Irish News Article

How does your performance management process measure on the scale?

Neil Hughes
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The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) describes performance management simply as “the attempt to maximise the value that employees create”, helping to maintain and improve the performance of staff to align with organisational objectives.

Performance management processes have been, and continue to be a feature in the workplace, but we are now seeing a shift in emphasis from a focus on the organisation’s aims and goals, towards supporting and developing people to become more effective in their work.  Therefore, managing performance and the mechanisms deployed by organisations, needs to fully consider their staff in terms of their individual needs, aspirations and preferences effectively the ‘whole person’.  In the diverse, multi-generational workforce of today, we know that people have differing preferences and priorities and that these impact what engages and motivates them.  Establishing strong links between individual values and organisational values, will therefore engage individuals in their work and in so doing impact performance. 

This however, does not diminish from the need to focus staff on the organisation’s priorities and overarching goals.  Managing people’s performance shouldn’t become a ‘wish list’, and does need to maintain a clear line of sight on the overall goals of the organisation, whilst balancing this with diverse and interesting goals and objectives for the individual.   Performance management needs to ensure it is meaningful, flexible, and people centred.  Performance focussed conversations, need to become broader and not just about a performance rating on a scale. 

So in essence performance management needs to be revolutionised!

We therefore, see that there is an ever increasing need for organisations to review and assess their performance management model against the latest best practice. Ensuring their objective is consistently focus on assessing an employee’s performance and identify areas for technical or personal development. The revolution comes into play and can be realised, if the ‘when and how’ you assess your staff maximises performance.

The CIPD recommend focusing on key outputs of performance reviews separately. For example, it is probably better to discuss support on learning and development separately from decisions on pay and promotion.

They recommend, Employers reflect on what performance behaviours they want to emphasise and that people managers also need to reflect on the specific competencies, attitudes and behaviours they expect from their team.

In addition, these reflections should include, reviewing performance on specific tasks; and the delivery of core activities included in the job; contextual performance: and the activities that go beyond the job remit, and what moves the organisation forward; and adaptive performance, the ability to respond to unexpected changes, for example, how a crises was handled or how a problem was overcome.

It is important the managers carrying out performance conversations ask probing and open questions to encourage employees to expand on their performance stories. Managers need to demonstrate active listening, including the use of non-verbal cues, and provide constructive feedback, focusing on evidence and strengths to empower the individual to maintain or improve their performance. Most importantly, performance conversations should be planned and regular, with a clear purpose and agenda, not just a one off once a year.

Furthermore, we know that a manager’s ability to build solid relationships with their team promotes high trust and ensures transparency of the working processes and performance management. We strongly advise organisations review and remove any negative connotations that can sometimes surround performance conversations.

Finally, let us discuss ratings and grades. As you would expect, there are a variety of scales used, most organisations use a scale of between three and six grades. The language used to describe each level within the scale is very important. We suggest keeping a keen eye on the words and phrases used, particularly any that may come across as critical or demotivating for staff.

There is a lot of current debate, about traditional ratings and suggestions that these should be replaced.  Current best practice indicates, that the term ‘rating scales’ could be changed to ‘status’ while the phrase ‘meeting expectations’ should be abandoned. Some organisations are using ‘ghost ratings’; which excludes the employee from knowing where they are on the scale, and keeping conversations strictly focused on qualitative feedback.

Large organisations such as Google, Airbnb and LinkedIn, use an Objective and Key Results (OKR) process, to measure performance against organisational objectives, including customer engagement and sales targets. Behavioural-based processes are growing more widespread as well - such as BARS and BOS, Behaviourally Anchored Rating Scales and Behaviour Observation Scale. These are similar in that they assess staff in line with expected behaviours, often linked to organisational values and culture.

Regardless of how you measure up against best practice, managers should always be accountable for their ratings; and always be able to explain them clearly to the individual on a consistent, transparent and fair basis. This ensures that the process of managing performance is a holistic one, one that meets the needs of both the organisation and the individual.