Performance management is founded on the concept that we need to look back at the previous year and see what we could have done better and set goals to address this in the following year’s plan. After all my years (and we are talking many, many years) of both participating in and managing performance management in organisations, I remain to be convinced that it is useful for the development and growth of people’s talents, skills and motivation.
I like the idea that performance is managed on a continuous basis throughout the year and then, at one point in the year it is time to ‘take stock’: review how well things are going, what the next steps need to be and revise the goals and vision; discuss how to progress forward and how to get there. Any issues or problems that arise are managed when they happen, and not held until an annual review. That just makes sense, for the individual, the manager and the business. I also like the idea of self-review (or appraisal) and a sharing of how the person thinks they are doing vis-a-vis their goals and the organisation’s business plan/vision. Continuous improvement and self-renewal are to be encouraged (Stephen Covey’s ‘sharpening the saw’). On-going discussions on this are integrated into daily working life (the old ‘management by walk-about’ idea). Sometimes, and this is still a huge surprise to me, people only see their manager for a one-on-one discussion at the ‘annual review’. When managers are questioned as to why that is, they say: ‘well I only need to see them when there’s a problem otherwise they know they are doing okay’. They are often surprised themselves that their people do not know ‘how’ they are doing at all and are unsure as to ‘why’ they are doing what they are doing in the first place.
The main problem with annual performance review is that too often the experience is a negative one, both for the manager and the employee. Too often the process turns into a defensive or point-scoring exercise. Too often the good work and dedication is rushed through and the employee waits in anticipation for the inevitable ‘improving’ or ‘development’ feedback which is often based on events or incidents long past and which have either gone away or have been closed out already. I once worked for a company where managers were instructed to give at least 2 pieces of ‘improving feedback’ whether there was any valid feedback to be given or whether it was relevant at this stage or not, was unimportant, the form had to be completed. Obviously people left their annual performance reviews disheartened, and certainly not motivated to develop and to do more: disengaged rather than engaged would describe it best.
For every piece of ‘negative’ (often called: improving, developmental, corrective – the jury is out as to the best word) feedback there needs to be at least 9 pieces of ‘positive’ feedback: for every correction, there needs to be at least 9 praisings (see the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard). I was reminded of this very poignantly during the week when my 9 year old son asked me why some of his sports coaches always say: ‘now, what you did not do well was….’ when he thinks they should be telling him what he did well and helping him to do more of that. Is he talking about ‘appreciation inquiry’, or ‘positivity’ or ‘strengths-finder’: yes, I think he actually is. He know what makes him feel good, what makes him want to do more and go the extra mile and probably because he did experience it before under a different more motivating and inspiring coach. I believe that playing to your strengths is where true development and motivation lie: find out what your strengths and talents are, and hone those; then manage the areas that are not your strengths (often called weaknesses, again, not a great word).
Of course, for the process to work, there needs to be a good relationship between the manager and employee based on trust, respect, openness and understanding. Without these, then no matter how smooth the performance management system is, or how well it looks on paper, it will not work to the benefit of the individual and the organisation. But that’s the subject of another blog me thinks!
Keep positive and if you are a children’s Sports Coach, get positive fast: be encouraging and supportive of the child’s strengths, talents and skills (you can still be firm, strong and assertive) ; remember the 9 to 1 rule and watch those guys go!
Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business.
Anne Marie Crowley is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.