Really high performance tends to result from enlightened, engaging and empowering leadership. More importantly, it definitely doesn’t flourish in a climate of ‘management’, where close monitoring and supervision often robs those most capable of high performance of their motivation, freedom to act and ability to innovate.
Leaving behind command and control
The term ‘performance management’ causes me a problem, striking me as a challenging oxymoron for the 21st century. The accepted wisdom of the command and control days was that a good performance management strategy involved setting challenging targets with some form of incentive attached, and then monitoring progress so that additional pressure could be applied if slippage occurred.
There are still some contexts where this might make sense, but they are diminishing in number and, in my view, missing the point. Decades of research has shown us that intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than the extrinsic kind. Watch Daniel Pink’s excellent TED talk (www.ted.com) on the ‘surprising truth about motivation’ and reflect on the key points.
For the 21st century, we need a different version of performance management; one based on delegated freedom, opportunities to think and experiment, and a climate of (considered) risk-tolerance where leaders, as Tom Peters puts it, “Reward heroic failures and punish mediocre successes” to encourage talented people to strive for greater things.
It’s my view that we need to do away with conventional performance management altogether. I often hear people bemoaning the fact that they are being ‘performance managed’… by which they mean they are in the disciplinary process. Is that really what we want it to mean?
The only person that can really manage the performance of an individual is the individual themselves. Only they can bring to bear the extra 30% or more of ‘discretionary effort’ that lies latent within them. You may be able to ‘bribe’ them into releasing some of it for long enough to ring a bell and grab a bonus, but it isn’t likely to be sustained. In any case, in what spirit is the performance being offered? Would we rather have a force of mercenaries, or one that is truly committed to the cause and ready to give its all?
Modern performance management techniques
The issue, realistically, lies within the fact that traditional performance management only motivates a small portion of the workforce; the targeted oriented, achievement driven few. At the same time, it alienates other employees.
So, what performance management techniques really work in the long run? Primarily, they need to be less ‘weakness-intensive’ and have a larger emphasis on successes. People learn best from making mistakes, and punishing those errors can lead to a risk averse culture of fear that attempts nothing new.
Here are some performance management techniques to inspire rather than threaten.
Communicate: One of the best ways to see great performance from your team members is to communicate your vision in a way that inspires them to share it. If you need to utilise targets, ensure that they are transparent and communicated effectively.
Lead by example: Effective leadership isn’t about shouting from the sidelines, but about getting involved by ensuring your team has everything it needs to succeed. If extra resources are required and promised, provide them, or your expectations are unreasonable. It could be that bad processes are causing the team to miss targets, and you should optimise to allow things to flow as smoothly as possible. Your team members will be more responsive if they know you are all in the same boat, working towards to same goals.
Personalise: Performance is too often handled using a ‘one size fits all’ approach. People are happier and more productive when working on areas that engage their strengths. Giving every team member team member the chance to play to his or her strengths offers empowerment and increased motivation, as well as meaning that each task and responsibility is taken on by the most capable person. Take a look at our post about team personality types.
Review regularly: If team members are struggling to reach targets, their performance will suffer less if you address the issue early on. At the other end of the spectrum, team members who excel will be more likely to continue exceeding if they receive frequent encouragement. For all team members, it’s essential you provide regular and constructive feedback.
I recognise that this is a controversial area, so feel free to throw challenges at me!