Ask any seasoned manager how they get their teams to perform and you will hear some platitudes about feedback (which is code for yelling), motivation (which involves yelling), relationships (which is yelling “for their own good”) and good old fashioned yelling.
It is not their fault, they learn from their bosses who learnt from their bosses who probably learnt it from the “burra sahib” or “sethji” back in the good old days.
The high-decibel school of performance management is alive and kicking even though not many would admit to it.
In truth, most first time managers are not well versed with driving performance effectively. It is not because of a lack of competence buts because a lot of companies do not train their managers on the process of driving performance.
There is no set curriculum or standards for what constitutes good performance management. Instead managers are expected to learn on the job.
A lot of small and medium enterprises have a figure for the turnover but apart from that there is precious little for employees to work towards.
The top management themselves are unclear what they want their teams to achieve.
They find it hard to take time out to set detailed goals. Some genuinely believe that their employees already know what needs to be done and that they just need to work harder.
Consequently there is no clarity on what each department needs to do to drive growth in the long term.
A lot of things such as regular training and development or quality programmes which are important in the long run are ignored simply because there is no incentive or push to pursue them.
Companies that do bother to set goals have challenges in breaking those goals up department wise and very few are able to cascade the goals down to the individual employee. So employees work harder and faster at what they think are supposed to be doing.
Invariably activities that show immediate results are chased and activities which will pay off in the long run are ignored. Come time for appraisals and suddenly there is friction and finger-pointing between departments and teams.
Employees feel that they worked hard and that nobody appreciates them, while the management is unhappy because they do not see people stepping up to the plate.
Investing time in setting clear goals is one of the most important jobs of the top management. It is something that we strongly insist our clients do before we take up any long term engagement.
This is because without goals there is no way of knowing how well you are performing.
Just like captain of ship has no one to blame but himself if the ship sails of course, the manager cannot blame his team if he has not given them clear directions.
After goals have been set, it is important to review them periodically. Business realities keep changing and targets that were critical at the start of the year can become irrelevant after six months.
It is also important to monitor what progress has been made methodically and at regular intervals so that corrective action can be taken before it is too late.
Review of goals is also a good opportunity to learn from past experience and offer feedback.
The nuts and bolts:
The appraisal dialogue is possibly the most important part of the Performance Management System (PMS), even more than any formal goal setting. It is an opportunity for manager and subordinate to have a frank conversation in order to learn from the past and plan for the future.
It is a time for the manager to provide feedback on the employee’s performance and behaviour in the year gone by. High decibel managers may interpret feedback to mean lecturing and nothing could be further from the truth.
In a well conducted appraisal dialogue (and it is a dialogue not a monologue) the subordinate should be the one speaking the most.
The manager’s job after he has shared his observations is to ask questions and listen. The manager has to create an atmosphere of trust openness so that the employee opens up and shares his or her concerns frankly.
One complication is that most employees, managers and subordinates alike feel that the appraisal process is only used to justify increments.
This invariably ends up colouring the most important part of the PMS which is the appraisal dialogue. In companies that do insist on an appraisal dialogue (many do not) the meeting is viewed with suspicion.
Managers tend to use this opportunity to vent their frustrations and subordinates tend respond by making excuses or even worse, sitting quietly and nodding.
This result in the employees becoming de-motivated or leaving the organisation and the same mistakes are repeated year after year.
Luckily many of the larger conglomerates and even some SMEs have started understanding the importance of a well orchestrated PMS.
For example a large player in the real estate space made it a point to have a third party call up all the employees after appraisals were done to see if the process was followed in letter and spirit.
In another instance the HR department wisely recognised the difference between measuring innovation vis a vis measuring routine deliverables and adapted their goal setting processes to account for these differences.
More and more companies are now training their people on setting goals, conducting appraisals, and even on how to receive feedback.
And a lot of these companies are reporting higher morale and improved performance. Employees too are becoming more open to such initiatives and see them as opportunities to learning and addressing their own shortcomings.
This is all part of a larger trend where HR is moving from being a support function to becoming a strategic partner.