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Managing Performance Management

 

Why is performance management generally undertaken so poorly? It never ceases to amaze me that something that should be a “force for good” in any organisation, is often seen as a chore (by both parties) and at worst a “stick” to beat up employees who are working and trying their hardest. It can look like the idea is to trick people into working their socks off all year, but by the virtue of PM (and something hidden in the small print of their many objectives), they end up with a “satisfactory” rating at best and not the monetary rewards they imagined.

Performance Management is actually quite simple but can easily be complicated to the extent that it becomes unworkable and unpleasant – to be avoided by both reviewer and reviewed. The process can become stressful for all parties and lead to a break-down in working relationships, grievance procedures and litigation. Has anyone ever actually costed the process to see if it is worth doing in these circumstances?

I have been coaching someone recently – we will call him Bob – and as part of the conversations that we have had, Bob asked me to look at his Performance Plan for the current year to date, ahead of a review.

What immediately struck me about the plan was that there were 9 separate parts to the plan, with a number of objectives/targets under each part – around 20 targets in all. There were also a couple of stretch targets, which were actually just additional targets. Also, the objectives/targets were:

  • peppered with vague wording (see below)
  • not measurable
  • simply tasks to do
  • the only measurable target out of the 20 (% increase in an aspect) , had no indication of how much increase was required.

As a result Bob was having some difficulty preparing for the review and demonstrating his performance confidently. Much of his content (evidence of performance) was defensive and equally vague – and who could blame him?

So what about wording in these objectives/targets? Here are some of the words used in Bob’s plan objectives:-

  • Satisfactory and timely resolution…………..
  • Timely implementation…………..
  • Timely and accurate submission………..
  • Ensuring policies adhered to………..
  • Demonstrate adding value………….
  • Ensure………….are submitted in a timely manner.
  • Positive contribution in …………. meetings
  • Evidence of engaging with…………

The problem with all of these is they are:-

  • Not measurable. How much evidence do you need to provide to “demonstrate adding value” or “engagement”? How much is not enough? What counts as evidence?
  • Tasks . This is something that Bob has to do as part of his role (in the Job Description, if it is up to date?) and to include a task is a waste of an objective, as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding about what an objective/target is for. Also, Bob can either do the task (satisfactory) or not (fail) – there is no scope to exceed a task target.

What should we do then? Top tips include:-

1. Think about what the organisation is trying to achieve? Bob’s objectives should be consistent and congruent with the organisation/department/team. Bob should be able to see where his contribution fits with the bigger picture. That done Bob is more likely to be engaged – many staff don’t have this joined up view of how they contribute to the organisation in a meaningful way.

2. Avoid listing tasks. What Bob does is the task or activity (an input). What derives from that task or activity is the result or outcome (an output). So measure and focus on what you want Bob to achieve (the output) and leave him to decide (if he is experienced) on what he needs to do (the input). Bob is quite capable of doing that!

3. To get from input to output, ask yourself “if Bob did this task really well, what would be the result?” – keep asking that question until you decide upon result of all that activity and this will be your objective – more sales, less error time, better satisfaction scores, less waste, quicker delivery, less rejects, lower costs, deadline met……………

4. Too many targets will likely result in a lack of focus. Decide on the 4 – 8 critical things that you want the person to achieve or deliver. Those are then objectives to be written into the plan.

5. Every objective (what you want Bob to achieve) should be able to be measured. If it cannot be measured or isn’t being measured currently, you have two choices….

  • If it isn’t being measured, is it important? If not, don’t make it an objective.
  • If it is an important objective, start measuring it.

6. Less is more. Simple, measurable, achievements during a set time are often quite succinct and therefore quite clear. This also makes demonstrating performance simple and objective – Bob will know exactly where he is in terms of his performance at his review

7. Start with absolute clarity. At the beginning of the year or period:-

  • Construct and agree the objectives/targets
  • Construct and agree the measures

If this looks deceptively easy – it is and it should be. If Bob’s manager doesn’t really know what they want Bob to achieve for the team and the organisation, then Bob cannot really be held responsible for unstructured, unfocused performance. It just takes a little time and effort, and some different thinking…………

Going back to Bob’s review papers, I had 12 sheets of paper with writing on, but no idea from all that was before me how Bob had performed, and neither had he! What a waste of time and effort all round. Now multiply that time by the number of people in your organisation…………..What could you achieve with that additional time spent on the organisation’s objectives?

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Improving Performance – Take a Meerkat Moment

We are currently coming to the close of a large delivery program for a company that is trying to instill new company values into the management team and beyond. Part of this new initiative is to try to focus less on the “whats” and more on the “hows”; something that many companies are trying to achieve and intellectually this makes sense.

We all know the old clichés, when discussing our people – you know the ones ‘our most valuable asset’, ‘a leader cannot succeed without a team to lead’, ‘there is no I in team (….add one of you own here..). Unfortunately it appears that a lot of the leaders we meet see their job as having two distinct elements; one, their team and two, their day job. With ever increasing, stretching targets there seems to be a focus on short term results rather than developing the team that we need to deliver them. So the day job takes over and team/individual development takes a back seat for now. We can always do that tomorrow, next week, next month….Unfortunately we might be busy now BUT when will we not be busy?

Case in point, on the current contract we are involved with, we talk about Adair’s action centred leadership and the group are asked to split themselves across the three elements (Task, Team, Individual) based on where they spend most of their time. In this case, around 90-95% of the managers said they spent the vast majority of their time in the task area. Admittedly as leaders we must make sure that we achieve the goals set but sometimes this focus keeps our heads down in the undergrowth and we miss the opportunity to seek out better ways – ways that would ensure that we do not only achieve our task but exceed it.When this is discussed in the training room, everyone ‘gets it’. All admit that there needs to be a different focus, and this is easy when you are in a training room when someone is giving you the time to sit and think. Many of these sessions allow our delegates to have “Meerkat” moments for themselves where they lift their heads up out of the undergrowth and can make decisions that are right for them, right for their people and right for the organisation.

Unfortunately in the real world it is up to YOU to give yourself the time to think, there isn’t a trainer setting up a syndicate exercise for you. If you want a “Meerkat” moment for yourself, you need to lift your head up out of the undergrowth and see what is happening. Then once you are aware, take the time to think more about ‘it’; not just the symptoms but also the root cause. At that point Kipling’s serving men come into their own, ask yourself; what, why, when, how where and who.

We have thought of some potential questions for you. We invite you to visit our website (www.appltd.co.uk) and ‘take the test’, to consider the potential for improving performance in your organisation. Obviously, only do it if you have time!