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20 Jul 2022
by Rameez Kaleem

How to stop managing performance and start enabling excellence

The phrase ‘performance management’ carries negative connotations. Renaming the process would be the first step in turning it into a positive process

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If we asked employees what they associate with the term ‘performance management’, most would say performance appraisals and evaluations. The feelings most often connected with these reviews include stress, anxiety and frustration. According to Harvard Business Review, 65% of employees believe that performance evaluations are not even relevant to their jobs.

Performance management is typically perceived as a process aimed at managing poor performance. After all, if someone is performing exceptionally well, why would you need to manage their performance? A 2019 Gartner survey showed 82% of HR leaders thought performance management wasn’t effective at achieving its primary objective – so why persist?

Top-down fear-based approach

The whole thing carries strongly negative connotations borne from decades of a traditionally top-down, fear-based approach in the workplace. How then can we shift this perception to something more positive? How can we flip the script so that rather than dreading these conversations, our colleagues feel safe, heard and inspired?

Our first suggestion is easy: get rid of the term ‘performance management’. We need to get our heads around the fact that performance isn’t something we can manage. Instead, we can focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of our colleagues and providing the right culture, environment and relationships at work for people to flourish.

By using positive language – such as ‘Enabling Excellence’ – we can change perceptions about the process and make it more inclusive. Enabling Excellence is about empowering everyone, not just poor performers.

Culture of competition

Second, we need to look closely at culture. Traditional performance management creates a culture of competition where colleagues are up against each other for the highest ratings. What we really want is a culture of collaboration where, instead, colleagues trust each other and look out for one another’s wellbeing. In turn, leaders should be thinking not just about objectives, but how to establish the conditions conducive to trust, productivity and wellness. We can’t tell a rose to bloom, but we can increase its chances of doing so with water, sunshine and fertiliser.

One of the key ways that leaders can promote a culture of trust and collaboration is by establishing psychological safety, giving employees the confidence to give/receive feedback, raise their issues and concerns, and ask for help when they need it. Psychological safety empowers people to speak up and be themselves without fear of punishment or humiliation, leading to improved communication, creativity and innovation.

With psychological safety, teams are able to have more regular, productive conversations. Research tells us that the health of a team or organisation can be measured by the lag time between identifying and discussing a problem. When we have psychological safety, people feel safe enough to speak up sooner – rather than stewing over issues for six months or more. In addition, psychologically safe teams benefit from increased initiative and diversity of thought.

Ask yourself what you can do to bring about a more positive approach to performance in your teams. Everybody benefits from more wellbeing at work – let’s make kindness and candour the norm.

In partnership with 3R Strategy

Independent Pay & Reward Consultancy

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