look like objectives. When described in terms of skills, success begins to look like a development plan. In all cases, the best planning includes discussion of the individual’s personal and career objectives.

  • Engage in a Career Discussion (be vested in your employee’s personal aspirations)
  • Coach employees to create Individual Development Plans
  • Establish Performance Objectives (ask your employee to create the first draft, this will test how skilled you’ve been in painting the picture for success and defining the organization’s needs)

Updates should be regular and on-going. This is the stuff of both scheduled meetings and informal chats while walking down the hall. This is the grounding for truly effective situational leadership and where high engagement is built. Coaching is a natural element of the updates portion of the cycle.

  • Help employees improve skills through observation and feedback
  • Provide opportunities and challenges for development
  • Build commitment and competence

Evaluation provides the scorecard, the performance assessment. The Six Sigma adage, “We don’t value what we don’t measure,” (1.) is as true with performance management as with any other discipline.

  • Start by asking for the employee’s self-assessment (this is what will create the conversation)
  • Add your observations and comments
  • Keep it focused on accountabilities/objectives
  • Be objective, candid and transparent
  • Remember that the conversation is the most important part of any evaluation, not the document

The recurring Performance Management cycle then looks like this, with the understanding that coaching and feedback occur continuously, not at a single discrete time within the year:

Performance Management Cycle

The Performance Management Cycle

The broad framework of effective performance management is simple: it’s all about regular on-going communication. Once your focus becomes a document that gets created once a year called a “Performance Appraisal,” you’ve traded value for a cudgel and “performance management” is no longer an effective element of accomplishing continuous improvement.

Next up: Succession Planning and why it matters to you.

For links to other articles in this series, see the introduction: Effective and Proactive Talent Management.

Let’s have a conversation about how I can help you build the right performance management process in your organization that will drive higher employee engagement and improved business results.

__________________
1. Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder, Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations (Crown Business, 2006), xii.

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When employees drive your business success…
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