How many of us look forward to a performance management review, no matter what role we are in? I don’t think many of us are filled with joy when our manager utters the words “I’d like to give you some feedback on your performance”, or perhaps “I’d like to give you some feedback from your colleagues”. How many of us have a sense of relief when our performance review is over.
I do wonder how effective performance management is within an organization. How would you measure this? Does it really create alignment with the overall objectives of the enterprise, does it distribute work and tasks throughout the organization, like a super 3D jig-saw puzzle, so that all the pieces come together to form a coherent result. And then does it reward the right people and in proportion to their contribution?
In my experience and this is when it is used well performance management processes cascade objectives down through the organization following the traditional hierarchy structure. To me this is applying a kind of work breakdown approach as commonly used in project management, with each layer in the organization further refining the goals and objectives into more and more granular pieces. I can imagine that in a fairly stable environment this may work well.
The challenge is in large, complex or dynamic environments, where the work breakdown does not follow a hierarchy; it more resembles a social network of relationships. It also needs to remain agile, flexible, and able to respond to changes quickly, reconfiguring work and relationship as needed. More like a living organism. It is far more difficult to distribute objectives and then capture the results and reward contribution in this type of dynamic system.
Typically we are rewarded at work for achieving the goals and objectives that have been set from above. Manager sets the objective; manager reviews the accomplishment, all fairly straight forward. However in my opinion this increasingly does not reflect reality. I have seen entrepreneurial activities; skunk works, special initiatives, projects and programs, and communities all co-exist with the traditional hierarchy, or even matrix organization. Unfortunately the performance management process and systems don’t cover these different ways of working very well, so these different ways of working, and what was once called a ‘splendid blended’ of all of the tend to exist in spite of the performance management system, and I fear peoples contributions are not adequately reflected in the performance management system, but hope through good management they are rewarded for their contribution in whatever way they are working and contributing value.
Whenever I managed people, I hope that I was clear when talking about performance. My personal motto for a performance review was “no surprises” (positive or negative), I didn’t want to deliver any, and I hoped that I didn’t receive any. If there were performance issues or differences of expectations, or just simply that things had changed, I hoped that these would be discussed as and when they occurred, dealt with at the time, and certainly not left until a six monthly or annual review. I believed that the performance review was a time to reflect from a performance perspective, what had gone well, what could have been done better, to learn from the experience and to plan for the future, including the persons overall contribution, even when something hadn’t been documented.
The most important part of performance management for me, no matter what mode of work; was to have an open honest dialog, and to create a shared understanding as to purpose and why we were doing something. Get this right and the rest of performance management becomes much easier.