Transforming performance management into a leadership opportunity: 12 suggestions

According to the 2014 CIPD survey, almost a third of employees feel performance management systems are unfair. This is an uncomfortable wake up call for people managers.

From years of working with managers worldwide, we know that a worryingly large number find performance management to be a tiresome compliance issue. If that is the attitude communicated by a manager, it is hardly surprising that many employees feel cynical and distrustful of the process.

Here are 12 suggestions for you to consider which will reinvigorate your performance management:

1. Keep it SMART and simple

Performance management is an opportunity for employees to align with their manager, team and the wider organisation. The language, terminology and materials must be simple, understandable and consistent. Ensuring that objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound is crucial to give employees a chance of effectively achieving their objectives.

2. Clearly communicate the process

Your performance management cycle is the foundation of the whole process and it is important that it is communicated clearly at all levels. The cycle is underpinned by the enduring view that performance management is an opportunity for leaders to integrate strategic objectives into the daily work of their employees, and achieve engagement, sustainable performance and good business results at the same time.

3. Define roles and responsibilities

Ensure that everyone understands that it is the manager’s job to communicate the business strategy and plan, and it’s the employee’s job to think about and (with some direction and support) identify the impact on his or her objectives.

4. Focus on the journey as well as the end-goal

Help managers and employers to collaborate on the basis that it is not just about the results – but as much about how they achieve them.

5. Monitor your progress

Once you’ve embraced the first part of the process, subsequent inaction will lead to failure to achieve objectives, and individual and team disengagement. Happily the reverse is true when managers genuinely strive to get it right. You don’t have to be infallible to win – but your intentions and drive to deliver need to be evident.

6. Encourage collaboration

Performance management is just about dialogue. It works when it is genuinely a collaborative process, a foundation stone for a feedback-rich culture that aligns development with individual and business performance.

7. Demonstrate emotional intelligence

Empathetic dialogue requires managers and their employees to demonstrate effective emotional intelligence, meaning that giving and receiving good feedback demands an appropriate mix of courage, clarity and discipline.

8. Own your role

Performance management isn’t an extra-curricular activity, but an essential part of manager’s role. The continuum from informal, event-driven or operational conversations to formal discussions and reviews have, at their core, the same purpose – the opportunity and commitment to helping people reflect, understand, plan and determine what they do well, could do differently or might improve.

9. Don’t be confined by norms

To some, the term ‘performance management’ has command and control connotations that suggest top down directiveness rather that the ‘top down meets bottom up’ purpose for which it is intended. Consider a rebrand to make it more accessible for your employees.

10. Get the positioning right

Heralding performance management as an HR-led process can set the process off on the wrong footing. It’s about the business. It’s led by managers, owned by all employees, and facilitated by HR.

11. Don’t make it a burden

Too many managers burden themselves with the bulk of responsibility for validating, documenting and measuring their employees’s performance. Focus on placing more responsibility on employees for: identifying qualitative and quantitative measures; gathering evidence; having the courage and skill to assess their own performance; and identifying critical learning actions and how best to act on them.

12. Adjust your mindset!

If you are introducing a new or revised approach to performance management, adopt a long-term focus with a few quick-wins up your sleeve to encourage momentum and application. It will need nurturing, marketing, training, coaching, direction and all the influence you can muster to sustain the culture change it represents.

This article is an excerpt from a whitepaper by our partner, JSB Learning and Development.

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