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Performance Management

Week 8

Developing performance management skills in your employees

Throughout our masterclass series, we’ve been underlining the importance of regular, meaningful performance discussions, action planning and frequent feedback in order to gain genuine improvements in performance. Whilst this may sound simple in theory, it can be difficult to achieve in practice, and the biggest barrier to success is people not have the necessary skills.

Managers are commonly promoted for their technical skills and knowledge, and do not necessarily possess the competencies required to manage the performance of their teams in a positive way. Similarly team members themselves may be used to ‘traditional’ styles of management whereby their objectives and personal development needs have been dictated from above, so they may not have the skills or confidence to take charge of their own performance and development.

The key skills required for effective performance management

  • Planning objectives and personal development activities. Individuals and their managers need to understand how to write SMART objectives and align them to the overall goals of the organisation or their department. Similarly they need to know how to identify their strengths and areas for improvement, and turn these into specific personal development and learning plans.
  • Action planning and progress monitoring. Setting objectives and personal development plans is only part of the story. For them to be successfully achieved, individuals and their managers will benefit from some practical tools and techniques to help them to plan forthcoming actions, review progress and overcome obstacles.
  • How to give and ask for feedback. Managers need to understand the importance of frequent ‘in the moment’ feedback, and how to appropriately balance praise with constructive feedback (a ratio of 3:1 is recommended). Employees should be encouraged to ask for feedback and need to learn how to accept it and take it on board (not always easy!).
  • Coaching. Coaching is increasingly being recognised as a powerful way of improving performance and can be used in both informal discussions and formal performance reviews. Training your managers in how to coach their team members can produce significant results. See Jenny Rogers’ excellent book Manager as Coach for some insightful evidence and advice on this, as well as an explanation of the OSCAR coaching model for managers.
  • Objective and consistent performance assessment. If your performance management process involves assessing or rating performance, then managers will need guidance on how to do this objectively and consistently. Specifically they need to be made aware of common rating biases (‘contrast effect’, ‘halo/horns effect’, ‘central tendency’ etc.) and taught how to avoid them. Dick Grote has a good section on this in his Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal book.
  • Handling under-performance. Managers need to learn how to promptly and confidently tackle conversations about poor performance. Whilst feedback and coaching skills are the core building blocks, under-performance often requires a more tailored approach.

How to develop performance management skills

Like any form of personal development, a variety of learning interventions can be used to develop these skills. That said, practical training workshops are likely to have the biggest impact as they give will attendees a chance to practice their new skills in a safe environment. Training workshops also allow concerns or cynicism from managers to be discussed and dealt with – something that cannot be achieved with say a video.

A common concern with running training workshops is that they can take people out of the business for too long. We would argue, though, that the time and cost required will be more than made up through increased levels of motivation, engagement and performance when the new skills are applied. For people in particularly busy roles, organisations such as Mind Gym run 90 minute ‘workouts’ on all the key performance management skills.

Other learning methods that you could use include e-learning, videos, presentations, tip sheets, coaching, mentoring and action learning. Whatever methods you use, the more interesting and interactive they are, the better. It’s also best to offer a variety of different training options to encourage the maximum amount of learning over time. Our Clear Review performance management software includes a number of short, animated ‘whiteboard’ videos on the core performance management skills, and these can be used to top up other training interventions for your employees.

Focus your training on skills not your system

We frequently come across organisations who are running performance management training, but the focus of the training is on how to use the performance management system, or follow the procedures. To make performance management a success, your training should centre around the underlying performance management skills as they will make a real difference to performance in your organisation. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend any time at all on explaining your organisation’s performance management processes, responsibilities and tools. However, if this cannot be done via a short session or communication, then your system or tools are probably too complicated and would benefit from being simplified.

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