A Template for a Constructive Performance Assessment
(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)
In this last offering of 2013, I am returning to the topic of performance assessment as many of you will be presently engaged in performance appraisals, whether as recipients or as managers. Frequently in the two capacities. Let me say this upfront: when it comes to the management of their performance, there is now ample evidence that staff members have shifted from being passive recipients to active agents. Indeed, it’s not just Gen Y – employees everywhere and of every generation expect more: more involvement, more accountability and more recognition.
Indeed, a recent Gallup poll of over 1 million employees showed that the number one reason people quit their jobs is dissatisfaction with their immediate manager. Have you heard the saying “People leave managers not companies”? Well, we now have ample statistics to back up this statement. And so, for managers, enforcing performance standards in a command and control sort of way no longer works. Managers are now expected to provide ongoing feedback, including positive comments, and for their negative messages to be put forth in a constructive and balanced fashion with a view to guide and inspire, rather than to scold and then provide ready-made solutions.
With this context in mind, I thought I would share with you my view of an effective performance management framework. As you can see from the diagram on the left, my approach is simple. Just three steps, starting with setting objectives at the beginning of the year, ensuring that communication is ongoing throughout and concluding with an unsurprising review process which is therefore just an administrative formality. The appraisal conversation which takes place at yearend is just the last of many and need not take long if all that’s significant has been shared on an ongoing basis previously.
Using this framework, I would like to propose to you, managers in this Brave New World of Staff Expectations, five crucial tips.
Tip #1: Good managers set clear objectives
It is important to plan for performance. What I have noted however is that objective-setting conversations often focus on “what” but not sufficiently on the “why and “how”. “What” clearly refers to the nature of the objectives being targeted. In this respect, it is important to be clear and precise to avoid confusion. I encourage managers to ask staff to repeat in their own words what they will deliver: this enables them to spot any area of immediate misunderstanding and address it.
The “why” and “how” of work objectives are frequently overlooked. But indeed, why would an employee meet their objectives? Because their manager told them so? Because they find the work interesting? Because they have a mortgage to pay off? As we will see, productivity is a function of engagement so, as a good manager, know what makes your staff tick. The more personally-resonant their work goals, the better your team will do. Purpose is the best driver of performance, over a sense of obligation and the prospect of financial reward.
Lastly “how”. This may make more sense for more junior staff but be sure to impart how things work around here. What are the behaviours associated with good performance? Staff are judged not only on the bottom line but on how they get there so, as a good manager, share those insights.
Tip #2: Good managers play to their team members’ strengths
Research by the Corporate Leadership Council revealed that when managers focus on the strengths of employees, performance is likely to increase by 36%. Whereas when they focused on their weaknesses, performance decreased by 26%. So let me ask you managers reading this: do you know your team members’ strengths and are those the basis on which you allocate work?
If you’re unsure, take a moment to consider what you know about your staff. Better yet, have a conversation: ask them what they’re good at and then ask them to give you examples. Strengths are easy to tell: when people tell a story of using a strength, not only will the story be one of achievement but the teller’s voice will convey enthusiasm and energy. As a manager devising the team’s yearly plan, you can now consciously factor in your staff’s strengths. When sitting down with individuals to set objectives, engage them around how they will use their strengths to deliver.
Tip #3: Good managers encourage daily progress
There is now clear evidence that job satisfaction typically results from being productive towards one’s day-to-day goals but from making progress towards one’s intrinsic goals for the future. From this, we understand that individuals’ happiness at work is both of the moment and requires a long-term perspective. Every work day resets the happiness counter to zero as well as contributes to a more general sense of wellbeing. How do you, as a manager, reconcile these two extremes?
Considering the short-term dimension of job satisfaction, pay attention to folks’ day-to-day productivity. Notice, if you can, the look on their face: are they focused, concentrated? Or downcast, frowning? What energy do you feel coming off them: are they dynamic or rather appear sullen? Engage those who appear troubled, ask how they are doing and don’t let yourself be fobbed off. Help them end the day on a better note otherwise they will bring back their troubles tomorrow.
When it comes to the element around longer term happiness, let me send you back to a point I made earlier, around understanding what makes your team members tick. The one who works from bonus to bonus is more at risk of seeing their motivation flag than the one who works to offer a more comfortable life to their family. In addition to this personal dimension, I think the research also tells us about the importance of addressing career development with staff. We human beings are creatures of meaning so, as a good manager, never lose sight of the need for meaning.
Tip #4: Good managers know how to say ‘thank you’
When researchers investigated the drivers of high performance amongst 19,187 employees in 34 organisations, they discovered that the top driver of performance was giving fair, informal, and accurate feedback – and not waiting for the dreaded annual performance review. So if the secret is ongoing feedback, then, as a manager, you have got a lot of talking to do! For some of you, it will be easy and natural because you like to chat with folks. But for some of you, this will be more challenging. To those, I encourage you to find within a place of generosity to spur you on.
So what does the good manager talk about? Well, first they thank folks for their contribution. And they do so regularly because this will mean in-the-moment happiness for the recipient – something which translates into job satisfaction as we have just discussed. But they also call mistakes, inappropriate behaviours, any misstep right here, right now. A good manager challenges as soon as it’s needed to make sure the matter is corrected and everyone can move on quickly. Regular communication will mean fewer bumps along the way and a more peaceful annual review process.
Tip #5: Good managers coach for solutions
Don’t you hate to be told what to do? I know I do. Of course, I’m human and therefore fallible so I will get it wrong regularly. But when it comes to others’ involvement in my mistakes, there are two things I welcome: first, to be told with respect rather than condescension. Second, to be allowed to have a think about how I’m going to fix it. When I was managing people, I noticed many were like me. They wanted a chance to show they could come up with a way to remedy their own mess.
So let me encourage you not to give out solutions to problems. First, for those among your team members who like to be told what to do, this is only reinforcing an attitude of dependence on you. Second, there will come a time when you won’t know the solution and all of you will find yourselves in a right bind when that happens. Thirdly, you will irritate those among your team members who believe they should be the architect of their own solutions as they will feel disempowered by your show of “mommy (or daddy) knows best”. So when things go awry, as they will, ask the individual(s) what they’d like to do about it. And only if they seem stuck, might it be worth suggesting something: “have you thought about possibly….?” is good enough to get their brains in gear. A good manager understands that their role is to help their staff do their best thinking around problem solving.
There you have it: five tips to consider what kind of performance manager you would like to be. I know my recommended model starts with objective-setting but I am hopeful that this video / article will already have provided some food for thought in terms of that all-important appraisal discussion.
If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.
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