We have a challenge before us if we are to reboot performance management: 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?”
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
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