Designing Effective Performance Culture in New Ways of Working

Designing Effective Performance Culture in New Ways of Working
A powerful change in perspective is Feed-FORWARD. Feedforward focuses on the future rather than the past. It offers suggestions and ideas for how to move forward and shifts the focus from blame or criticism to action and improvement.

We are in 2023 – with rising adoption of future of work models and shifting employee-people leader power dynamics. While we have evaluated business processes to suit the new ways of work, one fundamental aspect of careers that is overlooked and needs a different lens is Performance Culture.

Unfortunately, performance discussions continue to be called out as painful, ignored, or not trusted to guarantee a great outcome for individuals. Employees still struggle to derive value from this important process and leaders feel challenged as well. From my 20 years of experience navigating tough conversations and coaching leaders, I would like to share my learnings to design a performance-driven culture

Own Your Career Mantra

A lot of times employees get stuck with the notion that their manager will drive their career, will provide all opportunities, leaders are more aware and knowledgeable than the employees, and that they will take care of them. Once the fallacy of these notions hits them, they would have created an untoward attitude to their managers, teams, and even organization.

It is imperative that organization leaders provide all enablement, raise awareness, and transparent information to employees on how to navigate their careers. A psychologically safe space needs to be created to perform work autonomously in a trust-based environment.

Clarity in Goals and Relating to Individual’s Purpose

Goal setting is not a one-time exercise in Performance Culture. Tying organizational strategy and goals to the team and individual goals is crucial to achieve a shared vision across all levels of the organization. People leaders must articulate goals transparently with teams and in their 1-on-1s with individuals. It is crucial to share all available resources transparently and keep track of team goals and KPIs in team meetings.

In individual 1-on-1s, both parties need to clearly identify, articulate, and maintain goals in your development systems covering two aspects:

  • Business goals – What an individual can contribute to the larger vision and strategy of the organization.
  • Development goals – What are the current skills and what skills are needed based on individual interests and needs of the business? This is also an opportunity for employees to reflect on how to grow out of their comfort zone, and how people leaders can facilitate this learning.

In the Moment Conversations

One thing I have noticed employees doing is waiting for a formal meeting to discuss key aspects of development. It is important for people leaders and employees to address topics on the go and transparently. Manager-employee relations are strengthened, and development is facilitated when such in-the-moment conversations covering “How” aspects are done. 

This leads to developing a coaching mindset in both parties. One another fallacy in performance conversations is the perception that people leaders know all the answers to employees’ questions. Organizations need to enable systems such as mentorships where employees can approach experts from a pool of mentors to address specific topic-based development needs.

Culture of Feed-Forward

A powerful change in perspective is Feed-FORWARD. Feedforward focuses on the future rather than the past. It offers suggestions and ideas for how to move forward and shifts the focus from blame or criticism to action and improvement. Offering suggestions, encouraging ownership, co-relating to how learning and contribution can be enhanced, and being better prepared for future roles to help each person thrive and excel.

While many would think this is obvious, you would be shocked how many leaders still use performance reviews to look back while analyzing performance.

The four biggest fallacies of this feed-BACK process are that it assumes:

  • Past performance is an indicator of future results
  • Leaders are more aware and knowledgeable than employees.
  • Focus on “What” was achieved rather than “How”.
  • Team members are less self-aware and hence need to be shown their blind spots.
  • Manager’s careers are aspirational so we can guide them on what the journey could be

Focus on Possibilities

In my career, I have learnt that focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it.  Having said that the improvements that we are going for, don’t happen because it isn’t given in a way an employee can embrace them.

People leaders need to customize the structure and content of their conversations to drive the best results for individuals. A preparatory note or a simple chat before a meeting to set expectations help to make the best use of the time. Performance conversations should be co-owned.

It is that time of the year when colleagues are back from their year-end vacations and are looking for motivation to start back at work. While motivation is intrinsic, providing direction, support and inspiration can go a long way in creating a growth mindset to invigorate taking challenging tasks, growing out of comfort zones, and propelling learning in the organization.


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