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Still Searching for a Performance Management Fix? Find One at Last

The Challenge

34846351_sAre you once again facing the need to fix performance management because it is not delivering the value you want it to?  Join the crowd.  Many progressive companies are rethinking their systems to make them more developmental, simpler and more a part of day-to-day management.   At a recent panel on performance management hosted by [i4cp] How to Shift Performance Management from Pain to Gain in February 2013, REI, Microsoft and Starbucks all reported recent “renovations” to performance management with these design principles in mind. Does this summon up the need for new forms integrating many new parts together, in some sleek online system? No need for all that

Instead, simply integrate the parts seamlessly into the line managers’ daily work. The “magic” is that they will be doing lots of little things that add up to continuous performance and development.  Do you worry that no manager has the time for this, or the ability?  Well, we found that some managers have figured out how to do this …managers we studied and call Exceptional Development Managers (EDMs for short).  How do they do it?  Here are some tips:

The Solution

1. Tuck development into work. Be mindful of when people are running out of runway for learning. Then-formulate bigger performance expectations to extend that runway.
This creates a natural gap for the employee to increase their learning to get the job done and, presto, that becomes the development plan.

Think of this as a rolling series of combination development and performance plans.  Juan Carlos, one EDM we talked too, says he continually shares these small, “plan-lets” that are focused, rich in development and easy to use. Best of all they naturally create the demand for learning, most of which takes place on the job as people develop from experience.  And with this strong performance pull, learning , no matter where people get it, on-demand or in a class room, is applied lickety- split.

The lesson: put development inside of performance goals and both happen better.

2. Create the right amount of stretch. So how do you make sure people are stretched but not overwhelmed? Learn the art of the stretch as practiced by a personal coach training an Olympic distance runner. This coach knows the athlete, her physical and emotional limits. He knows when to stretch her to the limit, building strength, endurance and muscle but, not so far as to cause injury.

The lesson: know your people and just how big a stretch to create for them.

3. Help them see how they use familiar skills while growing new ones. Also help people know what to take on the development journey.  If they had packed for a trip to Maui but were next going on a trek to the Himalayas, they’d swap their swimsuits and flip flops for a parka and hiking boots, but they’d keep their toothbrush and T-shirts.

The lesson: as people take on new stretch tasks, help them think through: what to unpack, what to keep,and what to add to their skill suitcase.

4. Be crystal clear about what is to be learned. This advice seems obvious but is often overlooked. Make it very clear what people need to learn, not just what they need to accomplish.  If you don’t make the lessons inside the assignment crystal clear, people may use their current skills and approaches and miss the important learning opportunity.  You might have an employee like Susan who does not listen and too forcefully states her opinion—turning off others.  Telling  Susan to “develop better communications” falls wide of the mark.  Telling her exactly 1.which behaviors are the problem, 2.why they limit her performance, and 3.what new behaviors she needs to demonstrate, is the way to go.

The lesson: what needs to be learned must be unmistakably clear and in specific behavioral terms that relate to outcomes. The new behaviors must matter for performance.

5. Seize development moments.  Once you and your employee are both exquisitely attuned to what she needs to learn to get results, both of you can be on the lookout for short opportunities to support development.  You may take an extra five minutes after a staff meeting to provide feedback on her approach.  You could observe an interaction that she is doing well and comment.

The lesson:  When you see it, or they tell you about it, step in for short conversations to reinforce, ask questions or coach.  That way feedback and development are spot on.

Parting Words

Integrating  goal setting, feedback, periodic assessment and development need not require an overbearing and complex set of forms and structure.  It can simply all come together as managers make it part of daily management—continuously tucking development into performance requirements, making sure at least some of the requirements have room for learning, and providing the feedback and coaching in the line of duty.

Of course it does take a new mindset about performance management and development, and new habits about seizing development moments…and good foundation skills of providing feedback and coaching.

But just think of the impact when ongoing conversations and real development are tied to performance plays out: it adds significant value to the business.  Try it out!

This article by Jeannie Coyle was originally published on TalentSavvyManager.com on January 29, 2013.