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Lisette Howlett

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Achieving value-add performance management

For performance management to add value to an organisation, it must become a part of our day-to-day working lives, says Lisette Howlett, who explains how to inspire high performance in your people.
Few organisations these days do not put time, effort and money into performance management in some form or another, and many operate highly complex and sophisticated performance management systems and processes. 
The benefits of high performance is clear – people and their performance is one of the main differentiators between companies – they define the service experience of service companies, determine innovation in research and development based organisations, and underpin quality, productivity and costs in manufacturing.  
Yet so often we find both managers and staff actively disliking the company’s performance management systems. They are frequently seen as something that is done to them or required of them – a burden they have to get through so they can get back to their day job. Time and again, performance management is not seen as adding value to the individual’s work experience, nor to the manager’s job. However if managers and staff do not see performance management as adding value to their work lives, the company will fail to derive any value. 
Thus for performance management to add value it needs to be an integral part of the working day rather than something that happens once a year (or at more frequent preset intervals) in line with agreed HR or company policy. Therefore it should form part of every conversation between team members as well as managers and subordinates. The organisation culture needs to be one where candid feedback is the norm (it must be done in a nurturing or supportive way but the negatives must not be ducked). Organisations need to build incrementally to this position and cannot get there in one step. It will, of course, go faster if there is an investment in skills development.

Driving the business forward

Looking at the purpose behind performance management, we can quickly confirm this to be ‘higher’ or ‘better’ individual performance. Taking it a step further we hopefully add ‘which leads to higher business performance’. It is this second bit that actually matters. High-performing individuals doing stuff really well does not necessarily add value to the organisation. What adds value is if they are doing things fabulously well which take the organisation forward in delivering its goals, strategy and vision faster, cheaper, better.
Thus the first key element of effective performance management is having a clear business vision and strategy (and plan to get there) which is absolutely understood by every single person in the company. Next is the need to facilitate each individual’s understanding of how they can contribute to this vision, and finally to inspire, encourage, enable, empower, support, and where necessary compel them to do so.
One of the problems with many performance management approaches in organisations is that focus and attention get diverted to the system, the form, and the rules, rather than the performance. Basically all we really want is our people knowing what they need to do, how well they are doing it (in order to do more of the good stuff and less of the bad) and why they should be striving for high performance. Clearly this means that our managers need to know what good looks like, how to lead and be convinced that having a high-performing team or high-performing individuals is good for them. 
Motivating high performance in your people and your managers requires five things:
  • A clear and inspiring vision which is compelling and non negotiable;
  • The explicit communication that the organisation is entitled to expect the best from its people (as indeed the people are entitled to expect the best from its company);
  • An understanding of why this will be good for them – so an aligned approach to reward, recognition, development and promotions (with no exceptions);
  • An appreciation of the downside – so rigorous, courageous and explicit consequence management (including exits);
  • Confidence that this applies to everyone – so high-performance expectations start at the top. Management actions must be congruent with the company’s definition of high performance and valued behaviours
Companies that are serious about achieving the fundamental behaviour shift that is required by effective performance management need to have the courage to see it through. Thus the executive that brings results but bullies his/her people can be no more tolerated (assuming, of course, bullying is not defined as a high-performance behaviour in that company) than the junior administrator who takes two-hour lunches or the project manager who overspends and misses deadlines. Testing this conviction early on in the process is essential if you are going to go down the route of real performance management, since without it you will fail and may as well save the effort up front and stick with the less powerful approach of having performance management as something that is done to others.
Finally, value-adding performance management needs to get under the skin of the company. It needs to become part of the fabric of doing business. It needs to move from an intellectual process to an emotional purpose. ‘I am here to do my best, and enable everyone around me to do theirs’, is the required mantra.
Lisette Howlett has worked at a senior level for a number of global companies and, as well as successfully launching and running her own human resources consultancy, mlh consulting, she is also behind the first ever website that enables employees to rate their experience of using recruitment agencies,

2 Responses

  1. Performance Management

    Excellent article. So much of what you say can be handled positively through recognition. As you say, the difficult conversations (areas for improvement, etc.) must also happen, but those are also more effective when done in the moment or soon after the event.

    As I wrote just last week in a blog post to HRzone, "Strategic recognition encourages peers and managers to frequently and, critically, in a timely way acknowledge efforts and achievements that demonstrate the company values in contribution to company objectives. These ‘recognition assessments’ and kudos can then be used during the annual performance review as an additional data point on the strengths (John has been recognised repeatedly for innovation) and even weaknesses (but John has been recognised only once for teamwork) as potential areas of improvement. This presents a much more rounded view of an employee’s contributions of which managers may not even be aware. Moreover, since such a strategic recognition programme is deployed company-wide, data can be gathered and used to benchmark an individual’s performance and demonstration of values in their work against direct peers, team members, the division and even the company as a whole."

    Full post here:

  2. If Performance Management Creates Resistance, Stop Doing It!
    “we find both managers and staff actively disliking the company’s performance management systems. They are frequently seen as something that is done to them or required of them – a burden they have to get through so they can get back to their day job.”

    Absolutely correct, people don’t like having things done to them, it really is as simple as that.

    But wait a minute, this article goes on to tell us five different things that managers can “do” to the workforce to make them do what the managers want.
    This article first acknowledges that managing performance creates resistance, then goes on to tell us how to create more resistance.
    If trying to manage performance by making the workforce “do” what you want is not working, then for heavens sake stop doing it.

    “Basically all we really want is our people knowing what they need to do,”

    The hubris that assumes that the workforce don’t know what they need to do is one of the things that management do that causes so much offence to the workforce.
    Nobody who works for an organisation does not know what they need to do to make that organisation profitable, but when a manager spends his working life explaining the blindingly obvious to the workforce it makes them resist and completely destroys the credibility of the manager, who the workforce see as being less than switched on if he has to explain to them that increased production means greater profit.

    The manager is more likely to profit than the workforce from increased profitability anyway so the workforce see every extra effort they make as lining the pocket of the incompetent manager who tries so hard to make their lives miserable.
    Why should they work harder?

    Performance management will eventually be recognised as an extremely destructive process.
    At the moment its true nature is disguised by the plethora of systems that purport to make it work.
    If one system does not work there are a hundred others waiting to show the blinkered manager how it should be done, then when that fails too there are still ninety nine more to try.

    Unfortunately most peoples lives are too short to work through all the options so we still hope that the next one will be the one that works.

    Douglas McGregor, Deming et al suggested many years ago that the systems were the problem, that the command and control approach that they exemplified was the approach that was responsible for their failure, yet here we are sixty years later still exhorting managers to do the very things in the name of performance management that destroyed their workforces ability to perform in the first place.

    Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem using the same techniques that created it, but that is what we are trying to do.

    Stop trying to manage performance, instead start managing the environment that will allow the workforce to start to care about their own performance.
    When the workforce start to care about what they do, when they are allowed to take pride in what they do their performance makes grown accountants weep.

    Peter A Hunter


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