"We are beginning to have conversations about ‘good enough’ managers."

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Jamie Lawrence
Editor
HRZone
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Hedda Bird is the founder and MD of 3C Performance Management, a company focused on taking a 'whole organisation' approach to performance reviews, conversations and processes. They are particularly focused on helping HR professionals engage senior leaders, provide managers with the skills and resources to have effective performance management conversations and enabling people to take ownership of their own performance.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: There’s lots of hype around organisations getting rid of performance appraisals. But the reality is we have to measure performance. Can you separate the hype from the reality?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: The reality for the vast majority of employees in this country is that the core stuff is still the same.

People are still being given annual objectives, not well, but they're still being given them.

People are still given annual appraisals, or annual performance reviews, but what’s being said is that we should have a greater number of performance conversations.

There’s far less action than you might think on this. There are a lot of high-profile cases, such as Deloitte about a year ago, who announced they were abandoning actual appraisals.

Actually they’re making their people have monthly check-ins or weekly check-ins. They’re also collecting four or five numbers about people, four times a year.

Continuous improvement depends on thinking about how to get a bit better next time and continually going through this process.

So actually, they’re managing performance more than they were but are doing it in a different way.

Interestingly, PwC abandoned their performance ratings but have put them back because staff wanted them – staff who were on the fast track, for example, needed to know they were on the fast track.

So we're getting messages about what ought to happen, but in lots of cases that's not being designed in, and it's one of those things that we're beginning to talk about a lot.

There's a recognition that moving towards a more continuous process is the right thing to do, because we should be managing performance all year round absolutely.

Asking people to do a big job of it once or twice a year, and then just encouraging them to do it in the rest of the year, is not great.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What do you think is working when it comes to performance management then?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: I think we are seeing an acknowledgement that the annual objective setting process on an individual objective basis is really dying.

That's not to say that organizations aren't still trying to make it happen, but that those that are doing it are doing it in different ways.

Some are trying to set more generic objectives that apply more widely, and leave it up to individuals to work out how that applies to them with their manager, without trying to document every last detail.

Others are moving away from old fashioned balanced score cards, which are vast amounts of work, and don’t really deliver value, to much simpler performance score cards.

A global mining company we’re working with has just set eight parameters which they have discussions with their staff about on a bi-annual basis. What they're looking for each is not “what have you actually achieved?” but “have you improved from last year?”

And that’s a key change – in fact everybody being expected to improve a little bit over time is core to organisational performance.

If you're new in the gang, as it were, and your performance is quite near the bottom, nobody is going to worry that you don't jump to the top straightaway. What they want to see is that you're making progress and moving forward.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What do managers really want from performance management? And what should happen in these conversations?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: I think it depends absolutely on the kind of work force that you've got, but certainly for most white collar work forces if you walk in and ask the leaders what they really want people to do, they'll say, “I wish they'd just think.”

Continuous improvement depends on thinking about how to get a bit better next time and continually going through this process. The manager’s role is, once a month or so, to come in and say “how have things gone this month?”

In normal performance management conversations, the manager will help you solve problems and the conversation soon turns to one about tasks and activities rather than performance.

The senior management team has to turn their strategies into actions, and that actually takes quite a lot of time.

It’s more about coaching the person into finding solutions e.g. “You've got a problem with the IT, what have you tried? What happened? What other things have you tried? How do you think you could solve that?”

Those conversations are not difficult, but they're not simple.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What’s the accountability angle here? How do you make people truly accountable for their behaviour?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: We've got a process now that works quite well. We go in and talk to senior leaders about what’s working in the business, what isn’t. You have to get them to talk about the business, and then you ask them what you'd like their managers to be doing about it.

Soon they’ll get into a ‘if only people would do this’ moment. In that moment, though they don't know it, they've declared they want to reinvigorate performance management. If I had gone in and said to them, “how's your appraisal process going?” their eyes would have glazed over.

It's always crucial that you start with a conversation about the business or the operation. You talk about what they're there to deliver, what their key challenges are, and obviously you prepare well for that.

The next step is to get all key stakeholders in a room, replay what they told you about what they want managers to do, and then tell a story about how managing performance better delivers what they want.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Sounds simple. Why is it so hard to do?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: The senior management team has to turn their strategies into actions, and that actually takes quite a lot of time. Let's say you are marketing director, and you're sitting there going, "All right, we've got to go and we've got to raise our market share, and we have to raise the average margin."

The very, very horrible core, numbery things. Somehow they've got to sit down and go, "All right, how am I going to do that? What does that mean? What have we got to do?" You've got to turn that into actual things.

It's always crucial that you start with a conversation about the business or the operation.

What usually happens is it gets delegated in a very generic way e.g. reducing staff turnover, improving student experience, attracting new website visitors. It’s all very generic.

It's easy to say these things, and you set them as a goal, but that's not the goal. It's not a goal, it's a number that comes out of a whole series of things you do. It’s takes a lot of time to turn these into actions.

And managers try and cascade these down and it just becomes difficult to hold people to account.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: What makes a good manager?

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: At core, people need to know what they're supposed to be doing, how they're supposed to be doing it and be held accountable for those things, which means being given coaching and feedback.

If you deliver on that, you're doing well. You're doing better than 70% of managers out there.

Individual employees have to be responsible for owning their performance.

We are beginning to have conversations about ‘good enough’ managers, along the lines of: "Look, we're not trying to make you into the great people leaders of the world. You're not trying to be Nelson Mandela. What you want is to be able to manage the people in your organizations well so, A, they stay, and B, they do good work for you."

That's what you want. That, at the heart of it, is actually quite simple.

Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone: Finally, give us a few core tips for how HR can transform performance management. What are the 'golden rules?'

Hedda Bird, Founder, 3C Performance Management: Firstly, you've got to engage your senior leaders. Secondly, you've got to put your managers at the heart of managing performance. It's in their job title. Managing performance, that's part of their job of being a manager, and they have to be responsible for managing performance. Finally, there's the flip side - individual employees have to be responsible for owning their performance.

So at the very top it's about accountability, in the middle it's about management, and in the bottom it's about ownership. You've got to get those in. The move towards continuous performance management has got to be 'designed in,' with these three layers.

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