Performance management strategies would benefit from embracing Carol Dweck's theory: developing a growth mindset that actively encourages talent to learn and improve.
Imagine a world in which ‘know-it-alls’ are replaced with ‘learn-it-alls’. Not a bad vision, is it?
As a topic of conversation in the HR world, it’s encouraging to see that ongoing learning is increasingly being discussed in the context of performance management. It’s likely this progressive thinking can be attributed to the increasing awareness and acceptance of ‘Growth Mindsets’, the learning theory devised by Carol Dweck.
Dweck’s theory, dubbed ‘the psychology of success’, opposes conventional perspectives on natural talent by positing that intelligence, ability and performance are not static and can always be improved.
This theory essentially endorses the idea that the combination of hard work and the right coaching support are more important to overall outcomes than natural talent alone.
The approach supports the view that when these two factors are present, any person or group of people can learn to be the best, with just one of many examples including Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City beating the odds to win the English Premier League title in 2016.
So what learnings can we take from this in performance management terms?
Quit commanding and start coaching
The answer lies in fostering workplace cultures centred around a coaching style of management that is both manager and employee led. This starts with moving away from the long ingrained culture of command that has pervaded the global workplace for decades now.
Instead of imposing contrived tick-box exercises such as the annual appraisal or sporadic employee surveys, organisational leaders need to assess and identify which approaches actually improve performance and then work backwards to land on a collaborative employee-manager solution that delivers better outcomes.
Coaching centres around two-way continuous feedback and more meaningful conversations.
Coaching provides the most refreshing and efficient replacement for the more rigid and counter-productive command culture. How? The concept of coaching centres around two-way continuous feedback and more meaningful conversations, enabling employees to have more control over their interactions and ongoing performance improvement.
In turn this drives intrinsic motivation and feeds the end goal of achieving a growth mindsets culture. There is much research to support this too with Gallup’s recent ‘Re-Engineering Performance Management’ report stating that ‘employees who strongly agree that managers hold them accountable for their performance are 2.5 times more likely to be engaged’.
How do you swap command for coaching?
1. Set the right cultural tone
Encourage more frequent and purposeful performance related conversations. Constructive feedback is key to improvement so make sure your leaders are practising what they preach. This will then naturally filter down throughout the organisation, and with the right behaviour management techniques, will become a normal part of people’s working day.
Facilitating the means for more continuous interaction is also an important consideration, none more so than in today’s global environment where employees are located in different geographical locations and often work irregular hours. In these instances, technology will be key to promoting conversations and providing a platform for ongoing feedback.
2. Support managers to enable employees
Not all people are born managers, and it is often the case that people reach a position of seniority because of their experience and practical skills as opposed to their managerial capabilities.
In these instances, it is important for organisational leaders to provide managers with the right support and guidance (a coaching approach in itself) so that they, in turn, can enable those whom they are supervising to be their best.
In order to coach effectively, managers need to give people ownership, responsibility and ongoing guidance, but there are also additional factors to be considered outside of the employee’s assigned scope of work.
Employees will require emotional support at times and will likely model their own behaviour on that of their manager, which adds further importance to investing in performance improvement at all levels of the organisation.
3. Slow but steady wins the race
It is crucial that any performance goals or objectives are always achievable. This sounds obvious, but get it wrong and you’ll be left with a frustrated coach and a demotivated employee.
The saying ‘slow but steady wins the race’ very much applies here, and the optimum coaching approach will involve setting achievable targets so that the employee can see marginal ongoing gains. This will boost intrinsic motivation and help to keep the employee focused on continuous improvement.
While small steps forward are the way to go, it is also important for both the employee and coach to regularly take a step back in order to pause and reflect on performance progress. Without this, feedback will be both less continuous and less constructive, and it will be difficult to implement corrective measures when needed.
Thankfully, great strides have been made in recent years when it comes to shifting to growth mindsets and a collaborative employee-manager performance management approach.
Research and insight from the fields of psychology and neuroscience are becoming better understood and adopted into the workplace. Of course, certain industries are beating others, and ultimately the degree of employee enablement will in part be dictated by the specific culture of the organisation.
Despite this, it is highly encouraging to see more organisations move beyond the dictatorial command culture, or indeed simply a culture of non-engagement. We must not stop here, because there is always room for more learning and development.
About Stuart Hearn
Stuart is Founder & CEO at Clear Review – the performance management company that enables more meaningful and continuous employee feedback. He is a performance management specialist with 20 years’ HR experience, both as an HR Director and Consultant. Before founding Clear Review in 2016, Stuart spent 10+ years helping organisations to improve their performance management processes and implement online systems. Prior to this, he held in-house HR roles for organisations including BP, United Biscuits and Sony, where he was International HR Director. Stuart holds a BA (hons) in HR Management and is a Chartered Member of the CIPD.