The One Thing Every Performance-management Process Needs

By December 27, 2017One Comment

Assessing Job Performance

When it comes down to it, the main job of a manager is to assess each employee’s job performance and help that person improve through ongoing conversations. Sounds simple, right? Then why is that so hard for so many leaders?

Every organization has a slightly different name for this process. The most common is “performance management”—the way we evaluate the work of our people and then train, promote, and reward them.

Greg Piper, director of continuous improvement at Becton, Dickinson & Co., is good at this process. He holds one-on-one performance review sessions every other week for thirty minutes with his team—even though all his people are remote, spread throughout the United States, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. “What do you want to talk about?” is always the first question he asks, which is a terrific starter.

One bit of data about the value of such frequent check-ins comes from BetterWorks, which found employees who meet and discuss progress toward goals with their managers weekly are up to twenty-four times more likely to achieve their goals. Even if you saw a fraction of that improvement holding such check-ins, the return on the investment of your time would be impressive.

In today’s business environment, the yearly or half-yearly performance review of yesteryear is simply not responsive enough to address changes that teammates are facing and help people respond. Team members need much more regular feedback and guidance—especially younger workers who are especially unwilling to wait half a year or more to learn about their strengths or needed-improvement areas.

Now, with that said, it’s also time to consider a missing piece of the performance management puzzle: Career development.


The Missing Piece

We have found the best managers have enhanced their performance management process by holding regular meetings to discuss each person’s career development goals based on their personal motivations. We realize the notion of conducting such regular conversations with each person on your team may seem like an enormous time drain, but they don’t have to be long. Most managers we’ve observed have these last from fifteen to thirty minutes, tops. These aren’t supposed to be project update meetings. It’s the one conversation you’ll have that has the sole object of building an employee’s career—and who wouldn’t come to that meeting engaged?

We’ve found it’s best to hold these aspirational career conversations once a month with direct reports. In some high turnover industries, such as retail, hospitality, food service, customer service, or healthcare, our experience has found holding them as often as weekly with direct reports can cut turnover dramatically.

Such career conversations provide regular opportunities for you to listen to employees’ ambitions to learn and grow and to counsel them about their progress forward. One of the things we remind managers in our training sessions is that this approach involves people doing things that you actually need done, not just those they would like to do more of. Just because an employee is motivated doing an activity doesn’t mean your team needs more of it done. In some cases, we also must accept that the person might not be good at what they love to do. The activity must be not only motivating but also a strength, or something they can realistically get better at. Work is not simply about people pursuing passions. If it were, we would have a surfeit of professional chocolate tasters and secret agents. Things we are passionate about, but not very good at, are what we call hobbies.

One of the inspiring leaders we’ve discussed this practice with is California Pizza Kitchen CEO G.J. Hart, who told us, “What differentiates our company’s best leaders is that they focus on helping each team member exceed their own expectations.” As part of this process, Hart counsels his GMs and other managers to, “have conversations with their people about the way forward and what that might look like.” Sometimes, he notes, these conversations will help a manager make course corrections if an employee has unrealistic expectations that might lead to frustration. “Managers can help team members understand why it might not be possible to get everything they want right now,” he said.

On the flip side, career conversations with teammates can help identify obstacles that managers can remove. Hart said, “An important step is to think about if there are things that have held the individuals back so they can release the shackles. When I came to CPK, it was very important to me that we encourage our people to dream big and enable them to make a difference in their roles.”

As always, we love to read your thoughts. What ways have you found to help your team’s performance and develop their careers?

One Comment

  • Ed Dobrzykowski, PT, DPT, ATC, MHS says:

    Thanks for sharing, and I totally concur. I have practiced this step for many years as a healthcare “middle manager.” I changed employers on a handful of occasions for promotional opportunities, and the discussion with my new direct reports, and their direct reports, provided a nice segue way for getting to know them. I queried them, in writing, on their career professional aspirations for at least the next five years, and wanted to know about their educational background. I even went so far as to ask them about their strengths (before this became mainstream). Then I met with most of them, with a focus on my own managers and supervisors.

    I was amazed in the beginning by how few had really thought about their futures (spanning many ages) and was really able to help their personal engagement, and our own succession planning, by these steps. I reviewed the information at least annually, and it was a nice step to complete as we added associates and during their orientation periods. As an educator, I advised these steps with direct reports, for developing leaders and managers.

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