Most organizations don’t do performance management very well. Most performance management sessions are cursory at best and no matter how good a performance management system looks on paper, without the right conversations between a boss and a subordinate, real performance management doesn’t happen.
Mediocre or poor performance management is even more likely in a virtual or hybrid world. In this new world, all the downsides that come with poor performance management are even more likely to occur. Confusion and conflict become more common. Team culture and cohesion begin to break down.
Effective performance management is necessary to achieve our best results, develop talent to the fullest, and align a team around a common purpose and shared objectives. As we settle into a hybrid world, now is a good time to review what is required to effectively manage and improve it over time.
There must be a regular rhythm of performance management conversations. Once a year is insufficient. Once a quarter is far better, particularly when people aren’t in the same location and don’t see each other very often. To achieve this consistency, performance management sessions should be scheduled in advance and appointments should be kept.
This isn’t something that always gets “rescheduled” because something more pressing comes along. This is a regularly scheduled “check-in” between the boss and subordinate. The more often these happen, the less intimidating and more productive they become. And schedule enough time to actually “get into it.”
This is one of the most difficult and important aspects of effective performance management. In order to have a productive conversation, there must be clarity about expectations. What goals are we trying to achieve? What is your particular role and responsibility in achieving these goals? What specific behaviors do we value in our culture because it helps us achieve our goals and build our capacity? What specifically do a boss and subordinate expect of each other?
Of other teammates? This kind of clarity takes thought and preparation. And because most people either rush through performance management sessions or try to avoid them altogether, clarity is frequently lacking. A performance management conversation without clarity – and the thought and preparation required to achieve that clarity – is frequently the worst of all worlds. Boss and subordinate “check the box”, but both are left frustrated and confused. Performance may well deteriorate, instead of improving.
There are both objective and subjective measures of performance and both must be discussed. If there is sufficient clarity about goals and objectives, it is relatively straightforward to determine whether certain quantifiable metrics have been achieved.
While this is necessary, it is insufficient. If an organization’s culture matters, then the behaviors necessary to build and support that culture also matter. And while this discussion may be more subjective, it is equally important.
A complete conversation should include every aspect of achievement and behavior that contribute to an individual’s and team’s effectiveness.
Too often, people are afraid to be straightforward with one another. We’re reluctant to “hurt someone’s feelings.” We don’t want to “get ourselves into trouble.” We worry about the consequences of a botched performance review. What I’ve learned is that a lack of candor is far more damaging over time than the candor we fear.
And reorienting our mindset about the purpose of performance management can help us be more candid. Effective performance management is not punitive. A good conversation is about developing talent and unlocking the potential for better performance.
A candid conversation to help someone “course correct” is far better than letting a bad situation linger until more dramatic action is required. And if someone is “hitting on all cylinders,” a candid recognition of this performance will usually fuel further motivation.
I have used the term “conversation” throughout this column. An effective performance management session is a collaborative conversation between a boss and a subordinate. Each has requirements and expectations. Both have something to say. Each rely on one other – for support and for performance.
If a boss is doing all the talking and none of the listening, something is wrong. If the subordinate puts all the burden for a good conversation on the boss, something is wrong. Ideally, both boss and subordinate come to the performance management table with a sincere desire to collaborate in a consistent, clear, complete, and candid manner. In so doing, both leave the session more aligned and energized.
None of this is easy. All of it requires a certain amount of trust and mutual respect. So, many people are tempted to delay and avoid. Don’t. Start the conversation. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It might even be awkward at first. It’s okay. Start with a shared goal of getting better over time, but start.