Rethinking Performance Management

“People are surprised when they hear information in a yearly performance review that, in the past year, either hadn’t been delivered with the necessary sense of importance or hadn’t been delivered at all. As a result, people often feel ambushed,” says Scott Blanchard, principal and EVP with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

This is just one of the ways the performance review process—as it is currently structured—is not adding value, explains Blanchard.

“When people look at the amount of time consumed in managing the review process and then compare it to the benefit, it doesn’t seem to be a model that works particularly well.”

Because of this, organizations are taking a second look—and many are considering significantly restructuring or evening abandoning the process.

Blanchard believes there are two aspects of the review process that are especially in need of an overhaul. The first is having reviews tied to compensation discussions. According to Blanchard, it creates a dynamic that can be difficult and challenging for both manager and direct report.

“Anytime people know that what they are discussing will ultimately lead to financial compensation, it gets complicated. If I had a dream, it would be to separate out performance from the compensation conversation.”

The second feature of the performance review process that needs changing, says Blanchard, is the timing.

“Management and leadership happen on an ongoing basis, but performance review is typically positioned as a once-a-year formal conversation. People need feedback on their performance a lot more often than that.”

From Blanchard’s perspective, reviews should happen on a quarterly basis. In between reviews, managers should meet weekly or biweekly with each direct report to monitor progress, give feedback, and provide additional direction and support as needed.

Part of a Broader Overall Performance Management Process

Blanchard believes performance review works only when it is part of a larger focus on overall performance management. This focus needs to include upfront goal setting conversations as well as day-to-day coaching to provide midcourse corrections.

“All good performance begins with clear goals. It’s about getting people focused and setting their priorities so that they know where they are going,” says Blanchard.

“Next, it’s about identifying the skills and motivation a direct report brings to a particular goal or task. Is it something that’s brand new to the person that will require a lot of direction, or is it something they have experience with? The manager will need to provide the right combination of direction and support to match the person’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task.”

Blanchard explains that the challenge for a manager is to be able to provide all four of the different styles of leadership people need based on their ability to accomplish the task. He points to research conducted by his company that shows  most managers are adept at delivering only one style of leadership out of the four—for example, only directing or only supporting.

“Only 1 percent of the managers we’ve worked with were already able to adjust the levels of direction and support they provided their direct reports based on specific needs. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned.”

Blanchard believes that job one for a manager is to create commitment and clarity with people about where they’re going and what they’re doing. After that, the manager must make time to check in and evaluate progress on a regular—think weekly—basis.

“The best managers conduct these check-ins frequently by way of structured conversations with each direct report. This is more difficult than it sounds. Consider all of the projects being worked on by all of a manager’s direct reports. The manager needs to make sure they know which project is being reviewed. They may need four or five different conversations with a given employee depending on how many projects need to be discussed.

“Next, the manager looks at things from a tactical standpoint. Is the work getting done? Is the project on plan? Are things going well, or are there setbacks?

“Finally, the manager addresses the emotional intelligence side of the equation. How is the direct report feeling? What’s their motivation and confidence around this specific project? Based on the situation, people’s emotional conditions can be quite diverse.”

Blanchard explains that the smart manager takes a situational approach to their communication: they look at competence, confidence, and motivation to decide which management approach works best.

“It’s about flexing your leadership style based on what the direct report needs in a specific role. More than ever in today’s world, managers need to stop for a moment and think about the individual they are speaking with, the type of conversation they are having, how productive the conversation is, how the direct report feels—and then they need to decide on the best words to say when they open their mouth.”

Getting Started

Blanchard encourages leaders to take the time to develop additional management skills.

“It can be a challenge at first, but it can be learned. We believe the success or failure of a manager hinges on the quality of the conversations they have with their people. Great managers know how to have useful conversations with their people—talk things through, resolve issues, create clarity, and keep things moving forward. The capacity to learn how to have successful performance management conversations creates the foundational skill that all managers need to succeed.”


Join Us for a Free Webinar!

Would you like to learn more about developing the leadership skills of your managers? Then join us for a free webinar!

Leadership 201: Developing a Leadership Curriculum
for Midlevel Managers

October 26, 2016, at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time

In this webinar, Scott Blanchard will share the advanced skills needed in any leadership development program aimed at midlevel managers. Drawing on the key principles from Situational Leadership® II, Blanchard will share the recommended components learning and talent development professionals should focus on when they create a midlevel manager curriculum, including:

The Five Elements of Advanced Goal Setting: A new take on the popular SMART Goal model that puts a special emphasis on motivation. Managers draw people into aligned goals instead of constantly having to hold them accountable to overall organization objectives.

The Four Stages of Development: How to identify the starting mindset of direct reports on new tasks; also, the four stages of development all people pass through when taking on a new goal or project.

How to Flex Your Leadership Style: The steps required for a leader to develop beyond a comfortable, default leadership style in order to provide appropriate direction and support for every direct report.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about the essential skill components midlevel managers need to succeed in today’s diverse and fast-paced work environment. Discover the components you should be considering as a part of your leadership development offerings.

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