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Stop the Insanity: Conversations to Help Performance SOAR

By Leah Clark , Director, Strategy & Development

Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. While he was certainly not talking about performance management conversations, our recent research suggests that his observation applies all too well to this organizational practice.

For years, in theory, managers and employees have connected in a series of three annual events looking something like this: Goal setting to kick off the first quarter, mid-year check-ins, and fourth-quarter reviews. Year after year with the same formulaic approach, managers have achieved the same result: An administrative duty checked off as done.

These milestone performance management conversation meetings fail to engage employees or fuel higher performance, as our recent research reveals:

  • Only 43% of employees feel their organization’s performance management approach accurately measures performance.
  • Just 37% feel their organization’s approach increases or sustains engagement.
  • A mere 30% of individual contributors view their year-end review in a positive light, while 46% of individual contributors who receive regular coaching view the appraisal positively.

You can also check out tips for effective performance reviews, career discussions, and engagement conversations in “3 Conversations You Need to Have With Your Team.”

Helping Performance SOAR

The finding described in the last bullet above underscores the impact that regular coaching can have on performance management. Performance management approaches are only as effective as the dialogue that takes place in and around them. And yet, only 56% of respondents receive regular feedback or performance coaching throughout the year.

With this in mind, here are four best practices for employee-manager conversations about performance year-round that will actually make a difference and set up year-end conversations for success. As a manager, this will put your team members amongst the 70% who say the performance management conversation process “gives me insights for improving my performance” – versus the 33% who say it does not.

Shared Ownership

Managers should not be the only ones responsible for triggering performance management conversations. The more you equip employees to take responsibility for their success and growth on the job, the less you’ll have to badger managers to find time to coach their teams. This is especially important if your organization is experiencing fast growth and all the ambiguity it involves.

Ongoing Dialogue With Skillful Feedback

Feedback is a gift. Our engagement research suggests most people crave it. It’s information that they can use to achieve better results and a more effective work environment. Who doesn’t want that? Yet many managers are terrible at it – or avoid it for fear of de-motivating team members (e.g., “I’ll wait until this project is over so I don’t rock the boat”).

Instead, managers need to talk about the what, why, and how of tasks while the work is happening. Seizing coachable moments when they present themselves is more effective than saving up performance information for a formal prescribed meeting.

Managers also need to remember that feedback includes praise, not just constructive criticism. Praise doesn’t just make people feel good; it helps them understand which activities to continue to be successful.

Accountable Culture

In our work, we’ve seen a lot of feedback-averse cultures (often described with the euphemism “nice”). So it’s not enough to embrace the point above about ensuring your managers are skillful at feedback. There needs to be accountability at all levels to provide feedback and receive it.

Managers can create a feedback-friendly culture by encouraging team members to resolve issues among themselves (e.g., “Thank you for telling me about this. You need to talk to Cooper yourself. Do you want to go over what you might say? Then let me know how it goes.” Or “Have you explained to Delia what kind of impact it has when she’s late?”).

Regular Realignment

Given how quickly business demands and organizational priorities shift, regular performance management conversations between employees and managers is critical. The last thing your organization needs is performance aligned to out-of-date strategic imperatives. You need to make sure the markers that guide and measure performance are still relevant.

The most effective managers have regular check-ins with their teams to revisit priorities and ask, “Of the 20 tasks on the to-do list, which are most important now?” “What can wait?” “What can be delegated?” “Is anything irrelevant?” Without regular reassessment of goals, employees may choose what’s easiest to accomplish or what they most like to do, which won’t necessarily result in the performance you need.

Remember the Prize

Einstein also said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” So when it comes to increased performance, don’t merely check off the boxes of your performance management approach. When managers and employees talk often about the what, why, and how of the work, they’ll drive the organization’s strategy forward. They’ll achieve peak performance. That’s value.

About the Authors

GP Strategies Corporation
GP Strategies is a global performance improvement solutions provider of sales and technical training, e-Learning solutions, management consulting and engineering services. GP Strategies' solutions improve the effectiveness of organizations by delivering innovative and superior training, consulting and business improvement services, customized to meet the specific needs of its clients. Clients include Fortune 500 companies, manufacturing, process and energy industries, and other commercial and government customers.

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