Getting back to performance management basics

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min read
February 19, 2024
March 19, 2024
The importance of getting the performance management basics right
In this article

It's easy to have your head turned by the latest fad, but for performance management to be truly effective, you need to get the basics right.

If you’ve ever tried to take up running, you’ll know how tough it is. Even just trying to run a mile for the first time can feel impossible. If you’re serious about taking on 5Ks, 10Ks or even a marathon, you need to build up slowly. To avoid damaging your body there are no quick fixes. Following a tried and tested plan over a series of weeks will ensure you have the solid foundations to reach your goal.

Concentrating on the basics makes sense in many other scenarios too. In the workplace, getting sound structures in place is vital. It gives managers a consistent framework to follow and provides employees with clarity and certainty. Every thriving business is built on solid foundations.

The evolution of performance management

Performance management has changed significantly over the past few decades. It has evolved from an annual exercise designed for the benefit of the employer to a continuous initiative that involves managers and employees working together. The emphasis has largely shifted from direction and control to development and progression. 

Along the way, many organisations have been dazzled by shiny new trends that appear to offer all the answers. While these may work for a handful of businesses with limitless budgets and resources, most organisations will benefit from building a solid foundation that is easy for everyone to understand and follow.

The basis essentials required for effective performance management

So, what are the pillars a productive and positive performance management process should be built on? Here is what we think every business should concentrate on getting right:

Regular reviews

In the modern workplace, with fast-moving markets and swift technological advancements it’s important that employees can review their objectives and personal development regularly. What this frequency is really depends on the nature of the business and the needs of the workforce. For some, biannual reviews will be sufficient, while for others quarterly or monthly reviews may be more appropriate. 

The important thing is that these dates are built into the calendar so line managers and employees know when they are and can prepare appropriately. These discussions need to be documented and produce action points, so each party knows what they need to do before the next review. This means everyone is on the same page and has clear direction.

Relevant, measurable objectives

There are various methods for setting objectives. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), popularised by the giants of Silicon Valley, have become more common in the UK recently. Others have tried V2MOMs (Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures) or cascading objectives. Whatever approach an organisation chooses, some basic principles need to be followed:

  • They should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed)
  • They should relate to the overall strategic goals of the business
  • They should be agreed between the line manager and employee and the employee should be involved in creating them
  • The employee shouldn’t have too many or too few. Generally, between four to six is right for most roles

Personal development and training plan

Employees increasingly want a role where they can develop their skills and can grow as an individual. While for some, this may revolve around progressing to more senior roles, for others it is about improving in their current role or getting the chance to work in different areas of the business.

Every employee will have their own ambitions and personal motivation. It is important that they can share these with their line manager and can see how they can make these aspirations a reality with personal development goals and a training plan. One of the most common reasons for employees to leave an organisation is because they feel they’ve come to a dead end in their current job and can’t see where they can go next.

Feedback and recognition

“Operating without feedback is like cooking without tasting the food.” This quote from Joel Peterson, former Chair of JetBlue Airways perfectly sums up why feedback is important. Without it, employees can be totally oblivious of what they are doing well and what they could improve. Similarly, managers can only hone their skills if they know how employees feel about their approach. 

Feedback works when everyone understands its value, feels comfortable and confident to give and receive it and there is a mechanism to deliver it when it’s still relevant. 

Similarly, recognising employees for a job well done is hugely important. People want to know their efforts have not gone unnoticed. A simple “thank you” when it's deserved can go a very long way in fostering employee engagement.

Including both in a performance management process ensures it becomes ingrained into everyday work and employees can feel and give appreciation its value, giving them clear pointers on how they can improve and progress.

Regular check-ins between line managers and employees

The most important relationship any employee will have at work is with their line manager. It is vital that a strong understanding is built, with both feeling they can be open and honest about their work and how they are feeling in general.

Regular check-ins, held on roughly a monthly basis provide the perfect opportunity to discuss successes and issues, ensuring no problems spiral out of control. They can support every element of the employee lifecycle and give managers a practical framework to support people management.

Seeing performance management flourish

By concentrating on getting the basics right and starting simple, you can take everyone in the organisation with you on your performance management journey. They will understand what you are trying and what is required of them. Once you have this buy-in you can evolve your process, making it more tailored and personalised so that it benefits both individuals and the business even more. Don’t forget, even the most elaborate structure is built on solid foundations.

If you want to get the basics of your performance management process right, we can help. Contact us to find out more.

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