Performance Management, Performance Reviews and Appraisals

I was asked by a manager yesterday to help to clarify the difference between performance management and appraisal.  I don’t think I did a great job  so I thought I would try again!

Performance management is a system with four parts:

  1. Specify the desired level of performance for the thing you are trying to manage (people, programs, products or services)
  2. Measuring performance – collecting and recording reliable data, both quantitative and qualitative
  3. Using data to compare actual performance to what is desired – recognising gaps between what is desired and what highlighting –  variances
  4. Communicating performance information – to those that are most able to use it to make progress

Performance management can happen at a number of different levels:

  1. The performance of strategies and plans at the organisational level
  2. The performance of products, services and programs
  3. The performance of teams, department or units
  4. The performance of individual employees

A key task for a manager is to decide at which level an investment in performance management is most likely to pay off.  In my experience an investment in the performance management of individual employees drives improvements at the team, product/service and organisational levels.

Performance Reviews and Appraisals are a small but important part of good performance management at the level of the individual employee and the team or business unit.  When aggregated they can also provide powerful contributions to performance management at the organisational level.

However these ‘one-off’ annual interventions need to be supplemented by more frequent processes for measurement, monitoring and change to keep up with the dynamic context in which organisations operate.  These interventions would include:

  • 121s and quarterly reviews,
  • feedback,
  • coaching and
  • delegation.

Collectively these provide a manager with a powerful framework for the performance management of individuals and teams.  Few managers that I meet consistnelty use these intervnetions with rigour, conviction and compassion. As a consequence they are at best ‘mediocre’.  Without them the likelihood of real progress being made is small.  Putting these simple interventions into practice can transform mediocrity into excellence.

Measurement is central to performance management, but it is a double edged sword that has to handled skillfully.

“People revert to metrics out of fear, not out of vision.”

(Patrick Lencioni)

Measurement is often about the minimum requirements and rarely helps to articulate a grand design.  It tends to lead to reductionist thinking and may have little to do with the ‘high ground’ of excellence.

“Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.”

( Ackoff & Addison)

Most managers spend to little time considering what they expect from an excellent employee.

  • What would excellence look like?
  • How would I recognise it?
  • How would I ensure that excellence was contagious?

Even if managers do have a conception of excellence they rarely build in the time to collect the data and establish the working relationships necessary to achieve it.  Typically this means observing people at work, giving feedback, coaching and so on.  What Tom Peters referred to as ‘Managing By Wandering Around’.

Instead managers retreat to the easy, low ground of using what they can easily measure as a proxy for performance.  They become mole whackers.  Things that are difficult to measure are neglected, while things that are easy to measure become important.

Performance management is just a tool. It can be used to

  • move your agenda forward – what is your agenda? What does progress look like?
  • provide powerful messages about what matters – it doesn’t have to be precise, just influential – what are you trying to influence?

Without Valleys There Can Be No Mountains

I am not sure where I first collected this quote but the more I think about it the more I see its relevance to effective management.

To me it means that wherever there is a great strength there is also a great weakness.  You cannot have one without the other.  Ying and Yang. I think this relates to a Jungian concept that whatever light shows us our way forward will always cast a corresponding shadow.

If this is the case then it becomes impossible to minimise a weakness without compromising the strength with which it is paired.

It also means that whenever we see a weakness we should look for the corresponding strength.  This is important because so many managers become almost obsessed by fixing problems rather than by celebrating and maximising strengths.

So when you find yourself recognising a weakness in yourself or others – spend a few moments looking for the corresponding strength.

The Many Roles of the Manager

“People placed in management roles must become translators, delegators, motivators, trainers, mediators, planners, listeners, organizers, problem-solvers, example-setters, cheerleaders, budgeters, ambassadors, regulators, counselors, and more, all while remaining diligent workers.”

Dan Bobinski

So it is no wonder that so many new (or not so new) to management roles find the transition hard.

You can read more from Dan here.

Managing in a Poor Culture

What do yo do when you are managing in an organisation that has a poor culture?

This is the subject of a great post by Miki Saxon.

She makes the point that the starting place has to be a conscious decision that this is a place where you want to be and do great work – in spite of the culture.  The alternative is to indulge in a ‘martyr complex’ the kind of ‘poor me’ response that I often hear.  This  usually appears as a belief that ‘there is nothing I can do to provide a great service and excellence until those above me get their act sorted’.

This is a convenient belief and a powerful one.  But it does little to help us make progress.  It lets us off the hook, allows us to avoid responsibility and put the blame elsewhere.  Once enough of us are doing this – and our beliefs are re-enforcing each other –  it can start to feel like a truth.  However it is still just a belief and we can choose to drop it!

So if you take a conscious decision to keep working in a poor culture you must try to reject this belief and take all the repsonsibility that you can for making things better.

You can read the full post here.

Developing the Best Leaders

U.S.News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University just published their list of America’s Best Leaders.
The panelists rated nominees from to 1 to 5 based on how well they met the following criteria:

Sets Direction (25 percent):

  • by building a shared sense of purpose;
  • by setting out to make a positive social impact;
  • by implementing innovative strategies.

Achieves Results (50 percent):

  • of significant depth and breadth;
  • that have a positive social impact;
  • that are sustainable;
  • that exceed expectations.

Cultivates a Culture of Growth (25 percent):

  • by communicating and embodying positive core values;
  • by inspiring others to lead.

If your employees were given the chance to rate you against these same criteria then how do you think you would do?

  • What if you were rated by your boss?
  • Your peers?
  • Customers?
  • Investors?

For each of the three criteria what can you do in 2009 to so that you are able to rate yourself at least one mark higher than you do at the moment?

Full post – including the list of ‘America’s Best Leaders’ is here.

Make Sure You Chop the Dead Wood

This was the title of piece written by Geoff Colvin – and it has always been both important and relevant – even more so at the moment.

Here is the nub of Geoff’s piece:

Let’s be clear about the corrosive effects of avoiding this problem (underperforming employees). A recent survey from McKinsey is fairly chilling: Keeping poor performers means that development opportunities for promising employees get blocked, so those subordinates don’t get developed, productivity and morale fall, good performers leave the company, the company attracts fewer A players, and the whole miserable cycle keeps turning.

It gets worse. Employees know who the underperformers are. They know that the top executives know who they are. So every day the top team fails to address the problem, it’s sending a message: We’re not up to managing this outfit. Refusing to deal with underperformers not only makes your best employees unhappy, but it also makes them think the company is run by bozos.

Why don’t companies act? Some fear it would lower morale, which is nonsense. Mckinsey asked thousands of employees whether they’d be “delighted” if their company got rid of underperformers, and 59% strongly agreed – yet only 7% believed their companies were actually doing it. Executives often say they leave poor performers in place because they want the company to be seen as humane. That’s just more evasion of reality, of course. As Ed Michaels of McKinsey says, “The attitude is, “Let’s be fair to Charlie. He’s been here 21 years.” But we say, “What about the eight people who work for Charlie? You’re not being fair to them”.

A senior executive at Hewlett-Packard, put it like this: “I feel there is no greater disrespect you can do to a person than to let them hang out in a job where they are not respected by their peers, not viewed as successful, and probably losing their self-esteem. To do that under the guise of respect for people is, to me, ridiculous.”

Managing underperformers is a critical management function.  Having the courage to use feedback and coaching to improve performance to meet organisational standards (rather than turning a blind eye) and if necessary coaching staff as part of capability procedures is difficult work but it must be done – if mediocrity is to be kept at bay.

So consider this as a possible New Year’s Resolution for 2009.  Resolve to fire your greatest under performer.

Making this resolution will force you to address the under performance issues – because I know that you will not want to fire anyone.  It will force you to make 121s more powerful and honest, to give more feedback, to coach more, to praise more – to do everything in your power to make them such a great employee that you can’t fire them.

You might have another resolution that you didn’t see through – but you will have achieved something much more valuable – to have developed an underperformer into an over whelmer.

Are you up to it?

Management Skills in the Music Business

I have recently had the pleasure of working with an extremely talented vocal coach, Dane Chalfin at the Leeds College of Music.

Dane wanted to improve his effectiveness in giving feedback to his students so that he could more powerfully influence the development of their vocal talents.

In my first session I taught Dane a basic feedback model which aims to:

  1. identify the specific behaviours that need to be reinforced or avoided
  2. describe precisely the impact of these behaviours on the vocal performance, on the long term health of the voice, and on the likelihood of the student having a successful long term singing career!
  3. asks the student what they think they could do differently (assuming we are trying to minimise a behaviour) or just asking them to keep it up – if it is a behaviour that we are trying to encourage.

Unlike many managers, Dane had no problem experimenting with what I taught him, and within days was reporting wonderful results!  He especially loved the way that now students were thinking about what they could change (posture, phrasing, breathe control – so many variables!) and learning to manage their own vocal performance – rather than relying on him to diagnose the problem and prescribe a solution.  Teaching students this ability to coach themselves is the hall mark of an outstanding manager and I am sure will stand Dane and his students in great stead.

Today I got to do a follow up session with Dane watching him work with students and it was a remarkable experience.  I was able to watch Dane work with a couple of talented young vocalists helping them to improve their vocal performance significantly in a matter of minutes.  In the space of a few minutes students would present the piece they were working on.  Dale would listen, observe and then coach them into trying new approaches and styles – which initially took the students well out of their comfort zones (‘this feels wrong’, ‘its really weird’).  However by using  feedback to help the students to recognise the impact of these new habits on their vocal performance and they were soon able to recognise the benefits of the new behaviours and pledge to practice them until they become habits.

It was a real privilege to see the process unfold and great to see some management techniques being used so effectively in the music business.

Barriers to Coaching

Prem Rao writes a great blog and one of his recent posts identifies 7 barriers that prevent managers from coaching their team members as much as they ought.

Now I spend a lot of my time teaching managers how to coach and while I agree with all of Prem’s 7 I would have to add a few more barriers that I regularly encounter!

One is the perception that coaching takes a along time and is expensive.  While coaching can take several weeks to really improve performance it is usually used to address a problem or an opportunity that has existed for months!  Taking 6 -9 weeks to make real progress on an issue that is important but not urgent has to be a great use of any manager’s time.

But this brings us to another barrier to coaching.  Coaching is a classic Quadrant 2 activity in Covey terms – it is itself an important but seldom urgent part of the work of the manager – After all you can always postpone coaching for another day without the wheels falling off.  Secondly the issues that require coaching tend to be Quadrant 2 in nature – they are important but seldom urgent.  So we are caught in a double whammy – not only can we afford to postpone coaching we can also postpone addressing the issue that coaching would be perfect to address.

Another barrier is the perception that it will take up a lot of the managers time if they start to coach – in fact it will nearly always save time – especially if used in partnership with delegation.

Then there is the association of coaching with under-performance.  The perception that coaching is something that is done (certainly at middle and lower levels in the organisation) as a last resort effort to address under performance.  This makes it awkward for managers to broach the subject of coaching with high performers.

Finally I think that many managers fight shy of coaching because they are insufficiently secure in their own technical competence and believe that their own short-comings might be exposed if they start to coach.

The solution?

Set an expectation that every manager will coach every member of the team every week.  Train managers how to coach. Hold them accountable for this expectation and reward those that deliver! 

Not only will you see progress in terms of performance and value creation, you will also start to develop a culture where you really do ‘invest in your people’.

Delegation and Flow – Csikszentmihalyi for Managers

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has spent much of his life researching ‘flow’ –  that state of being when you become fully immersed in a task and time flies by.  This flow state can only occur when  the level of challenge is carefully matched to your level of skills and confidence.  Flow is most likely to occur when you are faced by a demanding but achieveable task.  Flow matters for managers because it a state that is associated with optimal performance.  It is also closely associated with learning and self improvement.

It strikes me that delegation used in conjunction with feedback (another pre-requisite for the flow state) and coaching provides managers with the perfect tools to ensure that team members get a balance of skill and challenge that will enable them to enter the optimum state of flow at work.

Employees who are operating outside of the flow channel – either bored or overly anxious are likely to be performing well below their potential.

The thing about the flow channel is that you cannot remain stationery.  Unless you are confronted with new challenges it is likely that boredom will become an issue and performance will dip.

Why do Managers Duck People Management?

This piece of research caught my attention recently;

“While 84 percent of organizations know that workforce effectiveness is important to achieving business results, only 42 percent of those surveyed say managers devote sufficient time to people management.”

What stops managers from spending time on developing workforce effectiveness?

Why do so many managers ‘duck’ managing people.

  1. Some managers don’t think it’s their job – ‘I am here to make sure that widgets get out the door on time and on budget.  I expect people to manage themselves.’
  2. Some managers don’t have the tools they need – Few managers are trained in the systems and processes that will help them to develop the potential and the performance of the people that they manage.
  3. Some managers believe that conflict comes with the territory – and would prefer to avoid it for as long as possible – Many managers fear that ‘managing’ people leads to conflict and conflict leads to poorer performance.  ‘People management’ is synonymous with ‘managing underperformance’.  Few managers have a positive, engaging and developmental management approach that thye know will work.

For me the managers job is not about ‘managing people’.  It is about providing them with a relationship to the organisation that allows them to develop their potential and to do great work.

In my experience managers that work systematically on building this relationship and then use:

  • feedback,
  • coaching and
  • delegation

to develop each persons contribution to performance very soon become outstanding managers recognised as leading high performing teams.

However it does take time – perhaps 60-90 minutes per week for each person managed to do the most effective job.  But the returns on that investment can be enormous – I would estimate productivity gains per person to be in the region of 25-40% within 6 months.