I have learned the novice can often see things that the expert overlooks. All that is necessary is not to be afraid of making mistakes, or of appearing naive. - Abraham Maslow
Performance management has become an easy target for critics in the past few years, with many recommendations on how to blow it up, fix it or transform it. But rather than reach for the next big thing, why not take the opportunity to improve performance management and employee engagement by becoming a novice again? That’s right, we’re going back to when you were just a newbie!
Our expertise often blinds us and we fail to notice what is right in front of us. When you were a novice, you were often confused and befuddled by the complexity of a new situation, however, you also brought a fresh and open curiosity to what you saw and experienced.
To re-learn how to approach situations as a novice, follow the guidance of the NOVICE acronym: Notice – Own – Voice – Invite – Converse - Engage.
To improve performance of employees we must take notice of what already is happening. The key is to pay close attention to any performance changes – positive or negative. All variance should become part of the performance management conversation with the employee. A positive change offers opportunity for recognition, appreciation, and celebration while negative change can trigger performance conversations.
It is vital that you own what you notice. Know that what you see or hear stems from your own perceptions and thoughts. Be careful about telling others what they did; instead frame it as being about what you saw or heard or noticed. When you take ownership of what you perceive, the person receiving that feedback sees it as less threatening and will be less defensive. By doing this, you encourage a growth mindset in your employees, instead of a fixed mindset where they believe that talent alone creates success.
If you see it and you own it, you need to give life to it by voicing what you have noticed. You can put it in writing or text but live, in-person conversation will amplify your message and give it impact. You could even be a bit like Peter Falk’s character in the old TV detective series, Columbo. He noticed everything yet found engaging ways to voice his perspective in a more curious than accusatory way with the person he was interviewing.
You are not so much managing performance variance as making it easier for employees to explain any variance of performance and learn more about it. After you have described what you noticed, invite the employee to offer their perspective and thoughts. Once again, the conversation must not feel like an accusation. It should be experienced as a welcoming invitation to elaboration, learning and change.
Authentic and genuine performance management requires dialogue. Being a novice, you’re open to learning and conversation, which will help you learn about the other person, yourself and the performance issue. As you get better at approaching conversations as a novice, you encourage employees to be more novice-like themselves. This plants the seeds for the learning, growth and change required for performance improvement.
We need to go beyond just seeing, owning, saying, asking and talking. Engage with action. Ensure the conversation leads to agreed action between you and the other person. Check that everyone understands what each person will do and ensure that your focus on a specific performance incident or episode does not end until there has been a follow-up action or conversation.
In the beginner’s mind,there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Expertise is overrated; be a perpetual novice
Avoid a fixed mindset and you can transform performance management from a dreaded function into a vibrant method of performing, learning and working.
Are you willing to drop all you think you know and to return to your work with fresh eyes and the humility of being a novice, albeit with a wealth of experience behind your fresh approach to work? If your answer is yes, you may successfully hurdle the mental, emotional and interpersonal barriers that interfere with significant performance improvement.