7 tips for better performance management

save-the-earth

I’ve been researching for a lecture I’m giving on performance this week. It’s reminded me of how much lots of people dislike the performance management and appraisal systems in their organisations. I’ve yet to come across someone who gives a big “whoop” because they have a monthly performance meeting, or their annual appraisal?

Why is this?

Surely, it’s an opportunity for both parties (manager and team member) to come together and reflect on what’s gone well, lessons learned and identify opportunities for progress in the immediate future?

In a recent piece on what makes performance management work, the CIPD said, ““if an employee feels unfairly treated, unsupported, or demotivated after an appraisal, the performance management process is put at risk”.

There are so many different things that can impact on a person’s performance. The demands of the job; lack of job security (see public sector); level of satisfaction with the job and the organisation; level of capability and competence; their self-esteem and confidence (or lack of); and, of course, their relationship with their manager.

A good manager will not only understand and recognise the various factors impacting a person but they’ll take the time to make a performance meeting as positive an experience as possible. And yes, even when a difficult discussion needs to take place – the person can still go away with their dignity intact, not feeling like a naughty schoolchild!

So, here are my 5 tips for making performance meetings a positive experience for all:

  1. Should be evidence based: This all comes back to spending time on really crystalling goals during the annual objective setting. A good goal will not only be S.M.A.R.T but also P.U.R.E (Positively stated. Understood. Relevant. Ethical.) Only when goals are clear, specific and understood can you hope to have decent monthly performance meetings. This isn’t just about project or task based goals but also goals linked to learning and development activities.
  2. Both manager and team member should prepare beforehand: It used to drive me insane when members of my team failed to prepare before their monthly performance meetings. The responsibility for the meetings are 50/50 and hence, this means both parties prepare adequately beforehand. Not only is this about evidence to show progress, it’s about asking questions of each other.
  3.  Appropriate time and space booked for a quality discussion:  The time for these sessions should be sacrosanct in your diaries. The performance of your organisation and your team is linked to the performance of each individual. As a leader in your organisation, surely there is nothing more important than time with each member of your team? It might be you meet for 30 minutes every two weeks, or an hour a month. Whatever works for both of you. Same goes for space as well. Sometimes it helps to step outside the office and have the discussion over a coffee. Or it will be more appropriate to have the meeting in a private meeting room. Again, check in with your team member to see what works for them.
  4. Balance of focus on objectives (tasks) and development (learning): Your job is to ensure that the discussion offers an opportunity for the individual to talk about what they’ve learned since the last meeting. What went well? What went less well? What will they do differently over the next month? By focusing the meeting in this way means you’re less likely to get the tick-list approach to performance management, as in ticking off tasks achieved and then meeting ends.
  5.  Equal time for discussion between manager and employee: If you know you’re a talker then you need to work even harder to quiet down. I’ve known managers who end up dominating performance meetings with their staff and then wonder why they didn’t know something crucial affecting that individual. If you’re guilty of talking too much then this article in the Harvard Business Review offers an approach to help you. Or you might have a member of staff who is exeptionally quiet, doesn’t give much away. A good strategy here is to ‘ride the silence’. So, if you’ve asked a question don’t jump in and fill the airtime simply because the person hasn’t responded in less than 30 seconds. Try and be silent for a minute once you’ve asked a question and see what happens.
  6. Balance of look back and look forward: A lot of criticism about performance management and performance appraisal systems is that they are all about looking back. You can mitigate against this in your monthly sessions by using the look back to focus on the opportunities coming up in the coming period. If a person has had a difficult month, then only focusing on the look back is going to leave them feeling even more dejected, demotivated and quite simply rubbish about themselves. Looking forward presents fresh opportunities to do better, to apply learning, to try things out.
  7. Ask ‘how can I best help you?’: This is all about servant leadership. If a person isn’t performing as well as they could do, your job is to help them. Not make them feel like a lesser being. At the heart of this is asking, “How can I best help you?” and if you’re feeling particularly brave, “Is there anything I’m doing that’s impeding your performance?” By showing openness to feedback, you’re more likely to create the right kind of climate for a healthy performance meeting.

If you’re a manager, what have been your experiences of performance management? Are there things you’ve tried that have worked particularly well? And if you’re not a manager, what have been your experiences of being on the receiving end of performance management? Share your examples in the comments section so others can benefit from your experience.


Hayley Lewis is a chartered psychologist and a Fellow of the RSA. She founded HALO Psychology to help public sector leaders and organisations improve their effectiveness through the sharing and use of psychology. HALO offers a variety of services including coaching, facilitation and training. Contact us to see how we can support you improve performance management in your organisation.

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