As a line manager, you face 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.
Have the conversation
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 and the annual review.
However if the conversation isn’t 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. But preparation, engagement, sponsorship, role modelling and action are often lacking.
Commitment to the conversation: make performance an ongoing discussion
So when we hear companies concerned that ‘appraisals aren’t happening’ or ‘performance isn’t being effectively managed’, it’s useful to check out two important muscles – commitment to the conversation, and managing the metrics. Ask yourself: are we working them out? And is one helping the other to pull? Many organisations focus their performance management efforts on the annual appraisal – a one or two-hour discussion, once or twice yearly, about how an employee has performed. When doing this, ask yourself:
- What outcomes do you expect?
- What can these be measured against?
- 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?
- 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, whether it’s 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 an advantage to ‘little and often’. Spending shorter periods of time on regular review with your team members would enable a more frequent temperature check. Some more questions to ask include:
- Are they directing their efforts in the right way?
- Are you giving all the support they need?
- Are the objectives you set earlier in the year 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 a lot about trends in dashboards, metrics, balanced scorecards and more. 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 – senior level leadership meetings where 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 your best and least effective performers are 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, quickly and 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.