So, the “new age radical liberalism” has spread to organisations now, it would appear. Critics are claiming that performance management processes are dead, yes, dead. But before you cancel those achiever awards, bonus systems and outcome dashboards or start Googling “participation trophies”, allow us to de-bunk the madness.
Yes, some HR departments are literally tying themselves up in emotional knots afraid to so much as whisper the words “accountability”; “results” or even “objectives” for fear of being castigated as performance pushing bullies.
Sadly, I kid thee not.
We have had several requests to help HR leads (in certain sectors, it must be said) adapt their so-called appraisal systems to rescue their besieged line managers and release their line reports from the emotional strain of assessments that apparently compromise their mental health. And we’re not just talking about the alleged infamous brittleness of Gens Y&Z. This movement has become an all-encompassing challenge for all branches of the working family.
Let’s face it, individual performance review processes have had a very bad rap in certain quarters down the years. And to some extent, it’s been justified.
As an employee, consultant, or coach, you must have heard at least some, if not all, of these moans down the years. Maybe you’ve used them yourself:
- Our PM process is just a laborious annual form filling exercise, a SOP for the auditors and IiP police
- My manager is useless at it
- We don’t work with objectives
- If your face fits the process doesn’t matter
- I’m responsible for my own development and training not the organisation
- What’s the point as there are no performance rewards or consequences?
- It actually de-motivates as it’s just a case of going through the motions
Is it any wonder, therefore, that some organisations are threatening to abandon the performance review process altogether, for good?
Nirvana for HRDs who have to deal with the issues? Not really. And certainly a nightmare for CEOs, FDs and Performance Directors.
What is an organisation if not a group of people brought together to deliver a common purpose?
Purpose = goals and linking organisational goals to individual goals is at least chapter 1 in the book of leadership 101. But it requires both process and behaviour to exist in equilibrium as much as support and challenge, and therein lies the problem. As any decent Investors in People assessor will tell you, many problems come down to poor process. And as many leadership coaches and culture specialists will tell you, show me a performance management problem and I’ll show you a leadership problem at line management level, a behavioural dilemma.
Our senior team has been instrumental in designing PM systems and facilitating the adoption of PM systems across sectors for decades, whether part of a comprehensive Organisation Development programme, leadership programme, or one-off.
We would point to what we see as abdication on the scale we’re talking about here as extremely troubling and will be very interested to learn more about how the purpose, mission, vision, values, and goals of the aforementioned businesses are translated at an individual level at any or all stages of the employee life cycle from recruitment through to departure if there was no PM process in place. Put it this way, we’ve yet to meet a sustainable and grown-up business where this approach works.
Sure, there’s plenty that are woefully inadequate, or which cause more damage than good, alienating large swathes or provoking the churn of the wrong type of employee. But these are issues that can be fixed, provided the leaders are prepared to address process, behaviour and culture altogether.
At its simplest, the performance management process is the interface between the organisation’s goals and each individual’s job. It’s where they and their line manager evaluate their relative contribution, recognise achievement, and addresses any capability or competency shortfall. It’s supposed to be a virtual safe space; an appreciative tool and a mechanism for facilitating powerful conversations that in turn become productive relations. The process shouldn’t be an echo, torture or virtuous chamber and, when delivered well, it’s essential not disposable.
Let me end by sharing a story that cutely sums up the main point: people work better when they have a purpose, goals, and the right feedback.
We moved house recently. As we inspected the work of the decorator, we came across many coloured pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection, they were Post Its, little messages left at problem points critiquing the decorator’s work. Each was numbered and they included short messages like “Late night?” “Call yourself a professional?” and “Perhaps I’ll employ your guide dog next time.”
I was shocked and raised these with the painter when I bumped into him. But I was surprised by his reply:
“Oh, those are our love letters, as we call them. Basically, our team has set a maximum number of snagging points per job. We’re targeted on snaggings as a team by the site manager. Basically, he inspects when we’re done and if he finds a problem, he leaves a note and a witty message. At the end of the week, we buy a pint for the painter who has the fewest notes but also buy one for the manager who comes up with the wittiest way to describe a snag. It’s a bit of a win/win. We all take pride in our work and aim for zero notes, it becomes a bit of a giggle.”
Me: “Surely that doesn’t work for everyone?”
He: “No. Other teams use a different system. But this sort of feedback is normal and natural to us. It works for us and, by the way, this site team has a reputation for being a great place to work.”
A very simple example. But it’s an important and interesting lesson in linking corporate goals to individual targets and adding an appropriate human touch.
So instead of acting as slaves to a dead process or abandoning accountability all together…. why not take a lesson from the painters and develop a system and set of behaviours that works for your culture?
“Yes, yes, we know that your business is far more complex and the people far more needy, but the principle of starting with two or three simple goals that can be readily measured, can be handily fed back and actually mean something to the person doing the day job, is a pretty sound one. Try it. You don’t even have to call it PM!”