Performance Management: More Than a Form

December 2nd, 2015
Written by: Jessica Pritchett

A version of this article was originally prepared by TPO for one of its clients, an industry educational foundation.

Performance management can be a powerful tool for your business.  A manager can establish goals, share feedback, and improve performance through discussions with employees.  If those performance management discussions are conducted in a way that builds a transparent culture between the manager and employees, they can improve recruiting, employee engagement, employee retention, and productivity.

That kind of performance management may require a cultural shift.  Companies that follow the traditional model of performance evaluation – formal discussions only once or twice a year – often continue to struggle with employee performance, even if they change their forms or processes for evaluation.

That’s because each employee has different needs and capabilities.  If your performance management system isn’t helping your company, it might be time to shake things up so that you’re best tailoring discussions to individual employees.  Here are some ways to shift the focus from annual or semiannual performance evaluations to ongoing and productive discussions that improve employee engagement and performance.

When to Have Performance Management Discussions

Remember that shifting the focus in performance management starts with the manager.  Employees need to take an active role in these discussions as well, but changing the culture around them begins at the top.

Institute monthly conversations with your employees.  These regular conversations build in structure and provide more opportunities for feedback than in the typical performance evaluation model.

You can also shift online gambling the performance management culture even more radically by making these discussions truly ongoing – hold less formal conversations when necessary to suggest areas for improvement or recognize excellent work.  If you think about the best sports coaches you had as a child, they probably helped you out whenever you needed guidance.  They suggested ways you could use your talents to improve your form, and they acknowledged when you’d achieved a goal or helped out the team.  This both made you a better player and helped your team.

In the same way, when you see something an employee can do better, talk to the employee about it, focusing on the future and the solution rather than the poor result and the problem. Just as important, recognize employees when they’ve done something well.  That way, employees can make constant adjustments and continue best practices.

Remember These Key Tips…

The blog post two weeks ago discussed a few tips for effective performance management conversations. You should continue to follow them and integrate them into your discussions, so here’s a brief review.

  1. Clearly establish your company’s goals and mission.

Employees who are well acquainted with your company’s strategy, as well as with how their work helps facilitate it, are more committed and productive.

Therefore, in your discussions, establish how the employee’s work contributes to the business. Draw connections between the employee’s work and the company’s goals and success.  With everyone moving in the same direction, your company will be more likely to grow.

  1. Clarify performance expectations repeatedly

 Establishing performance expectations should be dynamic and ongoing, and involve more than just listing a few performance measurements.

In your meetings – whether formal or informal – establish what work needs to get done and how it should be done; what good and bad performance looks like; areas for improvement; and how expectations may have changed.

With this clarification, employees will not only perform better, but have a stronger sense of ownership of their work and relationship with you and the company.

  1. Make Feedback Ongoing

 As discussed above, you should make performance management routine and ongoing.  Shift not only the structure of these discussions, but also their focus.  Play to the employee’s strengths.

That will of course require you to identify those strengths.  You can start by asking what the employee thinks is and isn’t working.  Then provide positive feedback based on the employee’s strengths and discuss how they can be used to improve performance.  Finally, when you need to address areas for improvement, focus on how the employee can use knowledge and skills to improve performance.

Those ongoing discussions will support your relationship with your employees and make it routine for them to build on their own strengths to improve performance.

 Now that we’ve reviewed those three tips, let’s take a look at three more that will help you continue to improve performance management discussions.

  1. Make Performance Discussions a Two-Way Street by Cultivating Openness and Trust

 Previous articles have highlighted the importance of communication to overall productivity.  In an environment of open communication, employees are more likely to be invested in your company’s success and to stay in their jobs.

Both you and your employees need to be honest and open in performance management discussions, or else issues will remain unaddressed. That starts with clear and transparent communication from you, without which employees won’t trust your company and won’t share crucial information.

Here’s how to build that open communication and trust:

  • Share your company’s challenges with the employee, even the financial ones.
  • Invite the employee to hear your/the company’s side of the story by making sure they have all the facts relevant to the particular situation.
  • Remove judgment from the equation. Start with a blank slate and hear the employee’s side of the story instead of rushing to address the issue.
  • Keep the dialogue open – remember, you’re trying to create a two-way street. Ask the following questions: “What might we both do differently to work together to build on this and make things more effective?  What support would be useful?”=
  • Take input seriously, even if you don’t end up using it. Listening to input and then not following up on it can damage employee trust, as well as make the employee think sharing is a waste of time.  Tell the employee why you asked for the advice. Also follow up and share whether it was used, how, and why.  Keep that line open: Establish whether you will save the input for a later time or ask for it again.
  • Reward, rather than punish, feedback. Employees often worry that if they give feedback on their manager or company, they’ll be punished.  But without feedback, you can’t improve employee and company performance.  Establish rewards tied to employees’ sharing their ideas.

By constructing that two-way street, you can create an environment of trust and respect.

  1. Team Up With Your Employees to Find Solutions to Problems

Simply telling employees how to fix a problem may seem easy in the short term.  But if you do that, you’ll have to keep solving the same problems and your employees won’t grow.  You can increase productivity by prioritizing problems, coaching employees on how to address them, and encouraging them to seek out their own solutions.

Here’s how you can team up with employees:

  • Identify the problem – establish why it’s important to solve it and what you’re trying to accomplish by doing so.
  • Emphasize the future – answer the following questions:
  • How will things be different when the issue is better?
  • What will you be doing differently when things are better?
  • What will be the changes in your behavior?
  • How will others be able to tell that things are better?
  • Identify what’s working and your employee’s strengths, and how those strengths can be used to address the problem. Answer the following questions:
  • When is the issue less of a problem or when is it not a problem at all?
  • What is different about the times when the issue is better?
  • What resources or skills have you used in the past to make the issue better?
  • Clearly define small changes and actions that can be taken to address the problem.
  • Enact those steps and continue to evaluate, through this same process, what further steps need to be taken.

If you frame discussions like this, employees will be more likely to proactively address problems and take ownership of their work, which will facilitate both your job and theirs.

  1. Build Employee Performance Through Job Experiences

You don’t want employee performance to be static.  You want to build on employees’ strengths, challenge them, and help them develop their skills.  In the short term, employees in that environment will help you out more effectively.  In the long term, they will be more likely to stay with a company that provides them room to grow.

Formal training is not the only tool for employee development.  Employees need challenging opportunities to apply their new knowledge and skills.  It’s your job to find ways to provide them.

Here’s how to integrate those opportunities into performance management discussions:

  • Once again, know your employee’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Identify work you usually do that you can pass on to the employee. Make sure that work fits in with the employee’s strengths and that it will help the employee grow.
  • Monitor how the employee does with that work and build in time for feedback – remember those ongoing, dynamic discussions.
  • When you give new assignments to employees, break them down into smaller chunks so that you can have more follow-ups and ensure that the employee is headed in the right direction.

Employees who are given more chances to grow will improve their performance, be more productive, and therefore make your company more productive.

These tips show that good performance management is ongoing, cooperative, and open.  Breaking the mold of traditional performance evaluations and engaging in dynamic discussions with your employees will help them – and therefore your business – grow.

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