Rethinking Performance Management

Performance ManagementTeam leaders could make the performance feedback process one of their most effective tools. During my career as an HR Director, I could always elicit a groan from almost any of our managers by introducing one topic: Performance Appraisal. As a rule, this subject or responsibility, irrespective of training and MORE training, generally focuses on the past. This translates to team members as, “How much of a raise am I getting this year?”

If viewed in these terms, it’s understandable why the process is dreaded by the “reviewer” and the “reviewee.” Over the course of my career, I searched for a strategy to make this “required” activity a more positive experience for everyone involved.

If I were to “cherry pick” the most promising or least threatening concepts, three (3) of the many ideas I reviewed seemed promising. Those three (3) concepts or strategies are: focusing on future performance, constructive and timely feedback and building skills.

Let’s examine these three (3) strategies:

  1.  Future Performance – First, the nature of performance appraisal is a rear facing activity. A team member may have performed a task or project that did not meet the desired standard. This is now history and is probably unalterable. So, what value is there in pointing out to a team member that the performance “did not meet expectations?” They already know that and rehashing it will not change or improve anything. On the other hand, a future performance outlook would entail a review of the team member’s skill in the particular area to determine if additional training could be a solution, or working with a more experienced person to gradually develop the needed skills before assuming sole responsibility the next time that a similar task or project is undertaken.
  2. Constructive and Timely FeedbackIt is important to share with team members when they could have done something more effectively. This includes what they could have done instead, and why the alternative would have been better. Feedback that is structured in this fashion helps the team member to see how they can improve their performance and achieve their goals. It is important to build on previous performance to generate even more effective performance.

If you wait too long to give feedback for improvement, the team member could be embarrassed that other people saw there was a problem while they didn’t. In some cases, anger may foment because it’s too late to do anything about it. Team members may feel insulted that you even brought it up. After all, if it was so important, why didn’t you say something when it happened? This is a typical case of resistance to feedback. It is also important to avoid generalities. Words like always and never infer that you are describing a long-standing performance trend. Team members may even become angry with you for not providing the feedback sooner. You don’t want your team to think their general performance is unacceptable, because that is demoralizing.

  1. Building SkillsWhat your organization needs from your team is the competency to meet current and future requirements. What you need from your team members is the required skills to meet current and future requirements. Skill building will enhance and improve team performance. But this effort requires a general skills assessment, but not necessarily a formal or scientific study. For example, based on teams’ responsibilities, they may need specific software skills, basic inventory management techniques, quality inspection techniques, and knowledge of customer service procedures. Your task is to ensure that each team member is trained to the standard.

The administrative requirement for determining compensation, record keeping and other HR-related programs should be separate from performance management. Team leaders should not allow the coaching and feedback process to falter. This should be considered a very important aspect of any team leader’s responsibility.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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