Aidan Alston, talent and diversity manager at the Post Office, shares his secrets to enabling better performance management.
Back in 2010, when Team Sky was competing in the Tour de France, it famously brought its own mattresses, duvets and pillows for its riders to sleep on. The theory was that even if, as a result, its riders only got 0.1% better sleep, that still meant they would potentially be able to perform 0.1% better.
This sort of attention to detail, and the concept of the marginal gains in the context of performance management, is something well-recognised in top-level sport but less so within the workplace.
In fact, more often than not, the term ‘performance management’ only comes with the connotation of ‘under-performance management’. But that needs to change.
Traditional performance management – such as the annual appraisal – was something designed for an industrial, blue collar view of employment.
At that time, when factories were dominant, everyone was ranked and every year you got rid of your bottom 10% of performers. You were set a quantifiable objective, which might be make 100 widgets a month, that was clear and straightforward. And if you didn’t meet it you get sacked and if you did you got promoted.
Now, of course, we live in a very different world, but there is still in a lot of places this industrial view of performance management that organisations try to apply to people.
For me, great performance management needs to be about three things:
1. Setting expectations
2. Giving feedback
3. Reviewing outcomes
We need to put in place systems that allow to create and communicate clear expectations and ensure people get regular, constructive, useful feedback. We need to make sure ‘performance management’ doesn’t just become ‘putting someone in a box’.
We need to use performance management more to motivate people, to inspire and engage and, of course, to drive performance.
Immediate feedback is the key to improving performance. Traditionally, if you were a cycling team, you’d have sat down and reviewed your performance in the Tour de France once you’d got home, after not winning.
But, as we see with the Team Sky example, immediate feedback and immediate action – even if the gains are only marginal – can make an important difference over time.
At the Post Office, we’re shifting from a ‘machine’ approach, where everyone is just put through the same process, to a much more ‘agile’ approach. The emphasis is on trusting people – both managers and employees – to manage their own performance.
Things are no longer just put in the bottom-drawer and forgotten about. It is about regular, action-based discussion, with managing potential as well as just performance a real focus.
At a practical level, too, regular performance conversations are a much more effective use of time; it’s much better than having to sit down once a year and start everything again from scratch. This is about trusting your managers to trust their people.
1. Traditional performance management – such as the annual appraisal – was something designed for an industrial, blue collar view of employment.
2. Great performance management needs to be about three things: setting expectations, giving feedback, and reviewing outcomes.
3. Systems must be put in place that allow you to create and communicate clear expectations and ensure people get regular, constructive, useful feedback.
4. Performance management has to be used more to motivate people, to inspire and engage and, of course, to drive performance.
5. Regular performance ‘conversations’ rather than simply ticking a box, are key to better performance management.