Tag Archives: performance management

The one with the police action

Recently I had a brush with the police. Not the ello, ello, ello police but the corporate equivalent – the auditors. The subject of the audit was the competence of the individuals within the organisation.

Having worked in several organisations that attempted to introduce a myriad competencies which mapped in some fashion to individual roles I am sceptical of the value of such systems to actual performance of role – they have always felt to me like another process HR introduce to justify their existence.

It was therefore with a skipped heart beat and a spring in my step that I was delighted when last year it was agreed to have set of 5 core competencies that everyone had to demonstrate some competence against with the remainder being articulated through individual role job descriptions. Felt like a fine balance of the need to demonstrate competence and a system that would actually achieve what it set out to do.

The other recommendation that was supported was that assessment of competence would align with the performance management cycle. Performance review, objective setting, competence review and personal development planning would all be managed at the same point in the year and through the same system. It almost felt elegant…

So now we reach summer of 2013 and the first contact all of this work has with any form of auditor. I talked through the strategy, how it had been executed, what levels of competence alignment we had achieved (very good) and the resultant summary of the personal development plan.

Was the auditor dazzled with our achievement? Were they overjoyed to actually see a system that had achieved what it set out to do? Did they marvel at how we actually empowering managers to assess their teams and manage their performance?

Of course not!

The questions that ensued were all about process policing, how we verified the results, how we checked that the competence levels assessed were in fact correct and challenged the core notion that managers manage people. The auditor’s questions weren’t interested in systems that empower managers, business partnership and the idea that managers are far better placed to manage performance that HR.

Was I surprised by any of this? Not at all. It’s the hallmark of the checkers checking the checkers but had I not been so resolute that I wasn’t going to concede ground, capitulate to an increase in policing and remove the freedom of our management teams to actually manage their people I could have genuinely given the shop away in this meeting.

The exchange that probably sums up this encounter was:

Auditor: What happens if you subsequently find out that someone isn’t at the competence level they were assessed at?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: OK but what if someone doesn’t undertake the training they’ve committed to increase their necessary competence?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: Right, right… So what if a manager isn’t assessing competence correctly how do you check that in an individual team and ensure it is addressed?

Me: That will manifest in poor performance which will be managed through our performance management process

Auditor: (With a small grin on his face as if this one will be his winner) OK, but as a manager how will I know this?

Me: You have to attend a workshop before you can be authorised to use the system

Auditor: (still smiling) and what if that training was 10 months earlier and they don’t remember what is required of me

Me: It’s all summarised in a guide entitled “Managing performance, development and competence”

Auditor: And where would I find that?

Me: (Pointing at screen the auditor has been scrutinising) it’s linked there

Auditor: Yes, well, that’s all good then.

Why share all of this? Firstly, because I am now reflecting on it with a wry smile and I believe opportunities for wry smiles shouldn’t be taken for granted but secondly and more specifically to illustrate what I believe is the thin end of the wedge that gets us so loved loathed by our colleagues.

Hold the line, fight the good fight and rail against any system or process you believe won’t achieve anything and will reduce a manager’s right to manage.

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The one with the well intentioned gut punch

“Feedback is the key to giving employees a sense of where they’re going, but many organizations are remarkably bad at giving it.” That quote is from Hay Group’s ‘Engage Employees and Boost Performance’ and from my perspective it’s one of the elements of Employee Engagement that gets most overlooked.

Let’s face it giving positive feedback is easy. It’s more recognition than performance management and taking the time to tell someone they’ve done something well is usually rewarding for both parties.

Giving constructive feedback is much harder and I can recall times in my career that my nervousness around giving the feedback has lead to me delivering only half the message and in such a way that the other person wouldn’t have been clear as to what I was really saying. Basically, I was trying to avoid any form of emotional reaction and therefore couched the message so successfully that there was likely no message at all.

A few years ago I attended a facilitation skills workshop and one of the models introduced to me was Heron’s model for intervention. One of the interventions it describes is the ‘Confronting’ intervention and one of the course leaders described it as something that will impact the person in the gut and not the brain.

Now the problem with impacting someone in the proverbial gut is their reaction is far less likely to be rational and reasoned and is far more likely to be driven by their emotions. The downside of this is managing the impact, the potential upside is really helping someone understand performance issues that the standard, repeated constructive conversations have failed to do.

Having experimented with this on several occasions it has worked well and not so well. In reflecting I realise that the ones that have gone well usually include a lot of thought prior to the conversation including understanding potential reactions, a clear contracting part of the conversation (helps if they know what’s coming) and being very mindful of the language I used. The other thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes a reaction is inevitable given the nature of the conversation but to be comfortable to let it happen and follow it up has often had the best results (but not always!)

The challenge in discussing something like this is any example would involve divulging someone’s private information or sharing a superficial example that really didn’t illustrate it. This was bouncing around my head on the tube the other day when I realised there’s a great example (which ends with a profanity – be warned):

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The one with the malevolent force

What is the plural of nemesis?

Before I go and look it up let me explain why I’m asking. If you asked me at various points in my career about a nemesis I would usually (with melodrama being directly proportional to alcohol consumption) go on at some length about a particular individual who had it in for me/was trying to stitch me up/was generally being a thorn in my side. As far as I was concerned this person’s singular purpose was to make life difficult for me. And then I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity (it’s too easy a film quote to give points for)…

I’ll come back to the moment of clarity shortly but it involved a realisation that one of my basic parameters is the notion that everyone comes to work with the intention of contributing or performing effectively. People don’t usually decide to under perform (unless they are Chinese badminton players) and actually the real reason you should have that difficult conversation with the person who consistently underperforms is not JUST because as a manager you need to deal with performance issues and you want to be able to demonstrate to your boss how effective you are at it. The real reason is that the underperforming individual KNOWS there is something wrong and just because you’ve never dealt with it doesn’t mean they don’t spend every hour they are at work wondering what it is that isn’t quite right.

Not that over performers don’t have issues and actually I believe one of the key factors in helping high potential individuals achieve that potential is giving them the means to get out of their own way – to understand and manage their own ‘stuff’ (it’s a technical term) and move past it to the oft dangled bigger and better things.

Which brings me back to the moment of clarity and the realisation that those individuals I had put in the nemesis box (I still haven’t googled the plural) weren’t actually out to get me – they were actually out to save themselves. If I reflect on them as a group they share some common characteristics – they were insecure, they were political, they avoided confrontation or giving direct feedback and were usually perceived as being out of their depth despite one or two senior level sponsors. In the process of this realisation I actually found some empathy with these individuals (which helped to deal with their behaviour) in that they weren’t happy, fulfilled or maximising their potential. They were usually living in a perpetual state of anxiety desperately trying to steer their way along the road of self preservation. Poor them!

I take great delight in the fact that I am currently sans nemesis and I’ll be honest I don’t know whether it’s me or the organisation I work in but it does make life a hell of a lot easier!

Now on to POETS day 🙂


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