Performance Management – It’s Not a Magic Act!

posted by WMC

If you are old-school like me, one of the enduring images of magic is the proverbial rabbit out-of-the-hat trick. For some reason I even conjure up images of magic being performed by looney tunes characters – Bugs Bunny turning the tables on Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam. Aside from Bugs making whatever scheme backfire on his nemesis at the end of the skit, the lead-up to the end is always characterized by more than a few chase scenes and a lot of gunfire. It seems to me that too many of us adopt this same approach to the performance management process. The evaluator and the person being evaluated look forward with some element of dread and anxiety to the “required” annual (if we are lucky) performance appraisal, both hoping to pull the rabbit out of the hat at the end of the session.

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In my last post on this topic, I focused my attention largely on development of performance objectives. In this blog, I’m going to advocate for meaningful, ongoing continuous performance feedback relative to those mutually agreed upon goals.

A major reason why both a supervisor and a direct report approach the annual performance meeting with so much anxiety is that all too often they are not sure what to expect in this once-per-year session. In preparing for an annual meeting, the supervisor tries to come up with a meaningful assessment and dredge their memory for examples of good performance or areas for improvement. Too often as well, the supervisor is pressed for time as they attempt to fit in a one-hour appointment with their direct report while trying to deal with a myriad of other demands on their time. How many of us can relate to the experience of a performance appraisal being postponed multiple times? For the direct report, who may have been tasked with self-assessment as part of the performance review and has had limited feedback on performance since last year, they walk into the annual review guessing at what might come up in the meeting – are they doing as well as they think they are, what things might they have to defend against if they disagree with their supervisor’s assessment, and so on. Both supervisor and direct report are waiting to see whether they pull a rabbit – or an elephant – out of the hat.

There is a far better alternative. If an organization and its leaders are truly interested in effective performance management – and in creating an environment in which their staff grow and develop over time – then performance feedback must be provided to an individual on a continuous basis. I’m not suggesting that there has to be daily monitoring and reporting back to an individual, nor anything that starts to smack of micro-management of individual performance. I believe that one of the key objectives of performance management has to be growth and development and that is only going to be achieved by allowing individuals to work on their own, make some mistakes and get regular support and guidance. Again, as identified in the previous post, the focus of such monitoring should be on results being achieved, individual behaviors and other factors impacting agreed-upon objectives.

So what does continuous feedback look like? There might be immediate concern or questions about how can I as a leader provide continuous feedback to a direct report if I have trouble even finding the time for an annual performance review? The answer lies in providing this continuous feedback in a different way. I do not believe it has to be as formal as the annual performance appraisal and it should be incorporated into other opportunities that likely already exist. I expect that on a regular basis a leader and their direct report interact as it relates to projects, tasks or duties that have been assigned. These project/task updates provide not only an opportunity to evaluate results being achieved but present a chance to touch base with the individual and provide immediate and personalized feedback in the moment. The leader can immediately reinforce and support good performance or provide coaching to better performance related to specific events. The leader and the direct report have a concrete example that can be used to reinforce expectations and goals set in the annual performance appraisal. There may even be an opportunity to adjust objectives based on real time information, changes in priorities for the organization since the last formal meeting, or to identify the need for extra support for the direct report to be successful.

Continuous feedback, coaching and performance feedback provides great benefits to both leader and direct report. The leader has opportunity to demonstrate their skills, can ensure that projects/ tasks are in fact progressing as planned, and ultimately ensures effective advancement of organizational objectives. For the individual receiving continuous feedback, they are assured of ongoing support as required, they are clear about expectations at all times, and they feel valued and recognized for their efforts on a consistent basis.

More importantly for both parties there are no surprises in this approach to performance management. Neither is waiting for the curtain to rise on the magic show. Neither party should be approaching the performance appraisal with dread or uncertainty. All this should have been done away with because there has been regular communication throughout the past year. Both the leader and the direct report are on the same page, both understand each others expectations, both understand the realities that may have impacted on performance, and both know what yet needs to be done to achieve or set new goals.

Make no mistake, ongoing performance monitoring and feedback still requires effort and energy. However, it comes in smaller doses and has the benefit of not letting performance issues fester for a whole year – far easier to course correct in small doses than having to address a major performance issue later on.

If you engage with your staff on a regular basis your job as leader becomes easier – and you won’t need any magic to get a great performance!

Greg Hadubiak is an Executive Coach/Consultant with with Western Management Consultants (WMC) and a TEC Canada Chair. He is passionate about supporting and developing great leaders. He brings to bear over 25+ years of senior leadership experience, a commitment to life-long learning, and a passion for his client’s success in all avenues of his work.

See Greg’s original post on LinkedIn.

The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.