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Clinton Wingrove

Pilat HR Solutions

Principal Consultant

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A paradigm shift in performance management – part two


As addressed in A paradigm shift in performance management – part one, varying contemporary factors have fundamentally changed the requirements of performance management processes.

Many changes within organisations and how they operate now impact performance management and many previous ‘givens’ are now being challenged. Here are the most common:

Individuals who have clearly defined goals typically produce better performance – ie: higher output per unit of input in terms of the measures to which those goals relate.  There is little evidence to show that this is true except for those who are truly committed to those goals – and that is unlikely to be the case for the stunningly mediocre or the poor performer who has been forced to develop goals by an annual process.

Some individuals have to be given their goals by their immediate supervisor.  Most employees still have some primary reporting accountability but the extent to which that individual should truly be driving down goals and priorities is declining. Increasingly, employees are being encouraged to take ownership of their own performance; the younger generation demands it!

We should only have between four and seven goals.  This concept evolved out of two factors: most of us cannot remember more than four to seven things and we should focus our efforts. Well, we don’t have to remember any more; contemporary technology reminds us, lets us define when and how we want to be reminded and even gives us 24/7 instant access to things we may have forgotten. Yes, we need to focus but that has nothing to do with the number of goals; it has to do with the specific activity that we need to engage in RIGHT NOW.

Assessments should be based on observable behaviours.  Those were the days! We all came in at 9am,went into our offices, did our work, came out for breaks and lunch and went home at 5pm. The contemporary workforce may rarely come into an office. If they do, it is probably flexible workspace or open plan. Many will work from home or from multiple locations and many of your staff, if you are a manager, you may only see a few times a year.

Organisation designs continue to evolve.  While the need to have one individual ultimately accountable for each employee still prevails – ie: “who can sack me and who can increase my pay?” – even this is changing.

Top-down management has been eroding for decades.  3M, one of the most successful organisations of the 20th century, grew dramatically through, among other things, innovation at the coal face and operating with small relatively autonomous units.

Largely top down planning processes fail to enable an organisation to manage its resources.  When plans changed infrequently and strict managerial hierarchies were in place, it was feasible to plan top down, review what had been agreed and then feed requirements of other departments up to a higher managerial level, where it would then be discussed at peer management meetings and cascade back down to those who were impacted. The speed at which demands and circumstances change continued to accelerate and such bureaucratic processes simply fail to work.

Most performance management processes and systems are ‘additional to day-to-day activity’.  The goals are not integrated with any task, project, to-do-list or calendar management system. Most appraisal processes do not automatically pull their data from the operational system. In short, performance management goals are usually set-up before, but separately from, the true day-to-day task and activity plans. And most appraisals are rewrites of information that, if the results even matter, has already been reviewed as part of the operational performance.
There is a distinction between GOALS and TASKS/ACTIVITIES, which is often blurred in PM systems.  There can be output goals, behavioural goals or development goals –eg: balance score card goals. Goals may have more than one person working to achieve them. Each goal can then be achieved by a series of activities; each of which may involve more than one person. Goals simply are not simple.

A process that is predicated on creating a new set of plans at the start of each calendar year fundamentally fails to recognise reality.  It again comes from the paper-based, poor communication environment of the 50s and 60s. Today’s plans sometimes change by the hour. What is important is that everyone knows what the best use of their time is RIGHT NOW; that demands that the plans that apply to them are updated real-time.

Individual expectations are changing.  Individuals used to expect to work for a considerable time in the same organisation; they expected largely to be told things including what to do and they expected to be trained. They now expect to play a major role in determining what they do, how they do it and in their own development. They also expect to have access to information so they can go and search, explore and even add to it.

Performance appraisals tell you more about the appraiser than about the appraisee.  Most organisations have the harsh and the lenient rater and years of performance appraisal training, rating calibration meetings, capped pay budgets, forced ranking, rating scale size changes, anchored scale development and other psychobabble witchcraft. All have failed to solve the problem.

Performance simply is not simple.  It is a complex combination of results produced (the WHAT or outputs), behaviours displayed and activities engaged in (the HOW or investments in future outputs and in the culture and capability of the organisation) and development (the GROWTH or increase in capability to face new challenges, take on new tasks and achieve higher goals in the future).

Performance is not enhanced substantially by an appraisal process.  When was the last time you saw a fundamental change in a teenager’s behaviour merely as a result of a single discussion and a summary note pinned on their bedroom door? Nor, for the majority of individuals, is their performance changed by so-called incentive schemes. Performance is changed (notably in the form of changed behaviour) largely through day-to-day interactions, feedback, recognition, reinforcement etc.

Planning and appraisal are merely two components of a much richer performance management process.  A truly effective performance management process and system must address all elements including direction and context setting, in-process performance measurement and evidencing, proactive performance enabling and enhancing, unconditional performance reinforcement etc.

Performance Management should be suitable for all performers and certainly engage and empower the top performers.  However, the majority of performers, and therefore the major investment in human capital, is in the others – including the vast majority of stunningly mediocre. A factory would never focus on putting all of its production through the one best machine; instead it typically puts its critical production through that and then focuses on maintenance and enhancements to bring up the performance of the others and replacing the worst or unacceptable.

Visioning.  The dramatically increasing availability of information carries with it a problem; that of easy access and simple oversight. Managers now expect summary and graphical dashboards that enable them to spot those issues requiring greater attention. Dashboards need to bring to light process compliance issues as well as actual or potential performance shortfalls.

User Interface Skins.  Contemporary technology (largely gaming and social networking) has revealed to people the types of interface that are now possible. Users now expect to have control over the tools they use and to be able to customise them to suit their own roles and even personal preferences.

Key Success Criteria
We have concluded that there is a new set of key success criteria that must be applied in order to respond to our findings and to underwrite the performance we now require from our people:
•    The reality of the working relationships between individuals
•    How these relationships can be made more effective
•    How contemporary tools can be deployed to increase process effectiveness
•    How we can increase compliance with processes by those at whom those processes are aimed. You don’t need to design processes for the top performers; they will do the right thing despite you!
•    How we can cope with the demands and expectations of members of the team as well as the managers
•    How we can optimise individual performance
•    How we can create an environment in which most individuals realise their true potential

Powering Productive Performance
There is a new and holistic approach to performance management process design.  It enables us, for the first time, to apply meaningful performance management that satisfies the criteria above. It includes elements that attend to the core components of any PM process:

Setting Direction.  Clarifying goals, needs, expectations and approach – vision, mission, strategy and values. Ensuring that 24/7 individuals understand the prevailing priorities and ‘feel’ how those impact them.
Clarifying Roles.  Ensuring that everyone knows what is expected of them in their role and in the context of the greater performance management process.

Planning and Aligning.  Creating and maintaining individual plans constructed from SMART elements that address WHAT has to be produced, HOW it should be produced and the GROWTH that is needed in the employee’s capability – and aligning these plans to ensure the benefits of synergy. Such planning processes integrate such components as vision, mission, values, strategy, business plans, competencies, job descriptions, balanced score cards, KPIs etc.

Monitoring and Measuring.  Ongoing monitoring of compliance with – and progress against – plan to inform assessment and trigger redirection, consequences, recognition or reward. This may even involve those outside of the conventional boss/subordinate relationship such as coaches or process compliance management staff.

Enabling and Enhancing.  Taking action to enable and encourage excellent performance. This may even involve those outside of the conventional boss/subordinate relationship such as coaches.

Assessing and Evaluating.  Comparing measures to standards and targets set, considering circumstances and evaluating elemental and aggregate performance.

Recognising and Rewarding.  Establishing clear links between performance and consequences and benefits – tangible and intangible – in order to reward, encourage and incentivise performance as appropriate.

A contemporary performance management process, designed against these criteria, provides the means by which to optimise individual and collective performance through real-time influence. Supported by contemporary web-based technology, it can also provide data into other employee-focused decision making processes such as career management and succession planning.

Clinton Wingrove is EVP and Principal Consultant at Pilat HR Solutions

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Clinton Wingrove

Principal Consultant

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