Performance Management Fundamentals

In April I wrote about leveraging full benefit from your performance management efforts in Reaching the top… Making performance management work hard.  In June I continued the theme with a look at how to make meaningful connections between performance expectations and company vision (Linking Vision & Performance).  In today’s blog I will share further insight into how to ensure performance management is much more than a tick box exercise in your team or business.  The three pillars of success I will share are each vital ingredients to enable performance management to have a positive impact, rather than being the distraction and irritation so many managers and staff perceive it to be.

To optimise success of people and teams leaders are wise to leverage the important opportunity performance management provides.  Not only can we directly influence results achieved but also help people to grow.  The diagram below reveals what I have come to see as the three pillars of effective performance management:

  1. Providing clarity
  2. Coaching people to support their growth and success
  3. Holding people accountable

Each reflects an important priority that has a profound impact on our ability to directly and deliberately contribute to the success of each person and our team as a whole.  Before we can begin to think about holding people accountable, we must first make sure they understand; where the business is heading, the strategies in place to get there and the role both they and their team are expected to play.  It isn’t enough to provide a vague set of KPIs – it’s critical that leaders clearly articulate what they consider success to look like and how it will be measured.  Equally, it takes more than a single conversation at the start of the year to maintain this clarity.  Leaders need to calibrate each person’s understanding of what is needed and expected throughout the year.  We don’t live or operate in a static world so it’s important we help every member of our team to keep abreast of shifting priorities and what they mean for their own focus and approach.

To be an effective coach, first we must choose to be an active participant and assume a hands-on role to guiding the success of others. Those who establish performance expectations at the start of the year and only return to them a year later are missing a valuable opportunity to make a bigger difference.  To influence the success of any person or team what matters most is the coaching role a leader plays every day. To do this a leader must monitor progress, observe standards of performance, as well as understand the challenges people encounter.  Through targeted feedback that reinforces what someone must continue to do as well as reveals what needs to change, a leader can expect to make a valuable difference to the performance standard ultimately achieved. An important ingredient of successful coaching however is spending more time guiding, not telling. Learning is most likely to happen when a leader helps people to find the right answers and make the best decisions rather than simply telling them what to do – Coaching isn’t limited to guiding people in the here and now.  Just as important is the role they play to identify training solutions and opportunities for people to learn through experience.

Providing clarity and coaching puts us in a strong position to hold people accountable to not only what they achieve but also how they go about it.  Performance appraisal discussions are only as valuable as the work done by a leader leading up to that moment in time.  The real value of an appraisal discussion is reflecting on the highs and lows of the year, none of which should be a surprise, and talking about the year ahead.  Reward, recognition and remedial steps should be taken as and when appropriate.  In other words accountability is an important priority throughout the year, if performance management is to be taken seriously by anyone.

To ensure all of our good work isn’t undone in the final step, it matters very much that the final appraisal is viewed as a fair and reasonable reflection of the person’s contributions throughout the year.  This is far more likely to be the case if performance management discussions have occurred along the way and are not simply left to the end of the process.  Open, honest and ongoing discussion about important priorities, what people are expected to achieve, the support they need to get their job done as well as how they are tracking are crucial ingredients to ensuring performance management adds value and is valued by all concerned.

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