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Stop Managing Performance, Start Facilitating Great Work

Traci Cumbay
Traci Cumbay

While I researched this article, the negative connotation that management brought to mind gnawed at me. Sure, I’ve worked for crummy managers in my career, but I have much more experience with managers I admired. Why the bad vibes?

Behold — the definition of management from the Oxford dictionary: “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.”

Does anyone look forward to being dealt with or controlled? That’s for crabgrass or halitosis.

Management speaks of taking charge rather than facilitating progress, of dictating methods and acts rather than utilizing skills. No surprise that it can and often does lead to the rote performance of tasks. If anyone has given a TEDTalk on being managed to creative breakthrough or stellar performance, I missed it.

Maybe performance management, essential though it may be in theory, is limiting in practice. What if we forgot about managing performance and started enabling or facilitating it? Performance management holds an essential idea for monitoring what employees do and how they feel about their work in hopes of helping them function better. Nothing wrong with that, right?
So how does it so often end up doing the exact opposite? Generally, because it’s viewed as an end in itself rather than as one of several important tools employers can use to inspire people to bring their best.

Make more of performance feedback

My grandfather used to use the same line over and over when he was reaching for a second cookie or otherwise indulging: “If one is good then two is better!” He was onto something: Research shows that not only do employees crave more feedback (even “redirecting” feedback), they act on it — to the benefit of their employers.

One performance review per year just isn’t enough. Real progress and job satisfaction come from steady, timely suggestions that can only arise in the kind of office environment that encourages feedback within and across teams.

Writing for Forbes, Rich Lyons praises a culture of feedback as a sign of a healthy office culture — and one that succeeds. He also points out that such a culture doesn’t happen without a concerted effort. We couldn’t agree more.

With steady, performance-focused feedback comes progress. You’ve hired people you believe in, and when they understand exactly how they can do their jobs well, you can believe in them to deliver.

Whereas annual performance reviews fail to offer enough focused, detailed feedback to legitimately guide improvement, a culture of feedback fosters employee engagement, which can and usually does truly improve performance.

Ensure employees have what they need to thrive

I can’t build a house without a hammer. I personally can’t build a house because I also don’t know how to read a blueprint and have never built so much as a garden shed. (I’d be happy to bake you a tart, though.) To throw someone into a new situation without making sure they have the background and training they need is to invite disaster. Doesn’t matter whether this person is Einstein or Oprah; nobody succeeds when they don’t have what they need to accomplish what you want.

First up? Every employee needs to know exactly what is expected of them. That doesn’t just mean understanding the finer points of their job descriptions but their individual goals and the company’s goals — as well as how those fit together. Another important element of role clarity is the metrics by which an employee’s work will be evaluated. Clear signals from management about what elements of a job are valued shine a light on where an employee should direct her efforts.

Put more simply, nobody wants to wander around lost. A feeling of success and productivity invites greater effort, and in the right places. Make sure to map out paths for even tenured employees, whose roles surely have morphed over the years — possibly without due recognition.

And then offer as much opportunity for professional development as you reasonably can. Employees who value their own talent and potential not only crave development opportunities but turn them into career-path gold, utilizing what they’ve learned to drive their own roles forward. Their progress moves your organization forward, too.

Be clear about expectations

Facilitating performance can make magic happen. Getting there takes science. Here’s what we know: Asking employees how they can best do their jobs gives you the information you need to provide the tools they need. Telling them what you expect? Same effect: They get the details about what you expect so they can craft their performance to match.

These conversations can happen anytime, whenever the need arises, but creating an environment where they are welcomed and acted upon depends upon also scheduling regular feedback. We typically recommend a quarterly employee survey to address changes, progress, and room for improvement within teams and across the organization.

Get in touch to find out more about using employee engagement measurement to facilitate performance.

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