Here's the 7 Deadly Sins of Performance Management

Mark Lewis
October 7, 2018
min read
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Take a minute to think about why we strive for better performance. To increase sales? To improve customer experience? To develop or innovate a new product?

If there’s one goal all business leaders can agree on, it’s to continuously bring out the best in our people.

Now consider this: The traditional performance management process occurs once or twice a year. Even if you have the most efficient process and managers that have plenty of time on their hands 🤣, humans need to feel valued, recognised and heading in the right direction. Tough to deliver all these needs in two sessions a year.

And with knowledge based work, that’s only half the battle. Knowledge workers need an environment that supports flexibility, collaboration and innovation. Quite the opposite of a backwards looking, assessment system.

If we know what our people need and the environment they like to work in, what’s stopping us from bringing out their best? Well, if you’re not committing the following performance management sins — and you’d be surprised how many businesses are — you’re already ahead of the game.

#1 - Isolation

We all need to feel cared about, in particular by those we respect like our leaders. The best way to achieve this is with regular 1-on-1 meetings between a team member and their manager. Without regular 1-on-1s, team members can quickly feel lonely, isolated and unsure about direction.

Most companies we come across have an ad-hoc approach to 1-on-1s and the cadence is typically based on manager discretion. So you get some that are naturally doing it well and others that rely on the forced annual event to meet with their team.

Even when there’s a good cadence of 1-on-1s, we often find managers have not been equipped for quality coaching conversations. Instead they’ll simply ask for a status update on the work in progress.

Employees need well rounded, forward looking conversations covering a variety of topics throughout the year. Aim to adopt a coaching role with questions like, “How can I help you to be successful?” “Are there any roadblocks hindering your progress?”

Conversations can also cover values & culture, learning & development, and career depending on what your team member needs in the moment.

#2 - Competitive

Traditional approaches to performance management create a competitive environment that pitches employees against each other. If you have a ranking or bell curve system which by design ensures there’s only room for a handful of ‘top performers’, then you have a competitive system.

This approach might work for labour based jobs as it spurs on extra physical effort. However for knowledge based jobs it’s very possible for individuals to each be at top of their game. People operating in a competitive performance management system often feel anxious and unfairly treated - which clouds thinking and reduces cognitive ability for creative and innovative thought processes.

Aim to build a developmental environment where your people are not limited by a forced ranking. Learn and understand the unique strengths of your team, direct more of the that work towards them and encourage mastery of the skills they enjoy. Clarify that teamwork is valued over individual winners.

#3 - Annual

KPI’s that get cascaded down the organisation once a year will feel like a bucket of poop raining down on your team. Your people won’t feel connected to something they’ve had no part in setting, and even more so if targets are unrealistic.

In today’s environment where change is happening faster than ever before, KPI’s quickly go stale or out of date when compared to the reality of what the business is needing.

Skilled teams need to develop their own goals from the ground up, thereby building greater commitment and a higher chance for success. These should be negotiated and confirmed to be having an impact towards company level priorities. Encourage team members to reassess goals on a quarterly basis to ensure they are still relevant and the most important things are being worked on.

#4 - Echo-chamber

Without in-the-moment feedback it’s not possible to know if your doing well or if you need to course correct. When feedback is considered awkward and left to formal end-of-year meetings, you’re setting your team up to fail.

The best performing teams have a culture of peer to peer feedback which comes from a foundation of helping each other (see deadly sin #2).

The best way to build the feedback muscle is to lead by example and start with positive only. Make a habit to recognise good behaviours, call them out and the positive impact the behaviours had. With a ‘bank’ of positive feedback comments under your belt the trust will be built so people will be more receptive if you need to highlight an opportunity to improve.

Ultimately you want your team to be so comfortable with feedback that it becomes an everyday habit. Your people will recognise feedback as a channel for growth and actively request feedback from their peers. And making a request is the least threatening for both parties because it’s been invited.

#5 - Policy

When performance management is something that is done to you once a year by HR, it’s sending the wrong message. It’s telling your people they don’t need to worry about performance because HR takes care of it. They just need to force themselves through the exercise each time it comes around.

Aim to have your team take ownership of their performance and clarify that performance is something we are all responsible for on an ongoing basis.

Encourage them to book regular 1-on-1 meetings with you, get them to set the agenda, ask them to note down achievements they’ve made each week, suggest they seek out new responsibilities actively manage their own goal progress.

#6 - Ratings

Us humans are absolutely terrible at rating others. If you have a performance management system that involves rating employees against a set of criteria, then you’ll be basing your performance decision making on flawed data.

I could talk for a long time on this topic but one quick example from about 15 different bias' that lead to flawed rating data. Some people give 10 out of 10 freely, because in their mind nearly everyone deserves a 10 out of 10. Another person (I used to be one of these), never gives 10 out of 10, because in their mind nobody can be that good, including themselves! So if you have two teams that have been rated by their respective managers with different outlooks on what a 10 means… their performance will look radically different even if it were exactly the same.

What can you do? Well us humans are good at rating our own experiences of a given situation so questions such as those developed by Deloitte are an awesome starting point:

  1. Given what I know of this person’s performance, and if it were my money, I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus. (1 to 5)
  2. Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team. (1 to 5)
  3. This person is at risk for low performance. (Yes / No)
  4. This person is ready for promotion today. (Yes / No)

In organisations where promotion opportunities are rare, our customers will often swap number 4 for: This person needs broader opportunities to keep them engaged. (Yes / No)

#7 - Administration

If you’re performance management process is stopping your employees from working as they go about creating, handling and calibrating reams of performance data then you’re in the thick of deadly sin #7.

When performance is owned by employees, it is a way of working and not a giant end of year assessment.

Aim to have systems that collate accurate data throughout the entire year - both qualitative and quantitative. This data will hold no surprises for employees as they will have been responsible for how it’s unfolded. It can then be used to transparently discuss performance, and make fair and objective performance assessments.

Even if your company runs a traditional annual approach to performance management, we still see proactive managers that actively engage their team members with a more continuous and human approach to developing a high performance culture.

The 7 commandments for continuous performance management


How about countering each of those sins with a failsafe mantra? Thou shalt:

  1. Hold regular 1-on-1 meetings with my team members
  2. Coach and develop my team with forward looking conversations
  3. Trust and empower my team to set their own goals
  4. Embrace feedback as a manager and cultivate amongst my team
  5. Encourage team members to take control and own their performance
  6. Only rate my own experience of another person
  7. Coach my team to record achievements as they happen

As long as you treat your team members like humans and drop any command and control tactics, the rest should follow.

Crewmojo is a continuous performance management platform and can help you grow performance with happier, more successful employees. Curious?

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