Real Performance Management how do you perform?

In a recent interview with Personnel Today the Pensions Minister Steve Webb told employers that Age should not be an excuse for “inevitable or excusable” under performance.

You can read the full interview and make your own mind up on this issue.  I am more interested in performance by all which means able bodied, disabled and everyone else in the workforce. More specifically how that performance is managed and how those “hard” conversations are approached and carried out by managers.

It seems that no matter how much training is given a significant majority of managers do not like having those “hard” conversations.  This is bourne out by many studies and reports from the Chartered Management Institute the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Instinctively many people do not like conflict and will avoid it like the plague and this includes managers. Many other issues also come into play here including lack of knowledge or skill, fear of getting it wrong, familiarity and favoritism to name a few.

Is it the fault of HR or the learning and development section in an organisation; was the wrong training procured or the delivery poor? In most cases it was the right training delivered well but here’s the rub. It’s OK going through role play based scenarios in a training room but it is totally different carrying out a performance review in practice. Especially if that review has lots of negatives in it.

The first question is why are there so many negatives if performance is supposedly managed well and regular 1-2-1’s are carried out along with timely return to work interviews? Surely everything’s been discussed along the way and relevant training and development opportunities put into place or help and support?

There are more management books on the subject than ever and an expanding number of management training organisations. Yet survey after survey shows a lack of confidence by employees in managers. Part of a manager’s job is to have “hard” conversations but many struggle with them for various reasons. Some reasons I have mentioned previously but the real skills needed to carry out those conversations need spelling out. They are listening and hearing what the person is telling you, empathizing and understanding their situation and supporting them in whatever way you can.  This shows you care about them as a person and not just as someone you have to move through the corporate process.

Of course at some point that “hard” conversation may mean you have exhausted every option and the options that remain may mean a reduction in salary as the person needs to reduce their hours it may mean termination of their employment because even with extensive training and support they cannot perform to the required level.  It is at this point that guilt kicks in for managers and indeed some employees will blame you personally.  Because they are now going to lose their house or cannot pay for a child’s wedding or support them though university.

Those circumstances are tragic and if you fail to be moved by them then in my personal opinion you should not be managing people. But you have a responsibility to the rest of the team, the organization, customers and shareholders in the private sector or taxpayers in the public sector. Performance management needs to be effective no matter what the person’s physical or mental ability or their age.  It should be relevant and individualistic to them.

So what do you do?