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!
That’s right…I said no bosses. Zero. Zilch. Nada. But, oh the chaos that would ensue from all of those unsupervised children running rampant throughout your organization! (electronic tone clarification: sarcasm)
Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious with that last statement, but maybe I got your attention? I’ve been wanting to blog about this topic ever since attending the 2014 Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference & Expo in Washington, D.C. last month. I had the pleasure of attending a learning session titled, “Skills for Driving Innovation in Flat Organizations” given by Dr. Debra France (@fstinno) with W.L. Gore & Associates. Since its founding in 1958, W.L. Gore has operated using what they call a “lattice” structure, a model where relationships are everything and hierarchies and even titles are minimal, nearly non-existent. They have been featured in many innovation and management-related business articles and research studies over the years, as I’m sure many of you are aware.
There are three main roles at W.L. Gore:
- Sponsors: Every single employee has one. Their purpose is to create micro-environments for innovators by coaching, mentoring, guaranteeing continued development, and supporting ideas. These are volunteer roles, and everyone chooses their own Sponsor by just simply asking. You can “break up” the relationship at any time, for any number of reasons. Some people might be Sponsors to 2-10 at a time, depending on how many they are willing to take on. Some, on the other hand, might not be a Sponsor to anyone at all (which is usually not a good sign).
- Team Leaders: The people in these roles are identified/elected by the team. Specific responsibilities are provided in detail in the Support section below.
- Associates: This comprises the large majority of the organization, as it is every other role that is not a Team Leader.
Note: You can be both a Sponsor and a Leader, or you could also be a Sponsor and an Associate.
As stated on their website, the lattice structure creates a culture described as “a team-based environment that encourages personal initiative and person-to-person communication among all associates.” Employees are expected to grow and continuously nurture their lattice from Day 1.
At the core of this structure are several small and agile teams, which form naturally around business needs and opportunities. Everyone on the team holds each another accountable, to the point of stack ranking their teammates on both the Impact and Effectiveness of their contributions to the larger enterprise. Employees develop their own “commitments” (equivalent to performance objectives); and projects, tasks and ideas advance through influence and consensus, not authority.
Centrally-supported employee development efforts are heavily focused on communication and how to facilitate and grow strong relationships. I’ve already mentioned the support Associates get from their Sponsors, so let’s take a look at what the role of Leaders is at W.L. Gore and how they support the team.
Note: An overarching belief at W.L. Gore is that there is the need for a “Leader” role with specific and differentiated responsibilities, but yet the act of “Leadership” is expected of all.
The Role of a Leader in a Bossless Organization
Direction (strategies, priorities, decisions) – Make sure decisions are made and made well…but by the team.
Expectations – Is the environment healthy and productive? Is the team aligned with the broader enterprise? What metrics are being used to measure success?
People – Provide motivation, development and resources for the team (in conjunction with Sponsors)
Interfaces – Foster interdependencies across, beyond, and between the entire enterprise to create value. Ensure the team is interfacing with other teams.
No Easy Feat – Start Small
Dr. France readily admitted that this has been an easier road for them than maybe others because they’ve known no other road. Life at W.L. Gore has been like this since the very beginning. For companies interested in exploring this structure further that are already larger than 10 employees, she advised that you start with something small in a functional area or with a project in which you think it could work well, and then monitor and measure success.
Is There Something To This?
I have to believe that W.L. Gore is doing something right – they have been included on all Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work For” lists since 1998 and have thrived as a business over the course of time. Although not new to them, this structure is becoming an increasingly popular practice in today’s business world, with Zappos being one of the most recent companies to gain media attention around their decision to go bossless.
So even if you don’t make the leap to strip away all management titles at your company, what can we learn and apply from organizations like W.L. Gore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Special thanks to Dr. Debra France for sharing W.L. Gore’s story with us and sparking conversation and ideation around this concept!
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!
How has the role of a manager changed?
The role of a manger in today’s world is far different than what it used to be even just a decade ago. It’s no longer about assigning tasks, tracking attendance, and delivering a top-down authoritative style to get your team to produce results. This transformation is largely due to the type of workforce we have seen emerge in the second decade of the 21st century. Today’s workforce
- seeks meaning in their work – it’s about more than a paycheck.
- wants to be involved in decision making. They don’t like hierarchical layers, so come on out of that stuffy board room.
- interacts more and more naturally every day in a social and collaborative online environment.
- will “follow” you not because of a title, but rather because you are trusted, respected, and communicate a compelling vision.
- is fairly capable of “managing” themselves, in the traditional sense of the word (and prefers that autonomy).
- is smart and driven.
So, where does that leave managers? Well, in a very critical role actually. Just as the workforce has evolved, the competencies of organizational managers and leaders have evolved as well. Take the following list for example…a decade ago, we didn’t hear much about the following terms in a business context:
- Emotional intelligence
- Employee engagement
- Virtual teams
- Talent management
- Results-oriented work environments (ROWE)
- Social enterprise
In today’s world, we need to focus more on the function of management versus the role of a manager. The new(er) primary function of management is to create an environment in which employees thrive, accomplish personal and professional growth objectives, and therefore inherently contribute positive results to an organization’s bottom line. In short, the function of management is to drive individual and team performance, which drives organizational performance. You do this by putting on your coach, counselor (and sometime psychologist!) hats.
Focus on the 3 R’s
Time to put your coach hat on! Any runners out there? I’m an avid runner; it’s my Zen and just about the only thing in my life that keeps me sane. It has recently become very clear to me that the 3 R’s I adhere to in my running world translate directly into 3 R’s of effective management for today’s workforce. So, here they are…
Take time to REFLECT.
As I prepared for my long run this past weekend, I reflected on the following: How did last week’s run go – Mileage? Elevation? Time of day? Traffic? Ankle brace? Pre/Post nutrition?
You will similarly want to reflect with your team on past performance, and for two main reasons:
1. To learn from the past – Identify what went well so you can repeat it and what didn’t go so well so you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t just look at individual roles and departments, but look more broadly across the entire organization to learn from other teams as well.
2. To build team spirit – Why does it feel so good to gather with friends and family over the holidays and share old stories, or REFLECT on times gone by? Because you’re creating shared meaning through storytelling, building camaraderie, and inadvertently solidifying the strength in your relationships with one another.
Make sure your team REFUELs.
When I run long distances, I strap a water bottle around my waist and take a sip every mile or so. In addition, I’ll eat a GU pack every 5 or 6 miles.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and be aware of when your employees need “refueling”…whether it be something quick in short intervals (the water sips each mile) or something a bit more substantial (the GU pack). Encourage them to refuel by creating an environment that makes this possible. Below are a few things they might need:
- A day at home after travel
- A walk outside during that rough 3:00 hour
- An early Friday Happy Hour and some social time with colleagues
- A new environment – maybe they’d like to take their laptop to a coffee shop for the rest of the day. Sometimes all we need to refuel is a change of scenery.
- A quick trip to the gym
- A vacation completely unplugged – don’t bother them and work with them in advance to put a plan in place to cover everything while they’re gone
- Sleep! A late start in the morning is very valuable every now and then.
- Sabbatical – sometimes a longer-term refueling is needed.
It’s important to Model the Way and demonstrate that their leader refuels too. This makes it acceptable. One of the first things you can do to help promote an environment that allows people to refuel is to visibly show your team when YOU refuel. Try some of the things above yourself, and your team will naturally follow.
REWARD your team for their achievements.
For those of you who know me well, you know about my obsession with ice cream. I absolutely eat a Dairy Queen blizzard, Sonic Blast, or UDF hot fudge sundae the night of every long run. Why? Because I earned it, and I love it. I look forward to it, and it feels so good when I get it. I even think about it during my long runs (no judging!), and it provides me with motivation to keep going.
Rewards in the workplace should work the same way. Whether it’s through something as small as a handwritten thank-you note, or something as complex and formal as compensation (and everything in between), make sure you are providing rewards and recognition in a timely manner when you observe behaviors that you would like to see continue.
Check out another Core Chat post for an easy-read on 3 Ways to Make Recognition Meaningful.
It’s not easy, but there’s a starting point for everything
All of this talk about the three R’s is a little more complicated than assigning tasks and tracking attendance. Your role as a manager in the 21st century is no easy feat. You’re dealing with human psychology and trying to motivate certain behaviors so that your organization will see repeat performances week after week, month after month, and year after year.
One place to start as you further develop yourself as a manger is to Reflect with your team on the past, Refuel your team for the work that lies ahead, and Reward positive behaviors all along the way.
I’d love to hear the strategies you use to accomplish the 3 R’s, so please share by commenting below!
I stopped at a Fairfield Inn just outside of Knoxville, TN with my family on our way down to Florida last week for summer vacation. We were in the breakfast area looking for a pitcher of water, but with no luck. I stopped a hotel associate and asked where I could find some. Her response was,
Sure, no problem – I have some in my gym right over there and have the door propped open for you.
Later that day somewhere in the Carolinas on HWY 26, I came across the following post while browsing my Facebook feed:
What do the hotel associate’s response and FB post have in common? Ownership.
Isn’t it funny how well you take care of things when they’re yours?
That hotel associate in Tennessee was running a stellar show for breakfast – coffee always hot and filled, tables wiped down, service with a smile…she owned the place…and my were her customers happy! Leadership at that establishment definitely knows a thing or two about empowerment.
My FB friend was putting a little glitz and glam into her home…spent her hard-earned resources doing it…and was excited about it. Quite a bit different than how some people treat rental property.
Do you want your employees renting or owning their responsibilities at work?
I think it’s safe to say we all want our team members to be excited about their work and to take pride in it just as in the two examples above.
Below are 4 ways to create a culture of empowerment amongst your team so that they will own their to-do list and contribute successful results to the business:
1. Involve the individuals themselves in developing the What’s and How’s.
What is your team working on and how are they going about accomplishing it? Empowerment is direction without the details. Share the vision, then work with them collaboratively to both create and execute the roadmap.
Just as the homeowner above picked out new granite and countertops, have your employees “pick out” what they want a project, sales presentation, or process to look like. Don’t just have them rent your ways of doing things.
2. Apply a “walk before you run” approach.
Not every team member is going to be comfortable with a culture of empowerment. They are all likely at different stages of their career and have had varying experiences that have shaped their levels of confidence. Recognize this and tailor your approach to empower each one appropriately.
- Toddlers – They are curious but have a lot of questions and still look back for reassurance. You’ll have to be a little more hands-on, but it will pay off in the long run.
- Adolescents – They want to be on their own and typically have the confidence, but still need resources and guidance. Mentoring employees at this stage in their career is very important. Stay connected through check points.
- Adults – You may have more senior level employees on your team who have been around the block a time or two. Keep them challenged by asking them to run with a project that is a bit out of their comfort zone or is new for the company. Harness their rich knowledge by encouraging them to serve as informal mentors to others on the team.
3. Be okay with – no, encourage – mistakes.
Tell your team to make mistakes. Promote a culture of learning alongside your culture of empowerment. The two go hand-in-hand. Use the mistakes as teachable moments to help your team grow.
4. Still be a team.
Everything is better when created in partnership with others. Although each team member will flourish when given ownership of certain tasks, you need to foster a collaborative team environment where everyone is willing and able to lend a hand. My FB friend would have never enjoyed her new granite and cabinets if it weren’t for manufacturers and contractors. Likewise, your team needs to rely on the strengths of those around them to add value to whatever it is they’re working on.
In what other ways have you developed a culture of empowerment? Please share!