Author Peter Block notes that the elements that make for successful small group conversations are awfully simple: make sure everyone gets a chance to talk, get a diversity of views in the room and think about how best to structure the time.
Sounds easy, right? But here's the kicker: Block also notes that we often overlook these simple things.
My challenge for you today is to think about the simple things that make performance management work- and then consider whether or not you overlook those simple things.
A couple of simple things you need to get right
Let's get started on this challenge with two simple things that I like to tell managers about effective performance management. The first simple thing is to figure out how to create the conditions where you can speak honestly to your employees about all aspects of performance management.
Goal setting is a good place to start with speaking honestly. We all know that for a lot of jobs, you cannot be sure what a fair target is, nor can you be sure whether the goals will change halfway through the year. Managers can't tell employees, "We don't really know what goals to set," but they shouldn't be dishonest in pretending that there is more certainty than there really is.
Managers will have a much happier and more effective goals discussion if they take the time to convey an honest message that we do need to set firm goals despite the uncertainty. If they can't formulate the right words, then they should talk it over with a peer before meeting the employee.
As an HR leader, you can't necessarily provide a script for every situation, but a good rule of thumb is: "If it doesn't feel like the conversation will be completely honest, then go back and rethink what you will say."
Another simple rule is, "Listen more than you talk." It's tempting for managers to take the stage and do all the talking in goal setting, ongoing feedback and the year-end appraisal. Managers need to know the simple rule that the conversation will be more effective if they listen more than they talk. They should have a mental stopwatch in their head tracking how much air time they are taking and how much they are giving the employee.
Where to find the rest of the simple rules
The thing about these simple rules is that you know them already. Go for a coffee break with a colleague and I'll bet you'll come up with four or five really solid tips for managers. However, I think there is an even better approach to getting these tips: ask your managers.
Asking your managers for the simple tips that make performance management work gives you material that has far greater credibility than if it came from HR alone. When you start sharing tips from this VP or that supervisor, they'll be taken seriously.
Culling your managers' ideas and then sharing them through internal communications is a great way to build relationships with the managers and to get credible tips out to the larger organization.
If we already know the tips, why do we need to do this?
When I hear an expert like Peter Block telling me, "Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk," I nod, but may not fully absorb the lesson because I know his words are true. I'm quick to move on to wanting to hear about social network analytics or some other fabulous tool I'm not familiar with. In my rush to try the "new thing," I may overlook the basics.
The solution is to keep repeating the simple tips over and over and keep repeating the meta-lesson that if we get the basics right, then we're likely to be successful. You may have noticed how good coaches stick to a few core messages and ruthlessly hammer home every time they've got a chance to share them. We can learn from those leaders. It's human nature to overlook the simple things we already know. We need to fight our own tendency in HR to leap after the next shiny object and lovingly use the well-worn methods that have served us well in the past.