A Leader is a dealer in hope – Napoleon, a quote which brings back these thoughts and words. It personifies the role of leaders innumerable make or break situations of everyday working a key area for all leaders to manage are performance management systems and the related performance conversations.
Performance management systems (PMS) have been a talk of the corporate town from time immemorial. We may criticize the various performance management methods, hate them, advocate them, but the truth of the matter is that we cannot do without them. HT shine dedicated its 39th HR conclave to “Reinventing the Performance management systems”. Practitioners, educationists and consultants grappled with the issues such as whether current PMS are good enough? Is the individual or the group a right subject of PMS? How often should performance appraisals happen? An eye opening revelation by one of the panelist was that on an average a manager spends around 15-20 minutes for a performance conversation, one of the most crucial communications in employee management. This observation is not only shocking, but also detrimental to the talent management strategies of an organization. How can the report of the PMS that looks at the annual performance of an individual in most organizations be completed in a mere 15 to 20 minutes? Would the receiver feel that justice has prevailed? Even a top performer may mind such a brief feedback, as there may be neither adequate recognition of goals accomplished nor a fulfilling discussion of a career growth trajectory. In such circumstance, an employee who is shocked to receive an unexpected negative feedback or a below average feedback would feel very hostile about such an abrupt and short conversation. Why do managers indulge in such poor performance conversations?
There are myriad reasons for such a choice:
Very often bad news during a performance conversation generates extreme emotional outbursts from the subordinate. In such cases the manager may have had a harrowing experience justifying and pacifying the individual. American Psychologist Edward Thorndike’s law of effect states that any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behaviour followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped. Thus, many leaders have a tendency to avoid a performance conversation unless it becomes absolutely impossible to prolong the conversation any further
Lack of commitment to coaching:
Performance management systems are based on the basic premise that continual feedback and coaching for leaders is an integral part of the leadership role. However, some managers may find this proposition extremely time consuming and energy sapping. They may also consider the exercise a waste unless their KRAs have some bearing on the Learning and development opportunities provided to their subordinates.
Trapped in a “Good Guy syndrome”:
Nobody likes to be a bearer of bad news. In case of difficult performance conversations, a manager may try to diffuse the tension by speaking a lot about peripheral issue rather than core performance related issues. A lack of assertiveness may prompt them to softball the matter , leaving the recipient more resentful and disengaged.
Lack of the soft skills:
Many managers lack the basic skill set required to carry out a crucial conversation. Few may present the performance review in a surgical and a matter of fact way without a consideration for the recipient’s emotional need and self esteem. Few others may be very general and vague, leaving the recipient confused, angry and demotivated. In either case the conversation would not achieve the objective that it is meant to fulfil.
Approaches to successful Performance conversations
PM is a continuous process focused on the holistic development of the employee. A constant feedback and coaching becomes an integral part of this scheme. Effective leadership depends upon the quality of connecting that they can create with their followers through effective conversations. A research by McKenzie and Company in 2010 coining the term “relationship capital” that gets defined the ability of workers at all levels to leverage conversations. Expert consultants, Mark Busine and others associated with DDI have advocated a core set of behaviour known as the Interaction Essentials.
The Interactions Essentials
According to this model, all conversations in the work context have a practical need of attaining a productive outcome. Simultaneously conversations also need to address a personal need of all human beings to be valued, understood, involved, and supported. The open-clarify-develop-agree-close conversation structure in a performance conversation would involve the following:
Open: a non-judgmental opening to set the context and share the ratings of the performance appraisal
Clarify: and collect further facts and figures as well as issues, perceptions and concerns of the appraise.
Develop: a road map and discuss options, alternatives or plan of action through open dialogue and deliberation
Agree: upon a specific course correction or a line of action to be undertaken and
Closing: the conversation with a clear agreement on the way forward.
Such discussions would greatly enhance the chances of setting expectations of both parties right, getting a buy-in and enhances the chances of performance improvements of the candidate.
The other aspect of the Interaction essentials takes care of the personal needs of every individual to be valued, involved, appreciated and supported. The basic interaction principles of maintaining an individual’s self esteem, responding empathically, asking precise questions for an active dialogue, sharing trust and positive feeling and ensuring support in the development of an individual are the hallmarks of these conversations.
Another interesting model that can be applied to the performance conversations is the Redirection response proposed by Ken Blanchard in his book Whale Done. The redirection response comprises of 5 major steps:
A five point plan for managing good performance conversations
Finally a leader can keep 5 points in mind to make performance conversations more meaningful:
- Be connected with the subordinates. It’s imperative that you as a leader have mapped subordinates and are aware of their strengths and areas of improvement. This provides a better chance of making performance conversations more specific and relevant to the receiver.
- Do not wait to strike a conversation for an annual performance review. Performance conversations can be informal, frequent and genuine rather than annually and ritualistic. This increase chances, of course corrections and enhances productivity.
- Use a hot stove principle prescribed by Douglas McGregor in your management style. Applying this principle corrective feedback should be immediate, with a warning that has already hinted at the plausible consequences, consistent to avoid confusion, and impersonal, which means is not biased and is an issue based rather than person specific.
- Do your homework well. Know your facts, critical incidences and figures adequately. Be specific giving behavioural examples rather than making generic statements
- Finally, use the brilliant approach advocated by Marshal Goldsmith, Feedforward. While a feedback is mostly backdated and focused on what went wrong, a feedforward mainly looks at the future. It indicates 3 to 4 things that the person should change in behaviour to achieve the desired outcomes.
Performance conversations are an unavoidable relationship capital and should be leveraged by all leaders for optimum positive performance conversations.