Please be aware what follows is an AI Transcript, please excuse typos’ and any other slightly weird stuff but you’ll get the gist of the interview…..
Ruth: Hello and welcome to the blue pea leader podcast, and in this episode, I am joined by somebody that I have known for about five years and we have had some fantastic conversations around learning and development and leadership, and what we think is good practice and what we think is bad practice. And so I thought I’d invite us along to talk today we’re going to talk about performance management. Now, Anne is a qualified learning professional and she’s working in one of the top online travel companies in the world. And as mentioned she focuses on leadership development in particular performance management and is responsible for designing and delivering Global Learning initiatives that produce behavioural change, and business impact. I mean I have to say I’ve said we have known and for five years. I think this lady knows what she’s on about.
So, Anne, performance management.
Anne: Yes, it’s my hot topic at the moment so I’m really pleased you asked me to have a conversation with you about it. I have thoughts.
Ruth: Good. I want to hear them. I mean, I could start with. Why do you think performance management is important for leaders?
Anne: Well first of all I think performance management, the term itself can be quite limiting and almost come across negatively, I think for employees it certainly feels that way. It feels like you’re being managed controls. And in a way, I would say, what’s important to managers about this topic is really it’s where you get to performance develop your employees. And so we kind of talked about management and control but what we really mean is two sides to it. One is to really enable your employees to deliver their best work and to grow while they do that. And on the other hand, for a manager to be able to articulate really clearly what they’re seeing that their employees are doing well. And to explain with logic, the score that they will get if you are a company that works with scores, or even more so, the salary and the reward and the bonus. So it’s about transparency and fairness, as well as, enabling your employees to really succeed. Well, and that’s a massive topic, and most of what a manager does. I agree it is a it is a huge topic and it is most of what they do, and you say it is about setting that clarity of expectations, so that you both know what you’re in the game for.
Ruth: Exactly. Yeah, it’s a sense of psychological safety and an employee, if they know what’s expected of them and they know they’re on track. I mean, that means you can just relax and really focus on your job, and that’s so important so performance management performance development is really about creating the best employee experience that an employee can have with you as a manager.
So let’s go into talking about some of the problems or issues that that I’ve seen and you’ve seen when effectively pump performance management is either done badly, or not at all.
Anne: Yeah. Yes, we have seen a lot we have talked about this. So I think it starts the beginning of the cycle I mean let’s just be clear on what performance management is, it’s, it’s about saying in a certain timeframe. Let’s agree between manager and employee, what it is that you’re going to focus on for business results. So we know that where you’re prioritising when you’re focusing First of all, it’s realistic. We’re not asking you to do too much. We’re not asking you to do, too little for your skill set or your time. But also, it’s definitely focused on what the business needs, and the business priorities, and that’s the start of this process, so of course it’s really important for an employee to be really set up for success well through that conversation.
And I think that’s where we have both talked about really sometimes seeing managers are not clear on that. Not clear with objectives not clear with goals. And if you don’t set expectations clearly. When you get to the end of that time period, you’re going to find you can’t articulate why someone met them exceeded them so well, or didn’t meet them. And that’s when managers start to realise. Oh, okay. I realise I can’t really manage and assess your performance because I didn’t really set targets and goals with you that you and I both agreed.
Ruth: Yeah, I mean often turn around and say if you like difficult conversations. Then basically don’t bother setting expectations and agreeing outcomes with the other person. Most managers and leaders don’t like difficult conversations and, but it’s in that setting the expectations and the clear goals, that it tends to be a little bit of a back and forth of really clarifying and an understanding, and a certain point, I think people go, Oh, this feels like it’s taking too long. I tell you what, let’s do vague. We both sort of happy, and we can move along.
Anne: That’s so important to say, and you’re right so managers can feel like well you know what let’s stay vague, and we agree that you’re going to look at it. after this conversation you’ll look at it, you’ll send it to me. I’ll approve it and it may never have got very clear. And, you know, the other thing that I hear sometimes is well, if I get that clear, and that concise, what happens if the environment changes priorities change focus changes. We just changed the objectives and I think people feel like it’s almost like engraved in stone. It’s like no but this just helps you know where you’re going and for a manager to know what they can expect of you but you can change it.
You know we’re sitting in a time now where there’s change happening and, you know, unforeseen consequences and it’s really a time of change and dynamic for any company, and of course objectives are changing, they’re not there to catch an employee out. And I think that’s really important there about a manager and employee having a sense of security and clarity and from employee to know that what they’re working on really is what the business wants them to work on.
Ruth: Yes and I think you’ve touched on one of the reasons why managers and leaders don’t sometimes do performance management, because things that things can change, and therefore it’s like, oh well as you say, I’ve done this now I’ve got to redo it.
Anne: Yes, Yes. And you know, when we look at the end of the timeframe. It’s the time when the manager then starts having to. Let’s put it in really stark terms, Judge, an employee and their performance and actually judge not an employee in their personality or their character but their performance. And again, this is where in a way I see that things can go wrong, is they are not judging an employee and their personality, but they are judging, if you like, let’s say, assessing and evaluating so we’re back to easier terms and more helpful terms.
The performance the results they delivered the what, but also the how and when you get to how you get to behaviour and behaviour can become very subjective from one manager to another, did I see that behaviour I would expect to see. And so, again, this can in some way feel like you’re almost judging the person and their personality or their communication style, which you are not you we’re just looking at some key behaviours and and really the way I like to look at it when you know the what.
So if you’ve got your objectives clear, then they’re clear if you haven’t got your objectives clear, you’ve got a problem, as you said before, that if they’re clear you’re good to go with that. Once you get to the how. You’re really having to look and say, Okay, did this person, deliver their results having had, you know, positive impact on the people they worked with they haven’t burned, bridges, they haven’t, you know, left people who don’t want to work with them. They haven’t. They haven’t done anything that would make their impact their credibility the status of the collaboration that people have with them more limited. If that’s the case, you can pretty much say the How is good, you met expectations. We expect you to be a nice employee to work with and helpful you could challenge, you know you could disagree, but you have these working relationships still at the end of this time period and they are good.
Then of course, the more sophisticated area is and how great was your behaviour was it. Exceeding my expectations or meeting them, and that’s when we start getting sophisticated, but just being able to say, I can see that these behaviours are really expected within an employee in our company. That’s what’s important.
Ruth: And we talked about behaviours and I do think that it’s important just as you’re clarifying a goal and an outcome. You also want to give somebody examples of desired behaviours.
Anne: Yeah. And you know, depending on the company, there are some companies that have very clearly defined behaviours, as do we, but there are some companies who don’t, as we used to. So, and in both ways. We still found that it’s really understood between a manager and an employee, what we expect in terms of behaviours, in a company. I mean these are not rocket science to be you know there might be things you start to discuss around your communication style and how it’s landing and there’s a new ones, but we would expect that during that time period. And now we get to the other part of performance management, there’s coaching and there’s feedback. And the self reflection. Still, whether they’re really defined, or they’re expected or in the job description or expected from the values of the company. It’s not rocket science. As long as we can articulate it and we stay with behaviours we see, and not characteristics and personality.
Ruth: And that’s the thing it’s characteristics and personality. And one of the things that I found in conversations with leaders is for them to become self aware of, of their biases and at times when they’re, they’re not they’re not necessarily being clear about what they expect to see so I’ve, I’ve had a leaders turn around and say I’ve got this problem I’ve got this person they’re not performing. I’ve told them they need to improve. And I say okay so tell me more about improve and they look at me and go, Well I’ve told them they need to improve. Yeah.
Anne: Yeah, I think this is where it really helps that we can focus on behaviours that we see that add value. It’s really looking at feedback isn’t there what’s the behaviour what’s the impact. You know what’s the opportunities so it should not be a surprise of course at the end of the performance period, if there is a discussion about some particular behaviour that is having a negative impact. But it really shouldn’t be left to the end of the performance period for a manager to say that. And that’s when managers might feel that they have so many different pieces of feedback to give if they’ve left it that it’s very hard for them to cover that. So, you know, performance management and the whole cycle of it is just an everyday experience for an employee.
And if you see it as performance development, unlocking performance through the manager setting these clear expectations giving feedback coaching along the way and then clearly articulating what they have seen, and why they have given the performance evaluation that they have. You’ve got this relationship where an employee can really succeed. And if you don’t do one of those things really do have impact negative impact on an employee and ultimately on the business results.
Ruth: Yes, I mean you mentioned coaching and feedback, and these are ongoing things that you, you should be doing, sort of, weekly, daily, I mean, depending on what it is you know feedback, it shouldn’t be oh we get together once a quarter and I’m sitting you down for performance interim performance discussion. And this is where I’m now giving your piece of feedback and this is where I’m doing my moment of coaching.
Anne: I know and I have heard stories and it’s really sad it’s such an impact and a shock on someone. And so that’s I think where performance management gets such a heavy feel about it for people because I think it can be a place where managers feel like this is where I do it. This is where I get my message. And it shouldn’t be there should be actually no surprise there.
You mentioned something else earlier that occurs to me to just bring up you know about biases and evaluation I mean evaluation is a skill. And it’s really, you know, it requires some subtlety and an awareness in a manager to understand their own biases, so it can be as simple as communication style differences and you and I have talked a lot about that.
It could be that we have a manager who’s very clear and direct and rather tell in their communication style and their employees very gentle and very asking of questions and, and it just really doesn’t ever have a strong opinion, it doesn’t mean it’s not, they don’t have a strong opinion their head, it doesn’t mean that they can’t perform very well, but you might find that a manager just doesn’t perceive that as good performance, whereas another manager of another team with a different communication style or in another culture might go, that’s incredible, because this employee never burns bridges, always brings everyone with them. Always ensures that everyone understands and can pick up if someone doesn’t. That to me is exceeding in terms of behaviour.
So there’s a lot that can go wrong at the end of the cycle when managers are evaluating and that’s why it’s so important to see if you can get a step in that process where managers have a check with each other about what they think good performance looks like in terms of behaviours.
Ruth: And so that they’re aligned. Because as you say it does give you that that sounding board that ability sometimes to just check your reasoning, but also become aware of, maybe this is my personal preference and therefore it’s my bias and actually I’m being unfair here in some way shape or form.
We’ve talked about the struggles and the problems, what would you say good performance management looks like?
Anne: Well I’ve had a couple of managers who have been really good at Performance Management so for me I think I can speak from that perspective you know from the employees experience which I think is a really, you know, strong perspective to take. And so, for me, I’ve certainly known what’s expected of me. I’ve been very clear, I felt it’s within my span of control, and my span of influence and ability so I’ve set out for that time period feeling like this can be done. And that feeling that you can actually do it makes you feel in control and safe, but also a bit like you know what let’s have a bit of a stretch. So those kind of at the beginning of the performance period to know that this is something that you know is aligned with who you are, what your job is and what you do is empowering.
I think that, you know, along the way to make sure that I know that I’m on track that I get feedback along the way means that I have not had any surprises at the end of this time period and that’s also a very lovely experience when you’re working in a company to, to know that what you think about how you’re being perceived and how you’re landing is the case, and that there are no big shocks or surprises or disconnects.
And so at the end of this time period. I’ve also had very clear and performance management reviews, where I can tell my manager is prepared. And they really can describe to me things that I’ve done well and they’ve described some of them in detail, they surprised me by things I didn’t even notice because they were just obvious for me.
And that they can say this is, you know, this is what good looks like, this is, this is where you know this is why you have the school you have. And I think that’s really important because, of course, we all go into performance manual reviews and we’re thinking well can I get a high score, you know, and in middle score grade but a high score, and then to be able to have something articulated to you to say this is why the score is, is where it is and you come out feeling like I get that, that is logical that fits well with me. That to me is really important performance management, really impactful performance management.
I think the other thing to say here is just reminding me as well as the language that is used in performance management, it’s very important. So, you know, we, we find it really important to describe people who are meeting expectations as good performance because they’re not just you’ll do. You’ll do, and you’ll do. It’s like, actually, you have met all expectations, and that’s good performance, you absolutely achieved all your goals and your behaviour was, you know, collaborative and empowered, the business.
So that’s good performance so the language that managers use i think is something they have to be very careful of. There are times when I hear stories of managers, not really aware of, perhaps what they’re saying but it begins to sound rather personal instead of about the business and the performance. And I think that’s where you have to be careful. So that to me is what good performance management looks like when, you know, there are no surprises and you’re crystal clear, and you have confidence and you accept and agree.
Ruth: Now, at the moment, there is an awful lot more people working from home doing remote management, and I was just wondering what your thoughts were in terms of what are some of the things that can be thinking about now, to help performance management when they’re no longer actually in the same space as one another.
Anne: Do you mean from a manager perspective or yes, well I’m kind of thinking as a manager you know now I’m working from home. My team is remote. It’s a big shift for me, going through all of this. And so you know we’ve talked about the coaching and the feedback and those kind of things but what is the something that I could do. That’s, that’s gonna, you’ve said about the safety of the person, you know, so what can I do with my employee that builds that safety that means we’re still having good good performance management conversations whether we realise it as good or not.
Yeah, well I think one of the things that has to be done in this time period is a review of objectives, it may well be that what you said you would do is now no longer possible. And if you’re still feeling in the background like well my, you know if there’s a formal system where they’re written in. That’s not updated and I may have said yes to my manager I’ll try this, but I can’t do that. I would want to as an employee have that system updated and I would want to have that conversation with my manager.
So, if we flip it now to the manager perspective as a manager I would want my employee to know that whatever you’re doing at this time period if, you know, I mean across the world there are people with very reduced ability to deliver on their results. And if a manager is saying look, we understand that so let’s just agree what you can do, and maybe even part of the objective becomes looking after yourself.
And, and maybe even, you know if this is a time period where you suddenly have a lot more time on your hands and you can’t deliver on some of these results. What are we going to do to help you to keep you feeling well balanced, to have a look at you developing some new skills that you’ve always wanted a bit of time for it depends on if someone is feeling like they are in a position to actually be creative and grow their skill set or not.
A manager has to at this point in time. Let’s be really realistic about how the situation for my employee. Do they want to develop and grow. Am I just helping them deal with the reality of the situation, kids at home and doing a bit of work, I mean that’s the most important thing I think a manager could do.
Ruth: Yeah, I agree, meeting them where they are right now, and finding a way of reducing their anxiety so as you say if they revisit their objectives, then it can it can help reduce that person’s anxiety of trying to still deliver when everything has changed. And as you say for some people, they will have the space to be more creative, and to do, maybe to do channel their time into other areas, which in one sense leads me on to my next bit which is around, learning and development in general because in some cases for some people this is an opportunity to spend a bit more time on learning and development.
So let’s say for an individual what would be some of your thoughts on how they can get the most out of this?
Anne: Yeah. Well, there are, first to say. There are of course, some people at this point in time, who do not feel like they’re in a position of growth, they might be in survival. And I think it’s so important for a manager to be able to identify the difference because there’s no way that we can be in the space of development and discovery.
If we are in a place of survival, or just getting by on a daily basis with the kids, etc. Absolutely, yes. So, and then another thing to consider is, if we’re talking about development. Most development as we know, is really going to happen when you can put these skills into practice. So it’s about what kind of skills are you looking to develop at a time where you may be working from home, or may you know, can you really practice communication skills or leadership skills. At a time like now when you’re not actually working with people in a normal manner, but could you develop your ability to create pivot tables or to understand a new topic. Yes.
So I think it’s about being very clear about what somebody can do and also not being hard on yourself you know if you you’re curious about a topic and you want to do something about it. This also may well be a time when you can spend a little bit of time with a cup of tea because I’m British on a video conference call with somebody asking them their views on something and getting them to tell you how they’ve learned a topic.
So it’s really a nice time to start learning peer to peer learning from other people just asking how did you do this or, where would you go Where would you suggest I go So, you know, it is hard for some people, and I really understand that to be curious, and in a phase of growth but for other people that are so that’s an opportunity to take.
Ruth: As you say, learning and development, you should be able to practice what you’re learning, at that point, you’re learning for rather than I might apply this in two years time, you never know. Then, that doesn’t really work and, and there’s no point asking people to learn things, if their level of anxiety and stress is high, because this is just gonna push them over the edge so I totally agree with you.
Anne: Something else occurred to me as we’re talking about this is performance management the best of performance management could show up at this point in time, because I know that certainly companies like my mine and other companies are saying so do we really want to evaluate people on a score right now is that relevant because that’s not really the point of performance management per se, on its own. It’s about performance development, unlocking performance so are we going to have a look at things like having well- being conversations reflecting with our employees, talking about the behaviours we’ve seen that are just spectacular in a time like this. That’s where we could start saying to them, you know what we understand that these objectives are unrealistic and let’s reduce them. And then let’s put them aside for a while and now just let’s look at you as an employee in this company, and how well you’re doing and let’s reflect on that. And what does that mean in terms of skill sets for you in the future. So, you know what I’m seeing right now is the best of, you know, managing performance unlocking performance by going it’s not about this number. It’s about you, and how we help you grow.
Ruth: And you know in times of crisis it does show us facets of yourself that maybe we didn’t realise were as strong as they are. And opportunities to look at investigating something, not necessarily you know learning it in depth, but pursuing things that we maybe wouldn’t have thought of, but as we start doing it ,it’s like there’s actually opportunity and possibility here.
Anne: Yes, yes. And it may be small steps, I mean I see from my experience that we’re learning to work in projects differently to you know get very very clear on our communication lines to ensure that one or two people decide and we move like all these different ways of working, I can see will be useful when we all go back in the office, and they may help us to speed up because of it.
Ruth: I agree. And I also think is you know you said about having well-being conversations and you know as we’re having conversations with people and we’re in their home with them, I find that I’m getting to know people in a level that otherwise maybe I wouldn’t have got to know them. So there’s a richness emerging, that isn’t gonna disappear.
Anne: It’s really good you say that because you remind me that one of the messages that we really want to make sure we bring out in performance management, but generally, is that we need to take the whole person into account and on any given day. Any manager should be taking the whole employee into account for different perspectives of them and what they expect from their culture, what they expect a manager to be like for them what they expect their, their working environment to be like, and also just take into account their, you know circumstances in their life, or you know capabilities, they have or growth areas they have said the whole person but this is honestly the time to take the whole person into account.
And what’s so lovely is so many managers are getting to see into their employees worlds into their living rooms they’re meeting their children. We have countless examples of, you know, little kids running backwards and forwards and babies and saying hello to different members of the family, and it is really very much bringing the whole person into account. And I feel like that’s an important part of performance management.
Ruth: Yes, I agree.
So we’ve talked a lot about performance management and, and I now just want to broaden it out a little bit more general and we’ve entered a new decade. And as we entered this decade we also have entered it with, with a lot of disruption. And so as leaders, what would you say in terms of leadership for this decade is maybe being asked of us, that we pay more attention to either developing or letting something go?
Anne: That’s a really good question.
So, okay, what I find myself saying a lot, so this might be the answer to this is that we really have to be aware of our impact on other people. So we have to be aware of our as managers our impact on our employees, and it’s something that I think we, we, we forget to think about especially managers who’ve been in the position for a long time, we forget that our employees aren’t really telling us what they really think we forget that they’re agreeing more than they’re disagreeing that they’re probably having a chat about their challenges with, but with each other and supporting each other.
So I feel like, you know, the focus of a leader and a manager in this decade is to be present and conscious on a minute by minute basis of their impact on the people around them, because we can have a bad day as managers and leaders, but my goodness, how many people could we make have an even worse day, if we just aren’t feeling good, or grumpy or snap, or don’t listen well.
And so for me the number one thing is employee experience. if your employees are not having, you know, just a rewarding experience at work, they will leave, at some point, they will find that somewhere better where they believe they’ll have a better, more rewarding employee experience. Now we don’t need our employees to like us, or lovers, but we need them to feel like they’ve been given an environment where they can succeed and feel like they can add value. And we are the number one factor in that experience and we sometimes just forget it over time.
Ruth: We do we become complacent I think, or just forget the importance of how I’ve how somebody is. The way that they can look at you can make you feel it can be something as subtle as that. I’ve said to leaders you know when you walk into the room What do you bring with you. And when you leave what wake do you leave behind. And once you become more aware of that, as you say, you become aware of the impact that you’re having and you building it up, are you knocking it down, because, as you say, once you’ve knocked it down enough, they’re gonna go find somewhere else to be.
Anne: And just to run back in a way that you know just really circles around performance management. Again, you’re not there to make employees like you know but you are there as a leader to be fair and to be clear and transparent and set the road ahead, and to make decisions that can help employees do their job well, all of which is performance management.
So, you know, if a leader saying, Where would I look to feel that I could give that good impact on my employees and I’m not looking at their emotions and their character and, you know, particular personality I don’t want to operate in work from that perspective, I would say you look at the performance management process that you are fair and transparent and clear in Objective setting that you are clear and transparent and decisive, and you give coaching and you give guidance and you give advice, all the way through for them to help deliver on the results.
And at the end you articulate it all to them in a way that they say, I see me, and I get this I get your logic I get your reasoning.
Ruth: What you’ve just said, I think is so powerful for all leaders out there who said to me, one of the things I want to be. Want to develop or one of the things I want to be known for is being transparent. Yeah, I think what you’ve just said you’ve nailed it as a way for them to work on being more transparent.
Anne: yeah. If it’s anything else but business processes, you’re going to feel like you’re back to emotions that’s a tricky place to be as a, as a leader and a manager so look to the business processes and be totally transparent there and totally fair. And then you know that you’re going to create the environment and the engagement that you want in your employees.
Ruth: So I’ve got one final question for you. And this is for you to share your words of wisdom on your leadership journey, what would you say would be a little nugget that you would share with other leaders on their journey that you think would help them?
Anne: I would say that I sometimes forget that I can learn from people at all levels of the business. And if I’m not careful, I’m just looking at my peers and I’m looking up, and I have some assumed expectation that I can learn from them. But in fact I’ve realised, you know, over the years that there are some amazing people around me that I can learn from but the only way that I can really learn from them is to ask them questions and somebody I know very well. That’s you. Reminded me, ask more questions, you know, and I’ve just found one question more. I mean it’s just shocking, sometimes, how one extra question, I can find out things maybe about them that I would really need to know or want to know, or just something extra that’s part of a business project that will help me immensely. But just one more question has made an incredible difference to me and I can learn from everyone around me.
Ruth: Thank you so much for joining me today. I have really really enjoyed myself. And as always, it’s been a fantastic conversation I’m sure we’ll have many more.
Anne: Thank you so much for inviting me Ruth, it was really lovely to hang out with you.
Ruth: Okay, well, Until next time.