Performance management training is broken, but we can fix it

performanceA colleague sent me an article, “Reinventing Performance Management,” about changes to performance management at Deloitte Consulting. Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion in the blogosphere about the need to change how organizations do performance management. Many of the organizations that we work with are going from deficit-focused programs, in which an assessment is conducted and people are guided to “fix” themselves, to more positive, proactive programs. A lot of these new approaches are based on David Rock’s work showing the negative neural impact of traditional performance management and the benefits of a positive approach. This article relies instead on Marcus Buckingham’s work at Gallup which focuses on strengths. The article argues that the focus on performance management should be on three key factors: recognize, see and fuel performance. However, this idea is deeply flawed in a multitude of ways. The article claims to be based on recent research on performance management, but it appears that it’s based on one study and Buckingham’s work at Gallup. It misses critical work done by Rock and Dan Pink’s work on motivation. In addition, the article didn’t even mention any work conducted on the neuroscience of learning, which is the foundation of improved performance. After all, someone has to learn new attitudes and behaviors to get better. It would also appear that the internal research performed was based on narrow premises and clearly missed a number of key elements, such as the importance of purpose (although it alludes to this “sense of purpose” once in the article). Finally, the article’s primary prescription for improving performance is to have the team leaders meet more frequently with their team members – which is hardly insightful. Looking more at the substance of the Deloitte approach shows that the article completely misses three key underlying problems with performance management:

    1. 1. The connection of performance management to salary administration is alluded to, but mostly ignored. As we wrote about previously, most performance management systems are really salary administration systems which causes the negative neural impact. Since we have written about it before, we aren’t going to spend time on it here.
    1. 2. There isn’t an agreed upon standard to what constitutes great performance. Like most performance management systems, people are trying to measure something that hasn’t been defined. This leaves the burden on managers to use their “judgement” – a problematic standard in the best of circumstances – as the basis for the assessment of someone’s performance.
    1. 3. The development programs available to people to actually improve the performance and the coaching skills of managers providing the feedback are generally ineffective. Even if the manager meets more with their people, if they don’t know how to develop performance and they have few useful learning resources, not much will change.
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Focusing on the 2nd and 3rd issues, in contrast to their approach, our best practice roadmaps objectively define excellent performance and it’s easy to measure, even if the behavior is intangible. This makes it much easier for the manager to determine the quality of the performance, including the most important and difficult to manage aspects of performance, such as the quality of the underlying thinking. Similarly, so much is known about how people learn and what motivates and develops improved performance that it’s easy for managers to become great coaches and people to experience great learning programs. In our programs, formal performance management is rarely necessary because everyone receives excellent coaching and they become highly effective self-directed learns. Finally, the article doesn’t provide any information about the effectiveness of the program. As far as I could tell, they didn’t really attempt to measure the impact. We know from our measurement process that better than 90% of the participants in our programs think and act like the stars. Fundamentally, these people are still trying to do salary admin rather than actually build performance, which isn’t new or different. If you really want to build great performance — which presumably is the goal — start with the practices of your star performers. Then use the newest in the neuroscience of learning to guide everyone to think and act like the stars. Of course, when everyone is a star performer, how could an organization possibly decide who should get paid more? Isn’t this a better problem to have as opposed to having most of your people under-performing?  ]]>

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