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The Problem with Making Performance Management Just Another Managerial Task

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member and Skeptical Guy, John Hollon. 

Here's a lesson I keep learning over and over: You need to sit up pay close attention when somebody does something wildly out of character.

Have a calm and reasoned friend who suddenly goes off and gets loud and crazy over something? When that happens, you need to focus on what they're saying because people don't just suddenly change their character.

Whatever is causing that to happen is probably something important that you REALLY want to know about.

This is true for organizations, too, and that's why I pay close attention when a solid one like Gallup says that when it comes to performance management:

"It's time to burn the boats, leave old performance practices behind, and create a performance management strategy that is adaptive, responsive and calibrated to the new workplace."

Time to burn the boats? Like what Hernán Cortés did to motivate his men when he began his conquest of Mexico? That's something I would expect from a crazy HR blogger and not from a highly respected research giant.

The sorry state of performance management

What got Gallup spouting off was the very thing that organizations everywhere complain about -- the sorry state of performance management. There's nothing new about that, of course, and back in 2013, I reported that only 28 percent of companies thought they were doing performance management well.

But Gallup has more urgent concerns, and now they're making the case that:

"The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown performance management systems into chaos. ...How do you make performance goals fair and meaningful in this topsy-turvy, ever-changing, uncertain-future environment? ...Before the pandemic, many organizations believed they had modernized their performance management system. But now, the boardroom buzzword "agility" has finally become an urgent need. Whatever happens, you can be certain that the marketplace will be shifting for many months, if not years."

Gallup is right about performance management being a big problem, but it's not because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

No, performance management is still an issue because a great many organizations, and managers at all levels, have never really taken performance management terribly seriously.

That's what happens when the process of helping people improve and grow becomes just another task for overworked managers to squeeze in among all the other things they're responsible for.

It's what companies get when they take what should be THE most important thing for supervisors to focus on, and instead, turn it into just another managerial task.

Gallup does dig into what they define as "the Three Essential Characteristics of Modernized Performance Management," and while that sounds good, I don't find these "essential characteristics" of performance management to be all that different from what has been done before.

Here are the "essential characteristics" from Gallup. See what you think. They are:

  • Agile, collaborative goals that morph as conditions change;
  • Ongoing conversations, timely recognitions, and informal dialogue on a weekly basis; and,
  • Quarterly progress goals with accountability and incentive adjustment.

They may sound good, but ask yourself, is this is a "burn the boats" strategy for better performance management?

You know the answer to that -- No, it's just a tinkering and streamlining of what organizations should have been doing with performance management all along.

The answer is actually pretty simple

The most relevant characteristic is No. 2, because "ongoing conversations, timely recognition, and informal dialogue on a weekly basis" has been a critically important part of managing people for a very long time.

The problem has been that not enough leaders and managers take the time to spend more time with their team, and having those conversations, informal dialogue, and the recognition of good work.

Great performance management isn't hard, but it does take time and consistent effort. The more time a manager spends with people, the more time the people want, and the better work they do. Most managers know this, but most managers also seem to always have something more important to do than deal with performance management.

In the end, what Gallup has done is wake us up by a call to "burn the boats" so that we would pay attention to the fact that, other than a little modernizing, great performance management is really just about more focus and face time with your people.

That's all it is -- time consuming, but simple when you get right down to it. Let's hope more leaders listen and heed Gallup's call.

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