What if we had positive performance management discussions?

The aim of any performance management system is to continuously improve the performance of individuals and that of the organisation (ACAS). It involves making sure that the performance of individuals contributes to the goals of their teams and the business as a whole.

Good performance management helps everyone in the organisation to know:

  • what the business is trying to achieve
  • their role in helping the business achieve its goals
  • the skill and competencies they need to fulfil their role
  • the standards of performance required
  • how they can develop their performance and contribute to development of the organisation
  • how they are doing
  • when there are performance problems and what to do about them.

When performance management goes well it directly impacts employee engagement. Employees are clear of their responsibility, show loyalty towards the manager and the organisation and are prepared to go that extra mile.

However, all too often performance management is poorly managed and focused on the negative. A 2010 survey revealed that only 30% of employees trust their performance management system and only 43% view the system as effective. One of the key reasons performance management doesn’t work well is that managers find it difficult to deliver constructive feedback. As a result, employee engagement is not always enhanced but often diminised.

I’m a huge fan of anything strengths based. Strengths based recruitment, strengths based job design, strengths based feedback and coaching. Given the parlous state of performance management systems, why can’t we turn performance management on its head and have a strength based and positive approach to performance management?

How to do it:

Firstly, gather strengths based feedback (either using a strengths based diagnostic or by simply asking those with whom you work):

  • What is it you have done well over the past 12 months?
  • What strengths have you seen me using during that time?

Next, put that feedback into action by asking:

  • If I was to add more value to the business in the next 12 months, what would you like to see me doing?
  • Listen carefully without judgement.
  • Thank people for their input.
  • Draft some strengths based targets and goals for the coming year.

Some of this is based on the Feedforward method originated by Marshall Goldsmith, but most of it is just plain, positive, common sense. Asking for positive feedback is not difficult. Giving feedback on an individual’s strengths is also not difficult for the manager or colleagues. Therefore a conversation about performance and positive engagement is enabled across the organisation.

I tried this with my son’s overly academic school which was prone to deliver very negative messages to my dyslexic child. I asked each of his teachers to tell me:

(a) one thing he is good at

(b) one area in which he has improved over the year

As a result, the dialogue with the school changed and some of these positive messages  crept into his school report. And we used the feedback to bolster him when times were tough before moving him to a more suitable school environment.

Of course, there will be those who say we need to focus on development gaps to improve performance. Maybe. But, as David Rock says, we are so hardwired to be hard on ourselves, we don’t need anyone telling us what we don’t do well. No doubt we will focus on what hasn’t gone well just to balance things out.