Performance Cannot Be Managed…It Can Only Be Inspired (Part 2)

In Part 1, we discussed a few of the reason why current performance management systems may be flawed and are contributing to the employee disengagement epidemic facing many organizations today. So, if what we have isn’t resonating with many of our people – if it is not inspiring greater performance and engagement – what are our options? Let’s start by capturing a few visionary themes for a new approach.

Our new Performance Inspiration approach should be:
A natural part of how we work everyday. Instead of having annual or bi-annual events to learn about our performance, people should never be speculating about how they are doing…they should always know.

Aligned to our vision and strategy. So often the goals provided to our people are vague or too abstract to apply to every day work. Our new system should create a natural gravitational pull towards the future.

Driven by conversations. Instead of structured fill-in-the-blank admistrative forms and end-of-year deadlines, performance is constantly being communicated and reinforced through ongoing dialog. Si Alhir has captured many perspectives about how culture is created from our conversations.

An encouragement to act on what our people know instead of acting based on how they will be rated. I have had many conversations with people who tell me they would never push back or question their manager as it would negatively impact their rating. Our system should remove the fear of making mistakes and of retribution for questioning the status quo.

With a vision in place, we can think about the features our new system should have. Some of these may be radical but here are a few of my suggestions:

Promote the Pygmalion Effect (self-fulfilling prophesy). Most of the effort with existing performance reviews happens after the work has been accomplished. Instead, time should be spent upfront to provide a visualization of what is possible for personal growth and for what is needed for a role to contribute to the organizational vision. John Maxwell captures a great story of how the Pygmalion Effect can impact an individual. Instead of looking for areas of deficiency in people and documenting how they are lacking, our system should build people up by painting a picture of what they can become.

Promote praise and encouragement daily. If they are doing well, take the time to encourage them EVERY day. If they are not doing well, ask probing questions and listen to them as much as possible. If they are not a good fit with their current role, find another one for them. Attempting to “performance manage” someone who was not a good hire or not a good fit is a good way to waste time. Our system should provide a means to track how well our managers are doing this…perhaps through some sort of “gamification” such as found in or Don’t Break the Chain.

Promote personalization. Using the same template or form for everyone is reinforcing the perception of just how unimportant this activity is being treated. Our system should provide unique experiences for each person (or at least each role). Here is an example of what was done for Scrum Masters.

Promote customization. As an example, merit increases and bonuses are typically given once a year. Over time, people come to expect these increases and factor their bonuses into their salary and not influencing culture or productivity. I believe our compensation system should shake up the routine of this important event. Perhaps we can create a system to accommodate unexpected raises and bonuses. CNN has a nice article about how unexpected raises can increase productivity.

This is just a start and I will be digging into this topic further next year. Please add your thoughts or additional features in the comments below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Performance Cannot Be Managed…It Can Only Be Inspired (Part 2)

  1. Great article Len! I really hope more companies start making these changes. I think they will all become pleasantly surprised. Though one thing I see getting in the way is that, at many companies, there are a lot of managers that don’t actually manage their team. They very rarely meet with the individuals that report to them and definitely don’t do any coaching with those individuals. This sort of a model seems to assume managers are actually managing their team, but unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of evidence to suggest that isn’t the case. I think that is a major issue at companies already, but trying to move to a better system such as you described will make this problem much more visible. Maybe that’s a good thing? :)

  2. Thank you Len, a nice read! Is it also your experience that more and more HR departments are really trying to change and try to come up with better systems?

    • Thanks Mark! To answer your question, not yet. I’m sure there are forward thinking HR leaders/departments out there but I personally haven’t seen it. We need to start a revolution! :) Have a great 2014!

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