7 Tips for Making Performance Management Really Simple

simpleGotcha with the headline, didn’t I?  Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if I really could help you make performance management simple?

Actually, I can help you do that, but not with words, with tips and tricks or with hope and a prayer.  It will happen with hard work, a well-designed program, leaders who are skilled and accountable for developing talent and delivering performance, and ultimately measuring whether the program achieved improved performance and higher levels of talent.

So my headline was a little misleading but I’ve been watching how many articles and posts are headlined with “X tips to something,” and they are very popular.  So I wrote one a week ago and my readership skyrocketed.  I was musing about what that says about us (us, because I love the “X tips” too.)

I may get myself into trouble here, but I think the “X tips to something” present good information, but lack focus on the foundations that must be in place in order for any program or process to produce the desired results.  Those foundations are things like hard work, alignment, knowledgeable design, careful implementation, sound measurement and continuous improvement.  It’s like an inspirational speaker – you get excited and energized and then go back to business as usual and nothing changes.

Are we looking for the proverbial silver bullet?  Are we looking to be inspired?

This is not new, this quest for silver bullets and inspiration rather than hard, foundational work.  But look around.  Are today’s leaders skilled and accountable?  (And I won’t say anything about our government leaders)

There are millions of programs on the market today, made even more accessible because of technology and social media.  Are they good programs?  Can they work as promised?  Possibly.

winter-pool-snowBut if the those programs lead you to believe it won’t be hard, and neglect telling you about the foundational work that has to be accomplished in order for the program to work, they’re selling you an outdoor pool in Iceland; the pool won’t be really useable until there is structure built to allow its use.

I do have the promised 7 tips, so here they are (does anyone know why 7 seems to be the most popular number?)

Figure out the end game

Be very clear and very intentional about what you are trying to accomplish.  Do you want to buy a program, or do you want to improve performance?    Only when you are clear on the purpose and expectation can you measure results.

Consider your messaging

Performance management is a communication process, communicating performance expectations, values, behaviors and rewards.  Here’s where simple is critically important.  Prioritize what’s important, and clearly communicate expectations.

Start small and grow

Building a strong foundation takes time, but without it, the program will collapse.  Start with the basics, educate participants, evaluate results, and build over time.

Develop the skills of your employees

Performance management should be a two-way dialogue, but if employees are not involved, are not empowered to challenge and be active in their performance and development, we are where we are today….a very ineffective process.

Set the expectation of active participation and teach them how.  They will help to hold leaders accountable.

Develop the skills of your leaders

I really don’t mean hold a class.  I mean set clear expectations about improved performance and talent development, and hold them accountable for doing this well.

You are fighting two elements here – first, it is a difficult thing to do.  Second, it takes practice.  New or unpracticed leaders will not start out as skilled performance managers.  They need multiple learning opportunities to practice and receive feedback.

Involve the “next level up” leader

Here’s where accountability gets real.  If the next level leader doesn’t observe their subordinate leaders providing performance and development feedback, how do they know the quality?  Next level leaders need to be involved in the process of holding leaders accountable.  There are many ways to do so, but they need to be involved.

Measure the program results

If you did a good job of defining the end result, it should be no problem looking at data and evaluating the program effectiveness.  It isn’t about how many reviews are done.  It is about whether performance improves, and talent grows.

Wrapping it up

I am very skeptical about programs that take the manager off the hook for this critical leadership role by circumventing the basic element of managing performance and developing talent. A good leader will observe, will gain insight from peers and customers, will actively involve the employee, and will provide useful feedback to improve performance and develop talent.  But it is the leaders role to talk about performance and development with employees.

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