The Critical Role of a Manager in the Evolution of Performance Management

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.

swimmingLet’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:

  • Coach
  • 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

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