It's good to talk

Whilst 90% of appraisal schemes are probably a waste of time, there is a new way of increasing the effectiveness of your business through your people but please don’t call it performance management.

This new approach focuses on the quality of the conversation rather than the form filling process. If you have resisted formal staff reviews as wasteful bureaucracy take heart; there is a better way.

The bad old days

We have all been victims of the “sign here” appraisal process. The once a year meeting with your boss because somebody decided we need an appraisal system to be a modern organisation. Filed away for the next twelve months its impact is minimal but someone is HR is feeling good about a “successful process”.  But as Businesses took performance at work more seriously, a new threat developed.

“We created a monster”

Over time we go from the sublime to the ridiculous and a whole industry emerges called “performance management”.  The strategists tell us to link individual goals to the corporate objectives and the jargon machine spews out words like “cascade” and phrases like “all singing from the same hymn sheet”

Now we mix in layers of extra complexity by introducing the concept of the Balanced Business Score card and “stretch objectives”.

All of this results in an overly bureaucratic process that lacks credibility with employees and stifles flexibility for managers.

Back to basics

 If you ask people what they want from work the words “influence, choice and flexibility emerge very strongly. Interesting that. The whole concept of autonomy comes out really strongly. People like to have a big influence over the day-to-day decisions they are able make at work. Choice is nourishing. Responsibility is enhancing.

And yet when we sit down to design most management processes its all about predictability and control. Turned off yet? Well most of your staff will be as soon as you rollout that new fangled overly prescriptive process.

Leading the way

 I’ve always been struck by the fact that good leaders can make the proverbial “silk purse out of a sows ear.” When it comes to clumsy, fussy procedures, they use their instincts to make them more effective, in many cases ignoring them altogether. Conversely give a streamlined review process to the average manager and they will superimpose their own layers of complexity in a tactic that is often linked to avoidance and indecisiveness.

So it's not about the process; it's about the quality of the conversation that takes place.

Key ingredients

 Done well, the secret seems to be linked to a “little and often” communication style, an ability to ask good questions that truly engage. And a coaching style is never far away from the best performers in this area. They use these conversations as integral to getting the job done rather than an add on. Finally, they provide regular feedback, which is honest and direct, and support improvements by giving praise when things go well and helping people to develop greater understanding.

Developing talent

The “best” also believe that most people want to develop their skills so that they can be ‘the best they can be’ and to support this they have a framework with a strong focus on providing individuals with training and support to grow their skills in line with changing priorities. And all of this without a form in sight!

Getting buy-in.

The key here is to gain buy in to the targets you are setting by involving your staff in the process. That way you will gain a better ownership and understanding from your staff. Overall, you will achieve more too, as most people are quite demanding of themselves when it comes to asking them what they think they can accomplish.

Owner manager syndrome

 Finally, time for some personal reflection? You love what you do and you are probably very good at it. So you enjoy problem solving and sometimes it’s easier to spoon feed your staff with answers to problems you can deal with your eyes closed. A neat little vicious circle emerges as they work out the best way to get the job done is through you! The manager as coach cuts into this unproductive sequence challenging your staff to think for themselves and using questions to help them explore options to problem solve for themselves.