Performance management. Evaluations. Ratings. Individual development plans. Career paths. Total rewards. These are more than just buzzwords in the lives of HR professionals. They are an integral part of our day and of the value we create for the business units we serve.
We often discuss the key role managers play in the current evolution of performance management practices we’re seeing in today’s workplaces. However, this one aspect of performance management too often gets overlooked as we move quickly toward execution mode. The role of a manager deserves a pause before we continue to move forward with the performance management conversation. Such a critical pause, in fact, that it is the sole focus of this blog post.
Let’s say I’m a competitive swimmer. I’ve always excelled at backstroke, but now my coach needs me to compete in butterfly. It’s not completely out of my wheelhouse (I am a swimmer after all), but it’s a learning curve for sure. It’s also a new expectation for my role on the team, and one that I’d want to learn more about and consider if I want to pursue or not. I might rather find another team where I can continue to swim backstroke.
The recent lives of managers in today’s workplaces have been no different. Although always embedded in the role of a leader, the evolution of performance management is intensifying the responsibilities of managers to:
- Give continuous (and valuable) feedback
- Motivate and engage
- Develop individualized learning plans and career paths
- Communicate more with their ears and less with their mouths (easier said than done)
- Personalize their approach for each team member
And let’s not forget about documentation and managing risk for the organization. Oh yeah, and knocking their day-to-day operational duties out of the park on top of all that!
The list above has become common language for HR practitioners – we’re staying on top of trends, educating ourselves and building competency in these areas, etc. We “live” in this field. But what about our managers? They come in every day thinking about the deadline for product launch, quarter-end financial processing, client demands, sales quotas, and hopefully (if we’re lucky) how to recruit, develop, engage and retain nothing but the best.
Hence, the pause. We can’t just keep skimming over the importance the role a manager plays in the evolution of performance management. We can’t continue to further this conversation until we get this part of it right. In our experience working with clients on performance management re-designs over the past year, it’s at this point in the game where you’ll either sail successfully through a new strategy or hit a major roadblock.
So what can you do to make sure you thrive and not dive?
- Clearly define and communicate expectations.
Whose role will it be to execute the people-centric responsibilities listed above? Most likely, it’s your managers. However, maybe you decide to parse it out to lighten the load. For example, maybe everyday feedback is expected from managers, but more structured coaching comes from another source…possibly a mentoring program. You could even consider offering in-house Career Planning services housed within the HR team (similar to those on a College Campus). Defining who will be responsible for what is your starting point.
You now have to communicate to managers what their role is going to look like under a new performance management strategy. As Simon Sinek says, “start with the why.” What value will this bring to their lives and to the performance outcomes of their teams? How will they be held accountable and what is the incentive? Also make sure you’re sharing that this is only a shift from backstroke to butterfly – not from swimming to soccer. Build their confidence to excel in the newly defined role. They should already have a really good foundation.
- Ask if they want it.
This is a step we often leave out. After expectations are set, ask if they’re on board. Share how you will support their development and a realistic timeline for professional growth. Be prepared if someone opts out. How will the organization respond to that? What are their options? I had an acquaintance complain to me the other day that his company is making him “communicate better with his Millennial employees and motivate them to succeed.” He said it in such a snarky way that it was evident he wasn’t up for the job. Are these the folks we want our performance management strategy resting on?
- Provide support.
Back to the swimming analogy – I can go from backstroke to butterfly, but it’s going to take some work. Design a learning plan that extends over time and that has the flexibility to be personalized based on the development needs of each individual. Consider using pre-assessments to identify gaps, and then build development plans from there. Be patient. Learning new behaviors and developing new habits take time. Break up your learning strategy into quarters and don’t have them focusing on too much all at once.
Begin with the end in mind. Create your measurement framework up front. What will you need to know in the end to determine if those in these newly defined roles are performing successfully? Design pre, mid and post assessments and touch points to get you there. Include a blend of qualitative and quantitative data collection – both extensive and pulse.
- Adjust as needed.
Look at your metrics and be open to continuous improvements and modifications. This could be adjustments to the expectations/role, the learning plan, or even to the people themselves. Be prepared to “clip” what’s not working.
Put the time and investment into this part of your refreshed performance management strategy, and you’ll already be 75% of the way there!
A consistent theme amongst many managers I’ve been working with lately is uneasiness with and uncertainty around providing “professional development and growth opportunities” for their team members. Many are overwhelmed and some, let’s be honest, even resentful of this more and more consistent request from their employees.
If you’re in this boat – you’re not alone! Below are three strategies to help managers respond.
#1 – It Takes Two To Tango.
First thing first – the pressure should not solely fall on the manager. In today’s business landscape, managers need to serve in the roles of coach and connector…not lone soldier decision maker and approver. Get your employees engaged with their own request and have them take ownership of it.
Ask them to spend time thinking about what they want their growth at your company to look like and come back with three options to discuss with you. You might need to coach them through those options and also connect them to resources to help make it possible, but continue to have them take ownership of the actual implementation and offer quarterly check points (that they schedule) to touch base on how their action plan is coming along.
You’ll often have a greater understanding of the long-term goals of the organization, so one thing you’ll want to keep in mind as you coach them through their options is how the development plan can add value to key strategic business priorities.
#2 – There are MANY forms of development and MANY career paths to pursue.
Managers and individual contributors are both guilty of thinking that the only possible solution to this “professional growth” plea is a promotion into a management position. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Start thinking of management as a career field – just like any other field such as product development, marketing, sales, training, accounting, etc.
Management is only one career track of many that employees could pursue at your organization, but you may need to help open their eyes to that. At the end of the day, employees just don’t want to feel stagnant. They want to be challenged; they want to grow and learn new things; they want to feel like what they’re doing is adding value to something greater than them. This is a good thing – a positive shift we’ve seen in the workforce over the past several years. We just need to learn how to tap into this energy and drive in a positive and constructive way.
Below are a few examples of other paths and development opportunities outside of management that your employees might be interested in pursuing without even realizing it.
- Specialized program and/or project management responsibilities
- Increased client responsibility (larger accounts, new territories, etc.)
- Subject matter expert team training specialists
- Research and strategy-related responsibilities
- Onboarding mentors/buddy roles for new hires
- Departmental communication and/or marketing “champions”
- Cross-functional team liaisons
- Tactical team planners
#3 – Exploring alone is growth.
Once the manager and employee understand that this is a shared responsibility, and once eyes are opened to the various possibilities, then individual exploration needs to occur to determine the most appropriate path. Good news is that this exploration itself is growth! Encourage your employees to become more self-aware and answer questions such as:
- What are my natural strengths? Am I currently leveraging them? How could I be leveraging them to a greater extent?
- What are my professional interests and passions? What am I doing when I feel the most fulfilled at work?
- Am I interested in job shadowing other roles as I explore future possibilities?
- Do I have a mentor, outside of my direct supervisor, who can help me through this process of self-exploration?
Again, this plea for growth and development is a GOOD thing, so let’s reframe the way we’re approaching it.
What other strategies have you used to address this need? Please share!
I had an amazingly refreshing performance evaluation this year. Yep, you read that right – performance evaluation. Although 90% of performance appraisal processes are inadequate (Salary.com), they can actually be very constructive if executed well.
Nonetheless, performance discussions are dreaded by workers around the world. Many managers find them awkward and would list it as one of their Top 3 most despised tasks.
Well, below are steps you can take as a manager to move the annual performance review onto your list of Top 3 most useful tasks in leading a high-performance team!
Make sure the infrastructure is in place.
Reviews should be solidly grounded on two critical components – objectives and competencies. Think of this as the framework for your performance discussions. It is very important to note that both need to be recognized and understood by the manager and the employee at the very onset of your relationship.
1. SMART Objectives
One of the reasons my performance review went so well was because I had Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound objective statements that were produced in partnership with my manager at the beginning of the fiscal year (and that were tweaked throughout the year to meet evolving needs). We were both on the same page early on about what I was expected to contribute to the business.
These are the behaviors I am expected to emulate while achieving my objectives, and are things like Innovation, Drive & Accountability, and Customer-Focus. I’m held accountable to deliver on these, just as I am my objectives. Both are important. It shouldn’t just be about what your employees are achieving, but how they go about achieving them.
You should tailor competencies to the values and overall culture of your company, as well as specific roles within the organization. Try to avoid using a canned set that may come with your performance management system, as well as using the same list for every employee.
Drive the process well.
If the infrastructure is in place, it’s now up to you as a manager to make sure you’re delivering the process effectively. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Never – EVER – wait for just one time a year to talk performance.
Although performance reviews need to be documented in most organizations on an annual basis, you should be having these discussions all throughout the year. There should be no surprises during the more formal review. Coach and celebrate “in the moment” at each peak and valley.
Build a relationship filled with trust and demonstrate a sincere interest in your employees’ growth.
My boss said this statement to me during my review, “I open some of your emails and honestly just sigh and then close it for later.” She went on to encourage me to be more concise with my communications. One might think I would have taken offense to this, but I actually very much appreciated her honesty. Why? Two reasons:
- She cares enough about my development and future success to offer up constructive feedback.
- It was delivered to me from a person who I trust, respect, and look up to. I may have had a completely different reaction if it came from a boss who had not spent the time developing this type of genuine relationship with me.
No one is perfect – not even you!
If it happens to fit into the conversation, share some areas that you are going to focus on for your own development over the next year. You both could help hold each other accountable.
Seek out multiple perspectives.
Several stakeholders weighed in on my performance evaluation – myself through a self-evaluation; my colleagues through anonymous peer input; and my manager. Don’t feel like you need to do it all by yourself in a bubble.
Learn from the past, but don’t dwell on the past.
Set aside a large chunk of time to talk about the future. A performance evaluation should not just focus on the past year, but rather should look forward toward the future.
Ask open-ended questions.
Performance discussions need to be two-way communication. You should want to hear from them just as much as they will want to hear from you. Use questions like, “Tell me how you feel about the recent collaboration with such and such team on such and such project.” Or “In what ways would you like to grow both personally and professionally over the next year and how can I support you?”
Do you have some tips to add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below. Let’s bury the dreaded performance review and start using them as a tool to add value to your business!