The good news is: Performance Management Works
‘ A hospital that appraises around 20% more staff and trains about 20% more apprasisers is likely to have 1,090 fewer deaths per 100,000 admissions.’[i] Many other studies have also found this strong relationship between performance management, appraisals and organisational performance. How come then, it is a disliked process in so many organizations?
1. It’s hard to do well
Performance Management is hard to well. Some common difficulties identified in research include
- Poor quality performance discussions between managers and staff members
- Standardised, jargon filled, prescriptive and overly detailed paperwork
- Line managers lacking competence and commitment to the process
- Employees having a poor understanding of the goals or point of the process
- Rating and pay agendas dominating the discussion, driving out time for performance feedback and development planning
- Lack of follow up or practical action between formal reviews
2. It’s a social process
Unfortunately, appraisal is often seen as an HR technical process. Understanding performance management as a social process helps us to realise that the important and key components are the quality of the relationship and the communication. From this perspective the paperwork trail becomes a supporting mechanism rather than the driving mechanism.
As one of the managers in the Institute for Employment Studies said ‘its about having communications and good one-to-one conversations.’[ii]
What helps then?
Recognize, and use, the power of positivity
Feeling good accesses many useful personal and organisational qualities – creativity, complex thinking, sociability, resilience and so on. Appraisal conversations are a good opportunity to create some positivity. To do this they need to contain a ratio of at least 3:1 positive to negative experiences for both parties. This means time should be spent genuinely seeking out and paying attention to things that have gone well, successes and achievements over the last time period. At the same time it’s an opportunity for employees to express their appreciation of their manager’s support and guidance over the period.
Recognize performance appraisal as an ongoing activity
In addition, managers should be praising good work as it happens, not waiting until the formal ‘appraisal event’. In the same way, of course, they should be dealing with problems in performance as they arise. In this way the ‘formal’ appraisal becomes a punctuation point in an ongoing discussion that pulls everything together that has been happening over the last period, and links it to future activities. Formal appraisals really shouldn’t contain any surprises.
Learn about success from studying success
One way to help develop a more positive feel to appraisal activity is to spend at least some time focussing on learning from success. There is a common misconception that one can only learn from mistakes and failure. It is true they are important sources of learning – about how to avoid failure. They don’t necessarily teach about success. Studying success tells us about what success looks like and how it is achieved.
In building relationships it’s quality not quantity that counts.
Research shows that the quality of our connections and interactions with others vary enormously. What people really value are the high quality connections where they feel something important is happening in the moment of the conversation. In general these are two-way conversations where each is able to build on the other’s contributions to create something new (as opposed to experiencing a one way downloading of information for example). Each party is left feeling refreshed, energised, valued and recognised. They can be fleeting moments. Over time they build to a resilient relationship that can withstand strain, such as the strain of having to give feedback on poor performance. Use your micro-moments of interaction well.
It’s a culture not an event
Performance management needs to be seen as a cultural process. The organization needs to create a culture where reviewing group and individual performance after events becomes an unexceptional habit. As each meeting finishes quickly ask how it was for people and if there was anything different they would like to see next time. After a sales pitch review with colleagues how it went. As it becomes part of normal organisational life for everyone to review their own and when invited colleagues performance, so the ‘appraisal’ meeting will become less of a ‘dead’ event.
Link it to the mission
Make it clear to everyone how these conversations relate back to the organisational purpose so people can see performance management has a bigger purpose than just ‘improving’ them personally.
More advice is contained in the People Management article, link below.
Keep it simple
Equip the managers
Avoid forced distribution curves