Employees don’t know if they’re performing correctly? Huh. That’s a problem…

infrastructureHave you ever heard the old saying “hope is not a strategy?” Hope may, in fact, lead to success or it may not. If it does lead to success, the chance of repeating the success isn’t very good unless you know exactly what you did to achieve it.

In my email this morning was an article from Mark Murphy of LeadershipIQ. I like his stuff; it’s research grounded and generally practical.  The research he presented this morning was a survey of 30,000+ employees who were asked to rate “I know whether my performance is where it should be.”  I guess it’s encouraging that almost 30% said “Always,” and another 14% responded “frequently.” But that’s still less than half of a humongous research sample.

So if over half of a group of employees are not sure if the work they are doing is meeting expectations or not, you have to ask the question, “Is it?” And if it isn’t, is it costing more than it should to duplicate work, correct mistakes or go down the wrong path? Probably.

The article associated with the research went down the path of how to talk with employees about their performance.  Great stuff and good advice with a webinar if you want to learn more. The concept of creating a rubric to help managers differentiate levels of performance is not a new concept, but one worth considering, if labor intensive to create.

I’m going to go down a different path looking at the research.  If you’ve read my stuff in the past, you know that I firmly believe that behavior in organizations can’t be modified without changing the infrastructure to allow the new behavior. Meaning that if you really want to have employees behave as a team, don’t implement individual reward programs. Those reward programs form the infrastructure that speaks as loudly, if not more, as words.

We really do want managers to effectively set expectations for work and behavior and provide helpful feedback. And helping managers identify and articulate helpful feedback through learning programs and rubrics can be very helpful.

What if, in addition, we changed the infrastructure to remove those obstacles that get in the way of managers just talking honestly and openly to their employees?  Could that be a part of why employees don’t know how they’re performing; because leaders really don’t want to have an open and honest dialogue?

What if we separated the pay discussion from the performance review?

This takes tremendous pressure off the leader. Instead of trying to figure out how to give a performance score that yields the pay raise she wants to give, she focuses on talking about expectations, resources and plans for the coming period.

What if we removed the “score?”

Yep, lots of folks are doing that now, recognizing that employees are deaf to anything that doesn’t promote their self-esteem (by their own definition) and don’t listen to or talk about what is actually working or not. (Just google “remove performance scores;” I got 44 million today with every opinion imaginable.)

Without a pay discussion or having to divulge the score and then quickly backpedal and justify, leaders and employees could actually talk. No one likes being labeled, and most leaders aren’t all that fond of labeling. It is an obstacle to helpful discussion.

What if we downsized the documentation?

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for many leaders. We want to give the best raise we can, so we write a whole bunch of stuff to justify a high rating. Then HR has to scrutinize what was documented so they make sure nothing inappropriate is documented.

That takes a lot of time, but does it really get us anywhere. What if that time were spent in conversation?

What if we fostered more frequent dialogue?

And if we don’t need to worry about a score, an event or a tome of documentation, leaders and employees could talk more frequently.  If they had a little script that they could follow about expectations, needs and development opportunities, couldn’t they simply document that they had the conversation?

Ah, but how do we (as in HR and executive leadership) know whether the dialogue actually ARE good, helpful and clear?

What if we used whether the employee knows how they are performing as a performance expectation for leaders?

What I have suggested is pretty dramatic, and without some mechanism to know whether removing the obstacles are really helping create better dialogues, set better expectations and ideally improve performance, it could easily implode.

But if leaders are held accountable for having quality dialogues, doesn’t that improve the chances that they will happen as intended?

Adapting the organization’s infrastructure to remove obstacles that get in the way of good leader-employee dialogue might just provide a great enhancement to your leadership development initiatives.

Everyone generally wants to do the right thing, and do it right. But discomfort can be a powerful obstacle.

 

Photo credit:  https://installingorder.org/2015/10/07/infrastructure-toolbox/

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