What performance management should be doing for you
  • leadership
  • Blog post

What performance management should be doing for you

What has your performance management system done for your organization lately?

It’s not an idle question. In a survey we conducted, almost a quarter of responding HR pros said their CEOs cared more about effective performance management than any other HR area. (That ranked performance management second only to hiring and retention.)

Measuring success
So given this high level of high-level interest, how exactly can you tell whether your system is getting the best possible performance out of your employees?

For answers, we turned to Gary Markle, a performance management expert who, by the way, strongly believes traditional performance reviews are not the way to go. But more of that later.

Markle advises that you ask five questions to determine whether and how well your performance management efforts are delivering:

Does what we’re doing change behavior? Think of before and after. If you started a particular performance management effort to reduce absenteeism, did it in fact go down? If you implemented a new sales commission system, did revenue actually rise?

Are we motivating people to work hard? You may be able to measure this by looking at whether productivity has risen during the life of your performance management system. There are qualitative measures, too. As Markle puts it, motivation is in “How early did they come to work? How late did they stay? Did they take stuff home with them? Did they tell you about stuff they thought about in the shower?”

Does our system have an impact on employee turnover? It’s usually your best employees who leave. You can’t pry your worst folks out with a crowbar. It’s your best people everybody else wants. So, performance management should be focusing people on the career they’re able to attain with you – not just a job, but a career. Only then can you be sure that your best people will stay aboard.

Are we able to regularly and confidently promote people? Think about the “Salmon syndrome” – the employee who dashes upstream so uncontainably that he or she jumps over all barriers to advancement. An effective performance management system must identify these employees and provide them with the skills they’ll need for the next job in the organization.

Does our system avoid creating the hurt and surprise that fuel employee lawsuits? Under a good performance management system, managers tell employees how they’re really doing. In other words, if you have to fire someone for poor performance, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Markle says: “If your system encourages people to be direct and honest even when someone’s failing, that will mitigate the righteous indignation that causes lawsuits.”

There you are. If you answered “yes” to all five questions, you probably don’t need to read on.

If, however, you have to admit to one or two “nos” or “maybes,” Markle suggests you consider tossing your traditional performance reviews and adopting this three-point approach:

1. Focus on the future, not the past
The past is important only insofar as it affects the future. So if a manager sees trends in an employee’s past that he thinks will predict future performance, bring them up by all means. But the context of the evaluation should never dwell on an employee’s past misdeeds or failures. Traditional performance reviews, with their emphasis on “reviewing” the past, do so, and it doesn’t help the employee improve.

2. Avoid giving grades
The grading process focuses the evaluator and evaluee tightly on the past. “Grades are a way of dismissing all the rest of the conversations” that should take place about the employee’s future, Markle says. Note: There are some times when grading is appropriate, such as if you’re doing a ranking for layoffs or promotions. But not for regular evaluations.

3. Redefine the manager’s role
Managers shouldn’t act like judges or even prosecutors. A manager in a performance evaluation – and at other times, too – should be a coach. Markle espouses what he calls catalytic coaching, “which is about saying to somebody’s face the kind of thing you say about them behind their back in a way that will help them change their behavior and do better.” Example: An employee who aspires to manage others fails to control her temper. At her evaluation her catalytic coach (i.e., her manager), points out that she’ll flop as a manager if she flies off the handle all the time. Then the coach works with her for the next six months to reinforce her efforts at better self-control.

Learn more about Markle’s approach at www.energage.com

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