Getting the Performance You Want!

At the end of the day I believe this is the objective that every manager in every organization is most interested in meeting and exceeding.

It is also one that even after a couple hundred years in the continuing dynamics between employer and employed we still do badly.

If you choose to disagree with me just take a look at the latest numbers on employee engagement and turnover.

You can’t pick up a business journal without encountering something on this topic. The latest thinking is that traditional performance assessment is useless and should be thrown out.

I don’t disagree, but it leaves us with a gap-

·         How do we continue to improve the capacity of our talent?

·         How do we appropriately distribute compensation since most of our talent won’t work for free?

I believe that the first step in building a great organization is selecting your talent pool, but that is a topic for another day so I want to focus on managing the performance of the talent you have.

I have a strong personal bias that says that effective managers and leaders have to be at least minimally competent at several key skill sets. They are in priority order-

·         Setting clear performance expectations

·         Giving and receiving constructive feedback

·         Taking appropriate corrective action

·         Delegating appropriately and effectively

·         Utilizing positive reinforcement to motivate future performance

·         Coaching to optimize performance

I also happen to believe that hiring or selecting leadership candidates with the following attributes increases success:

• Technical competence (mastery of the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the job).

• An understanding and mastery of all three levels of trust (Deterrence, Competence, and Identity)

• Emotional Intelligence (this allows you to know which level of trust or leadership style to employ in a given situation)

• Emotional Balance – how do you show up every day? How do you react under stress?

• Self-Awareness- do you see yourself even close to the way others see you?

For me personally, the technical competence is kind of the threshold, you need it to gain admission, but it is the minimum standard not the measuring stick.

The bad news is that these skills sets are neither inherent, nor are they taught in most business schools or degree programs.

We don’t do much better internally either.

A recent study of participants in formal high talent development programs drew some rather unfortunate conclusions.

The study evaluated these individuals in leadership capabilities using a 360-degree assessment including their manager, several peers, direct reports and other colleagues.

Their prior research had indicated that collecting data from this kind of cross sample could be statistically correlated to desired outcomes like employee engagement, lower turnover and higher unit productivity.

Here is more bad news;

·         12% of these HIPO participants were in the bottom quartile on leadership effectiveness and

·         Overall 42% were below the median.

 I would call that an epic fail.

The good news is that these skills are eminently teachable and most manager/leader candidates can master them to at least some degree of competency.

The literature is replete these days with the benefits of engaged employees as opposed to marginally or unengaged employees.

Much of that engagement is accomplished in your hiring and selection, but continuing to see engagement is best accomplished when employees feel that they are playing to their strengths and their highest skills.

A recent survey of 13,000 employees, including representation from all four (4) generations currently represented in the workplace, cited four characteristics they seek in a boss and organization they trust.

If you don’t understand how trust plays into it, you have wasted the time you spent reading to this point!

• Open and transparent communication

• Respect for them and other employees

A supervisor/boss that coaches and supports their growth and advancement

A supervisor/boss that recognizes them and their performance

The interesting thing about that as it relates to how we evaluate performance is how poorly we do it.

In most cases we try to evaluate skills. It turns out our personal biases effect those ratings significantly.

A study quoted in HBR showed that in evaluating the ratings of almost 4500 managers including their direct reports, peers, and subordinates varied substantially, and that over 60% of the variance could be attributed to the rater’s bias- only 20% was actual performance variance.

The point is that performance information we gather is not horribly valuable because it is so potentially biased.

Deloitte decided to tackle this issue with what I think is a fascinating experimental approach to managing performance.

They found as the Gallup organizations research has demonstrated previously, that teams and individuals that are allowed to play to their strengths consistently outperform others.

 In their own internal research, they found that the variance between high performing teams and lower performing teams could be accounted for by team members responded to three items-

·         My coworkers are committed to do quality work

·         The mission of the company inspires me

·         I have the chance to use my strengths every day

The first two items speak clearly to the concept of an employment brand. The third is the critical link of clear expectations and focusing employee efforts on playing to their strengths in support of the organizational mission.

I like to think the ties to the critical skill sets I outlined above become pretty clear at this point!

Deloitte decided that their objectives for performance management are in three key areas:

·         Recognizing performance and appropriately rewarding it

·         Capturing meaningful and accurate performance data efficiently

·         To fuel appropriate future performance

To accomplish their objectives, they created a snap shot approach that asks team leaders to communicate their future actions about each employee and the end of every project; or at minimum each quarter for long term projects.

Their research found that four items provided the basis of that snapshot:

Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money I would award this person the highest possible pay increase and bonus. This measures overall performance and unique contribution to the organization.

Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team. This measures the employee’s ability to “play well with others”

This person is at risk for low performance. This identifies areas for intervention ranging from coaching to other more drastic action and minimizes risk long term.

This person is ready for promotion today. This measures perceived potential.

Each of these items is rated on a five -point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

Any rating of less than 5 on questions 1, 2, and 4 are a platform for discussion and mutual investment by the employee and the organization.

By focusing on these snapshots you have a roadmap for both discussion and managerial action

In addition to these quarterly snapshots each team leader is expected to check in with each team member weekly. The purpose of these “check ins” is to clarify expectations, monitor short term progress, and provide course correction, coaching, or other valuable input.

The interesting thing at Deloitte is they don’t consider these “check ins” ancillary or in addition to the team leader’s role, they consider them to be inherent to it. The other interesting dynamic is that responsibility for scheduling the check ins is with the individual team member!

As you might suspect, I am a fan of this new approach.

 If we are really honest the point of performance assessment is to encourage desirable performance and discourage performance that is not contributing to the organizational mission.

The purpose of employee engagement is alignment with organizational objectives.

We can’t make employees happy! Anyone that has ever been in a relationship knows that is not a project you want to take on.

Happiness is deeply personal and means something different to each of us. Studies have also shown that things that have nothing to do with organizational performance may drive “happiness” and that happy doesn’t mean better performance.

Increased morale is great, if it contributes to increased performance and reduced turnover. It is not an organizational goal on its own.

To go full circle, I think you can see the critical correlation between the skills I mentioned previously and the ability to execute on this kind of a model.

If managers are not skilled at setting expectations, giving constructive feedback, coaching and developing employee’s strengths then you only have a two dimensional model that doesn’t address the three objectives that Deloitte identified.

In the final assessment the team with the best players who play well together are going to win the most consistently.

This model won’t make up for poor hiring and selection or manager/team leaders who don’t have the skills to diagnose and coach performance issues, but it is far superior to what most of us are using today taking a huge step towards “managing whole people”.

So tell me; are you playing to win or are you just playing?



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