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Mar 25, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

You don’t like your company’s performance management plan? Join the crowd!

Everyone’s getting into the act these days, bashing a process that has become ridiculously bureaucratic and totally unhelpful.

Managers complain and drag their heels or scratch the surface of the program by doing a bare minimum, and, because of their lack of commitment, what they do makes the process unpopular and ineffective.

HR spends their time chasing after compliance rather than partnering on really improving performance.

Some organizations have recognized the need for a systematic change at the organizational level and are making that happen. But if it’s not changing where you’re at, why are you waiting around for the organization to change the program?

Making performance management work for you

You are bright, intelligent leaders who have achieved a position of responsibility for your team, right? Why not take the program you’re given and make it work for you?

After all, it’s pretty simple:

  • Set good expectations;
  • Provide regular and honest feedback; and,
  • Ideally, improve overall performance.

You don’t need a fancy system to do that. It’s Leadership 101.

I have designed and implemented dozens of performance management programs throughout my career. Some were good, some were just OK, none were perfect.

There was even a point where the program my team and I designed for the organization didn’t work for me, so I customized it. Our system didn’t provide a way to find out how my team’s work was perceived by our clients, so I asked the question and incorporated the feedback in my team’s process.

It isn’t rocket science

Google the phrase “performance management waste of time” and you get a healthy dose of opinions (over 4 million, last time I checked) about why it doesn’t work and why it wastes time. Why do otherwise bright and intelligent leaders allow their time to be wasted?

I suggest sucking it up and doing something about it.

That’s because, really, performance management isn’t rocket science. And I suspect that most programs in use today are fairly similar: they have some form of goal setting and some form of developmental feedback.

But let’s be clear, it’s all about improving performance. Setting goals aligns work to the strategy. Giving regular feedback ensure the work remains aligned, and helps the employee learn and grow, thereby improving overall performance over time.

Folks, this is your role as a leader. You can’t get around it and be successful.

So let’s examine how we can take your organization’s performance management program and make it work for you and your team.

Start here

Do you agree with and accept the terms of your role as an organizational leader to drive unit performance through engaging and empowering talent?

If yes, move ahead to the next step. If no, consider a career move.

1. Understand what your program is trying to do

Grab the organization’s policy on performance management and a copy of the review form, and set aside a few minutes to review.  Think about what it is the program is trying to achieve? Some or all of these may apply.

  • Set expectations — Every piece of work that goes on in an organization costs money. When that work is not doing what needs to be done, money is wasted. Setting expectations communicates what is important to the team and the employees. Without clear expectations, employees may innocently (or deliberately) travel down the wrong path and do work that doesn’t drive business. Employees need to know what’s important.
  • Develop talent — There is probably a section in your organization’s performance review program that assesses employees’ competence in those things that matter most to the organization. This is typically called a competency model, although sometimes it reflects organizational values, or key performance success factors. By providing honest and open feedback, employees can develop their skills to better perform their work.
  • Document performance — The reason we have that lengthy form is to document goals, assessment and feedback, and confirm that the information has been shared with the employee. This is important for a couple reasons. First, it provides evidence of performance dialogue should an employee claim otherwise; not having documentation can be a huge expense to the organization, if challenged. It also allows the organization to compile a snapshot of performance in the organization. In larger organizations, this is one of the only ways for chief executives to know that their workforce is aligned to their strategy.  You would want that snapshot if you were the CEO, right?

That’s the rationale behind the program. But what if that program doesn’t work for you? What might you do differently without derailing the organization’s process?

2. Making it relevant

There are some typical pain points in a program such as this. Often, leaders complain that setting and reviewing goals once a year, is a wasted effort because the needs of the organization change so fast. I agree.

Static goals are generally out of date within a couple months of publishing. So, make them dynamic.

Start by having only a few that really matter. Then talk about them regularly. Close out goals that are finished or no longer valid immediately, rather than waiting for the end of the year.

If you take on something new, add it to the goals. But be very careful. Don’t add without taking away.

We’re all too busy these days; that dilutes our ability to do good work. So keep goals current by talking about them, balancing workload, and celebrating completions when they occur.

3. Simplify

In keeping with the “we’re all too busy” theme, don’t try to coach to every competency. Zero in on one that is critical and can be developed.

Engage your employee in deciding which one. Work together to find ways to learn and grow. As progress is made, add another.

After all, the goal is learning and growing so that the organization achieves its goals.

4. Delegate and engage

You don’t have to manage it all yourself.

Get the employee involved. Have her bring you work products, insights and opportunities.

Then, talk about them, and get her engaged.

5. Alignment

Use these dialogues to clearly link the employee’s work and development with the greater objectives of the team, and of the organization as a whole.

Help him see the link, and recognize his contributions as a key element of business success.

And, don’t forget the form

Ah, yes. The form.

Whether automated or paper-based, the form isn’t going away. Comply with the requirements of “the form,” but manage to the spirit of the process.

The spirit of the process is to connect with employees, help them grow, set clear expectations, provide feedback and celebrate success.

That’s what you signed on for when you agreed to the leadership role, isn’t it?

This originally appeared on Carol Anderson’s blog @the intersection of learning & performance

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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