The Key To Enhanced Performance Management
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Performance Management: What You’re Doing Wrong And How To Fix It

Performance management is one of the key elements for the success of an organization or business. It is not something new; performance management systems have existed in the industry for quite a long period and they have undergone a lot of changes. However, they have not yet reached the level where we can firmly say ‘Yes, this is how performance management should be’.

An Anecdote From My Early Days Of Work

Before we get into the details of performance management, I would like to share one of my experiences to help you understand the topic better. When I was in college, I used to take up some holiday work, as well as weekend jobs. One such job was to go in a minibus to the mountains on a Saturday and plant saplings there. Although the job of planting saplings was not so hard, the bus travel made my life miserable; we had to travel for two long hours on the bus, which made me lethargic and worn out. It rained and it was a miserable day, but we did the job. When we returned, our boss expressed his satisfaction over our performance and was, in fact, thankful for what we did. Later on, I realized that what I received was an appreciation of my work. An actual ‘performance appraisal’ for an averagely done job—except for the fact the boss needed it done urgently and we were willing to go on a Saturday to finish it.

This incident and others triggered me to analyze the whole process. I understood that if I’m able to do my work effectively and satisfy the whole purpose of my employment, then I’ll be credited with my performance appraisal. So, it is obvious that delivering what one senior or seniors want is paramount to appraisals and it isn't necessarily a prerequisite that you have achieved anything important.

When this particular phenomenon is so clear, then why performance management systems in companies today are so biased even after trying various methods?

Why is that we are unable to scale up the production even after taking so many initiatives and conducting so many training programs?

The reason lies within the organizational framework. There are two very important things that need to be fixed. The first one is how we operate the business. The second is the business culture, which is very sensitive, and the problem arising from it is more severe when compared to all other things. This issue is complex because even if the HR departments try with all possible means to understand it, they are unable to bring about a perfect mechanism through which performance is measured so that it does not end up in receiving too many opinions and, in worst cases, affecting the work itself.

Let’s say a line manager holds a grudge against a certain employee and gives them a bad evaluation. Incidents like these will go hidden and nothing can be done if the system is based on opinions.

If HR needs to have control over this issue, then the HR should also participate in every appraisal discussion that happens between a line manager and their team member or they have to record the entire discussion, which is surely a cumbersome process and no one would want to do it. So, we have to look at other ways by which performance can be measured. But before that, let’s look at some of the jobs and the performance management mechanism followed.

Measuring Performance Is Only Part Of The Solution

Let us take sales for example; since sales are easily measurable, the performance of a salesperson can easily be judged with data facts. There are neat procedures to measure different steps in each stage to arrive at the final number. Funnel systems are of great use in sales, and this technology can be used in other businesses also. In a similar way, the performance of a receptionist can be measured by the number of phone calls handled effectively, the number of messages taken and delegated for handling, the number of visitors handled and directed to the right person.

We shall take another example of a content writer. To analyze the performance of a content writer, apart from looking at the number of articles and number of words written, the impact of the writing is also checked. But how can we know that the articles are good? In order to know whether the content writer delivers good articles, we have to wait for a certain period of time and see what kind of effect their writing creates. This may take a long time, but the statistics we can always record are the number of views, likes, and shares it receives over a period of time. Some suggest six weeks as the determining factor and, as long as we don’t change this measurement, we will have a sound statistic.

Even when it comes to measuring the performance of an instructor, although we can measure the number of students who attended the course, if we are able to test someone who has benefited from the presentation by knowing where they are applying it, then that is a good way of measuring the instructor’s performance. Again, it can be statistically recorded.

However, even after trying all these methods there’s still something missing. To find the missing element, we shall now look at the following scenario: A line manager tells their junior to do their work in a different way so that the production will increase. In fact, before suggesting the new method, the line manager will have reviewed the current week’s production with that of the previous week and highlight to the junior that there is a decrease and that this must change. Now, if we analyze this scenario, it is understandable that the line manager has taken responsibility for the junior’s production and has thus doubled their workload, as they have now two areas to run. This is a very common incident, and as the line manager is overworked (overloaded), they have poor judgment and short temper, which are not unusual to be expressed with comments about those ‘lazy' and ‘stupid' workers.

Let’s compare this to this scenario: The junior reports to the line manager their weekly production and why the performance was up or down. Manager: good junior—now what?! For example, the line managers are trained well to do performance appraisals and they even conduct appraisals on a regular basis. But what the line manager updates in the system are mere opinions about their subordinate. The employee who attended the appraisal meeting doesn't even know what his/her line manager updates, nor does the HR know what happened exactly during the performance appraisal discussion. The line managers can be trained well, but it will not stop them from giving false statements.

In their report of the previous week, the junior states what caused the ‘down' or ‘up' in their performance and, furthermore, they include actions they will take to change or strengthen last week's results. The line manager reviews their suggested actions and only queries anything they don't understand with an emphasis on letting the junior be responsible without interference. If a senior is also a keyworker, they may want to give some training to their junior to improve or change their method—but they do so on an equal level, not that of a senior; they must ensure a non-authoritative approach. Now, if we analyze this scenario, we see that the line manager doesn't take responsibility for their junior's area but pushes responsibility to them. They would only interfere if a person isn’t fully trained or to avert a significant loss of production. This is quite interesting because it can only work if the junior is trained, and training is at the heart of all performance appraisals; “hat” don’t “hit”.  When management and HR work closely with the key workers, they will actually discover what actions produce better results and what doesn’t work. It is all good and fine to have those “actions”, but the junior must be allowed to use them; this is the cultural shift needed, but it will not necessarily come from the top down but by building the bottom up.

The Missing Part In Training

Employees should be first trained on areas where they need improvement. The training needs analysis should focus on the sequence in which all these should operate and build from simplicity to complexity across the job, not merely focus on one or two aspects in detail. So far, this isn't particularly new data but there is this one part of training generally not given and we can break it down into two areas: how the junior analyzes their statistics and how the various slants on a graphical diagram need to be interpreted by the reader. So, what we have given the employee now by means of training, is the effective tool to analyze and control their job—and only if they can control their job, we can then evaluate their performance. In other words, prior to this, an appraisal of the junior was more indicative of how the manager manages and less of how the junior performs. It is entirely useless, since you can’t expect all your managers to be perfect! Nothing can be gained if we allow employees to do things incorrectly and then point out their mistake; instead, we should first show them that they can be in charge of their own job.

You may think, we know this already—and true enough we do—but the prior step before showing someone how to do their job properly is to allow them to do so by giving them space to make mistakes within limits. If we get new staff, we may find they have been educated in the old style of management and thus it takes a readjustment period for them to groove into the new way. Some don’t ever make it and should be let go.

Line managers must ask and listen to the concerns of the workers. In the same way, if they see an increase in the production, the line manager should then ask the worker what they did differently and their production is more than everyone else’s because the worker might come up with some effective mechanism for increased production. These actions should be forwarded to HR for documentation. Bad actions are usually and frequently recorded in the form of company rules, but good actions are too often attributed to individuals and left undocumented.

Cultural Change—Honesty Is Key!

One of the main reasons why this kind of communication is not possible between staff in most companies is because of the existing business culture. The existing culture in many companies is that if the production is low, the person responsible for it is threatened. In such firms, we cannot expect employees to be honest enough to reveal the exact reason for the decline in production. The employees will only come up with lame excuses and mostly pass the blame on something else to safeguard their jobs. For example, they may say the production is low because the raw material required for the job was not received on time. Not all reasons are false, but the majority of them are deflecting actions. When such incidents occur repeatedly, the person anyway gets fired. If you are a freelancer or an outsourced worker, this happens even much quicker.

This system of justifying someone so quickly and taking actions against them instead of helping them improve their performance is something that needs to be changed before we move forward in performance management. This cultural shift is important because once the employees are relieved of pressure, they will be able to perform well; everyone wants to do a better job and improve their performance. It is a myth that people want to sit simply doing nothing. Of course, there are a few in that category but the majority of employees wish to be successful in their jobs.

There are some other fundamental points to be added here: Statistics are key to help protect the worker from line managers who have poor management skills. It is even more valuable to HR and why HR benefits from this system so much. HR can’t be on the ground all the time, they can’t control every conversation and thus may “fire” the wrong person or evaluate training needs incorrectly. Poor managers are often very difficult to detect in big firms. There is often demand by senior management for certain type of training or solutions—but they are not always the correct ones and thus may not actually resolve the situation. Proven and tested performance management can help to support the HR department. Being trained in how to analyze statistics and use them to improve production should be at the heart of every HR training.

From what we have discussed till now, it is clear that the practice of pointing to mistakes and errors, and quickly firing people must be changed. The current practice of making single individuals shoulder the entire responsibility and leaving others free must be eradicated. Business should change the way it works. Equal responsibility should be given to all employees, and this is possible only if all staff is provided with the necessary training to analyze their own performance, along with tools to boost their production. Only when these changes occur, performance management will be efficient or a workable system that is fairer to all will be implemented to protect employees and increase their performance.

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