This blog first appeared on the Changeboard website on 11th July 2012.

Flexing your performance muscles

As a line manager it’s a heavyweight challenge – the performance of the whole company rests on you, and how you manage your people. Get it right, and you could be going for Gold. Get it wrong and you won’t even qualify.

Actually, it’s rarely about right or wrong. The biggest challenge many companies face is simply making performance discussions happen. There is a lot of focus on the system, the training, the documentation, the annual review … but if the conversation’s not taking place, those things just don’t matter. In looking at performance management across different organisations, we see a few common factors. There is usually a policy and a procedure. There has nearly always been training (internally or externally). There is always a form, and it usually appears reasonably fit for purpose. What there isn’t enough of is preparation, engagement, sponsorship, role modelling or action!

So when we hear companies concerned that ‘appraisals aren’t happening’ or ‘performance isn’t being effectively managed’, its useful to check out two important muscles – commitment to the conversation, and managing the metrics. Ask yourself, are you working them out? And is one helping the other one to pull?

Commitment to the conversation: make performance an ongoing discussion

Many organisations focus their performance management efforts on the annual appraisal. A once – maybe twice – a year formal discussion – maybe an hour or two – about how an employee has performed. This is often challenged:

“Measured against what? – were good objectives set? Were they reviewed regularly throughout the year? Is there a job description? Is it an accurate reflection of the role and your expectations?”

“How do you know? – if you haven’t formally discussed it for six months, how do you know? What evidence do you have to support your view of performance?”

“Why do you suddenly care? You haven’t demonstrated an interest in an employee’s performance – good or bad – and now there’s a form to fill in or a deadline to meet, you want to take time to talk about it!”

Isn’t it just too late?

There has to be advantage in ‘little and often’.  Spending shorter periods of time on regular review with your team members would enable a more frequent temperature check – are they directing their efforts in the right way, are you giving all the support they need, and are the objectives you set earlier in the year are still relevant, still a priority and progressing on track. So rather than planning in this one big event’ why not take a bit of time out each month over a coffee, talk about performance, support and priority – and see if it makes a difference.

Managing the Metrics: people performance is just another business measure

Over the last few years we’ve heard alot about trends in dashboards, metrics, balanced scorecards, etc. And yet still Performance Management data is rarely a feature! Information that drives the business takes priority – the financials, shareholder value, customer experience. But in reality, doesn’t the performance of your people really help to deliver your business results?

I’ve experienced it myself – attending a senior level leadership meeting, and the ‘people stuff’ just falls off the agenda as you talk about production efficiency crises or supply chain blockages and run out of time. But surely, having a brief discussion on who are your top performers and who are your low performers could reap benefits for you. It gives you a very quick temperature check. It highlights some areas of focus for your managers. It may give you some clues about why the financials are down, or the supply chain is blocked.

Addressing performance in this way isn’t an “HR” agenda item – to get a handle on how your business is operating, you need all the facts. So why not treat people performance as just another business metric. Review it often, review it quickly, review it proactively. It will help you to focus on one of your key business enablers – positive people performance.

Getting these two muscles working together is a real strength-builder. They help to deliver a focus on people performance – without the need for lengthy process, detailed reporting or documentation. These two muscles – flexed right – are just asking you to talk … 

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