02 Apr Managing the BASICs for Effective Performance Management Conversations
Like many, my first performance management experience was not a good one! It was an excellent lesson in how NOT to manage a performance conversation…I worked in the head office of a well-known jewellery retailer and my mid-year review was managed by Emilia* the HR Director (even though I didn’t report directly to her.) I had no idea what to expect from the conversation and once I was in it, this didn’t become any clearer. I wasn’t invited to put forward my own views, she simply told me what SHE thought. Despite the fact that my immediate supervisor was always singing my praises, Emilia only focused on negative areas (although to be fair, she did tell me I always wore smart clothes!) No specific actions were discussed, or if they were, I certainly wasn’t clear what they were. The only action I left that meeting with, was one I came up with myself…to make sure I found another job!
So…clearly, it wasn’t a great experience and I left feeling even more demotivated than I was before the conversation. What chance did I have if Emilia couldn’t even get the BASICs right?
How well do you manage the BASICs?
Not all performance conversations are as awful as my early experience but it’s amazing how many negative stories we hear on our training programmes.
So, if you don’t want YOUR staff sharing their own horror stories about the way YOU handle performance conversations read on to ensure YOU get the BASICs right.
When you have a performance conversation with a team member, whether it’s an informal “catch up” or a more formal review meeting, there are five elements that you need to manage to get the BASICs right.
There are two levels of buy-in to aim for – buy in to the performance conversation itself and buy in to the actions that are discussed and agreed.
Is it clear what the individual is going to get from the performance conversation? If not, they’re less likely to buy into the conversation. So, what’s in it for them? Have you thought about this from their point of view? You can either articulate this early on in the meeting, or you can ask them what they want to get from the conversation (and then do your best to meet their needs.) If you can manage this, you’ve jumped the first buy-in hurdle.
The second hurdle is getting buy-in to actions. As you progress through the conversation, it’s likely that you’ll talk about successes, issues that need resolving and actions that need to be taken. Increase your chances of getting buy-in by encouraging your team member to come up with the ideas and actions themself. You can always build on them to refine their ideas if they’re not quite up to scratch. If the ideas originate from them, they’re more like to be committed to them.
What’s the climate like in the performance conversations you manage? Is it warm or frosty? Perhaps it starts off clear and bright but there’s a sense of dark clouds looming. Are you looking for open, honest communication? If so, you need to create an atmosphere that is conducive to this by being open and honest yourself, allowing the other person air time and creating a safety net so that it’s OK to talk about things that aren’t going so well. You might want to create a more formal atmosphere because there are some difficult areas to discuss and you want to reinforce how seriously you are taking the need to improve things. Ensure you choose the atmosphere you want to create and then manage your own behaviour and the environment to make it work.
Have you ever wondered why despite having conversations about performance, the actions you thought you’d agreed simply don’t happen? It’s easy to put this down to the capability or motivation of the individual but could you be partly to blame? Do you work hard enough to ensure clarity – to establish a shared understanding of the key messages and actions? Remember to summarise often and encourage the person to do the same, particularly at the end of each performance area – you can ask them to recap the actions they’ll take and you can do the same – this way, you’ll KNOW you’ve got a shared understanding…if there is any ambiguity or confusion, better to find out in the meeting when you’ve got chance to clarify things, rather than two weeks later when you discover they’re not doing what you thought you’d agreed!
When I had my performance discussion with Emilia, I was given little opportunity to be involved. She did almost all the talking. As a result, I felt like it was “done to me”. This is a common complaint according to people we meet on our programmes. Who does most of the talking in the performance conversations you manage? Who is putting forward the ideas? Who is getting more of the airtime? If you’re the manager and it’s YOU, you might want to think again about who this meeting is about and what you’re trying to achieve. If you want to find out how things are progressing for your team member you need to let them contribute to the meeting. Ask them questions to steer the conversation and probe for a deeper understanding but let them do most of the talking. You’ll learn more this way. When you’re tempted to suggest actions or next steps, ask them for their ideas first (you never know, they might come up with ones that are better than yours!)
Sometimes, during performance conversations, we need to tackle difficult issues. It’s all too easy to dance around these or worse still, avoid them completely in the hope the problem will go away. In your role as a manager, you need to be able to manage confrontation appropriately. This means, not shying away from it when there is a difficult issue to tackle. Handling confrontation in a performance conversation is a bit of a balancing act – you need to raise the issue so that a clear message is received but you need to do this without damaging the person’s self-esteem or creating conflict. If you can get all the other “BASIC” elements right, you’re in a much better position to do a good job with Confrontation. Be open and constructive with your feedback and then move on to identifying solutions to the problem.
Effective performance conversations don’t just happen by accident. You need to consciously manage the BASICs. So, next time you need to chat to someone about how their work is going, don’t fall into any of the traps Emilia did …or you may have people talking (or blogging!) about you one day!
What other tips do you have? Or perhaps you have some good and bad examples you’d like to share. Whatever your comment, we’d love to hear from you. Look out for next month’s blog on Managing Career Conversations.
*names have been changed to protect the guilty!