Forget what HR tells you to do … do what works for your team.

Let me back it up a little bit. I’m not saying to not follow whatever performance management process your company has in place – we’ve worked really hard to put something in place as a baseline to ensure people are getting feedback in some scaleable format. I’m also not saying to not listen to HR’s coaching – many of us geek out about this sort of thing and love to help you become more effective at delivering feedback. I am saying not to let yourself be limited by whatever system is in place – see at as a framework to build off of.

We need to do a reboot of performance management at my current company, so I’ve been reading up a bit, studying new tools and thinking about how to best combine simplicity, regularity and efficacy in a scaleable system, while leaving room for teams to do what works best for them. Here are some key components for any manager thinking about performance management.

Regular feedback. I meet with everyone on my team once per week. Each person fills me in on anything they need help with, talks about things they have accomplished and asks any questions they have for me. I save the end of our time to ask questions about how they’ve taken on a project, why they’ve made the the decisions they have, or how well something went. Then I provide my feedback on anything that jumps to mind based on the prior week. Rather than forced feedback covering a long period of time, it’s timely little bits of highly-specific feedback (at least, that’s the goal … I have off weeks).

Career planning. Several times a year, an informal check-in on career goals is helpful (and greatly appreciated). Talk about their big picture goals; don’t dance around the fact (or get angry with the realization) that they likely won’t be with you and your company for forever; figure out the skills they need to hit their goals; and figure out the projects and coaching you can realistically provide for them right now. If you are committed to their growth long-term and figure out how to help them, you will almost certainly get more loyalty and effort from your team.

Ask for feedback. If you are helping your team grow, there is no reason for you not to leverage them to help you grow. Ask what you are doing and not doing well. Ask how they like to be managed and what is driving them crazy. Some of my biggest growing moments as a manager came from open feedback from my team. You’ll need to earn trust first – nobody is going to give tough (but helpful) feedback to their manager if they are worried it’ll come back to haunt them. Which also means that you shouldn’t ask for feedback if you aren’t ready to hear it (I’ve seen this turn sour a number of times).

Do an intake. If you take on a new team or new person, do an intro meeting. I have one I do 1-2 times a year that covers seven questions and helps me immensely as a manager.

  • What do you love to do?
  • What do you hate to do?
  • What are you awesome at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are you bad at (overlap allowed)?
  • What are your goals – career and skills to acquire?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • How do you not like to be managed?

This allows me to deploy people on things in their wheelhouse, challenge them with projects that will build skills they’ll need to hit their growth goals, and saves me some hard lessons in managing them the right way. It also lets me give more helpful context to the projects I assign them (ie. “I’m giving you this project because I think it’ll give some skills needed to hit this goal”).

The wrap: Talk to your team about how they want feedback. Ask them about a system that works for them. Be open and honest with them. Commit to growing them. It may seem counterintuitive to be committed to getting someone promoted (or hired to a bigger role elsewhere), but it will pay off in performance and engagement. It’ll likely help with retention, too (because people ride out the hard times for a good manager). Being a good manager is a lot of work – giving feedback and managing performance are both a huge part of it. Find a good mentor, read up, experiment and ask for feedback. It’ll pay off in your career growth.

 

 

“The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?'” Applied to Performance Management

I recently read a great article in The New York Times called “The Power of ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’“. The gist is that businesses need more people asking questions . Doing so may help us be innovative and solve problems better. I’ve been spending some time (on my couch, obviously) thinking about performance management. Almost universally-hated, people are finally taking a closer look at the system and solutions. This seems like a great system to attack the problem.

Why do we do performance management (in its current form)?

  • To help inform compensation decisions
  • To promote and coach growth
  • To address performance issues
  • To give feedback regularly
  • Because we’re supposed to do it
  • It helps “rank” employees
  • To “document” issues (HR made us do it!)
  • To review goals and progress

Why do people hate it so freagin’ much (in its current form)?

  • It takes too much time
  • Too much negative feedback
  • It’s demoralizing
  • Ratings or stack rankings (when used) suck for all involved
  • It’s not the full picture – often there isn’t input from those closest to performance
  • Comp decisions tend to overly-emphasize the most recent quarter’s successes and failures
  • The process isn’t a balanced two-way exchange of feedback
  • Feedback isn’t delivered in a timely manner – it’s coming way too late
  • Annual, in particular, is really tough
  • It seems like the review is structured to justify the compensation change to the employee
  • Pressure on managers to use the review to justify compensation changes they may not agree with

What if we … ?

  • Tied compensation to market data and trusted managers to put people within a market-based range depending on performance?
  • Looked at compensation more frequently?
  • Decoupled compensation and performance conversations?
  • Pay people a lower base plus regular discretionary bonuses based on performance or completion of projects?
    • What if this pushed under performers to self-select out?
  • Tied reviews to projects or initiatives wrapping up instead of to a quarter or annual schedule?
  • Let employees drive the process and ask for general or specific feedback when they want?
  • Focused on utilizing people’s strengths, versus calling out negatives?
  • Actively coached weaknesses?
  • Had regular, informal career coaching?
  • Judged managers/leaders by how much they helped their employees grow and develop?
  • Had managers receive coaching and feedback from their teams regularly?
  • Did away with the manager altogether and relied on peers and mentors to provide feedback?

It’s encouraging that some tech companies seem to be looking at the problem of performance management (and connected issues) differently and are building tools for a different type of solution. Similarly, it’s awesome to see companies looking at the data and impact of the “old” way of doing things, and using that data to drive changes. Adobe’s switch to Check-ins being a rather high-profile example.

What are your thoughts on performance management? Or, rather, what are your questions surrounding it?