I have been consulting with management teams about performance management for over two decades and I have to say it has not gotten any easier. Clients may be surprised at how much time I spend on the question is this necessary? But I must because I know that is precisely in the minds of the managers around the table. I conclude from my years of doing this that performance management is about advancing small successes toward a potential for growth and change and THAT is what can propel an organization toward high performance. To put this in another way, high performance is an intangible, it cannot be summed up in goals and measures, but the steps to get there are real and palpable.
Here are some ways to get the conversation about performance started:
- Look at the organization as a system and work as a team to understand how the system maintains itself. Keep asking questions…about the environment the system operates in, the value of returns on investments by stakeholders and most importantly the availability and quality of feedback that allows the system to adjust. Let this dialogue simmer and continue over time to create a shared purpose and understanding of the big “P” or the big Picture of Performance issues that represent “do or die” for the organization.
- Generate conversations about work with employees, specifically what is critical for success. Listen. Identify common themes and patterns that stand out and link this back to the big “P”. If you use a consultant (an objective interviewer is often beneficial) make sure someone in the organization partners with the consultant so you do not miss the opportunity to learn about disconnects in the system.
- Create ways to continue conversations about performance. Consultant and client together can collaborate to generate great ideas for engaging the workplace around performance issues. Currently I have clients who have created front line staff peer teams to focus on the customer experience and shape the entire customer service system. You can bet that will be the focus of their performance discussion. Another client is focusing on developing staff to conduct “after-action” reviews (using non-directive methods) to track process improvements. Another client is developing an ongoing recognition program where critical success stories are highlighted in the organization. All of these are examples of competency development to develop strength and unity of purpose and shared mission in the organization.
By now you will hear people begin asking, “Where is this all going? Where are the forms? What exactly is the policy and procedure for this performance system? How will this impact pay?”
While these are all good questions, the better question is how do we begin a discussion about performance in the absence of an earlier conversation that is both meaningful and relevant to the big “P”? The truth is, performance discussions are in essence a continuation of a meaningful conversation about how work relates to the big “P” or the big picture, the “do or die”.
If you know your people and have conversations with them about what is critical for success and how this ties to the Big “P”, the form and procedure will be a formal expression of what has already been discussed. There is no magic, no easy way to get to the more difficult and deeper work of having conversations about what matters.