Improving Performance of Performance Dialogues!
As the cliche goes, one cannot improve something that is not measured. While it is easy to ‘measure’ and ‘monitor’ tangible things like production, rejection rate, cost reduction etc., measuring intangibles like the ‘quality of a dialogue’ is really challenging. Especially with reference to ‘performance dialogues’ it is difficult to say, whether one had a good or a bad one! As a result of this complexity, performance dialogues are often overlooked, or bypassed, with no accountability for excellent dialogue placed on the shoulders of a manager.
Fairnes and Equal opportunity are often the organizational values claimed by organizations, and ‘Result orientation’ or ‘Focus on Results’ is an oft mentioned competency in organization-wide competency frameworks. But the first step towards demonstrating these values as an organization, means that performance and potential must be quantifiable, which, in simple words means that managers in the organization, must simply be able to measure the output of their team members, and help them convert their abilities into work. They must be able to sense how to grow these abilities and execute this growth through coaching, mentoring and training.
This sensing and growing can hardly be done by a machine. It needs ‘dialoguing’. Improving organizational performance, actually starts from improving the quality of dialogue between managers and team members. Performance dialogues are often mandated by HR, but for many reasons, they do not get enough priority from the managers. Quite often, performance dialogues are conducted, but just as a formality and lead to no actionable data. In this article, let us try to understand why such an important activity is not leveraged.
Span of Control
With the ‘span of control’ being seen as a sign of managerial growth, managers often have too many people to manage. While ensuring billability or production, finding time for having an elaborate conversation with a team member is a challenge. A dialogue is conducted only to ‘fix’ the situation, which is originally caused due to lack of dialogue. While it is expected that the sanctity of performance dialogue be maintained, before giving a ranking or rating to the team member, due to lack of time, these dialogues are conducted just for sake of having them. If not done properly, no tangible output and actionable insight would be revealed from the activity.
Scheduling and organizing performance dialogues is a task in itself and needs proper planning and execution. A quiet, phone-free setting is essential. Proper documentation of the dialogue is critical, since it is very useful for the next round. The manager’s own notes are more useful than the comments filled in the Performance Management System (PMS). Performance dialogues often fail because they are not organized and documented well.
Conducting a conversation is a skill in itself. It comes naturally to some people, but otherwise it requires proper training. The structure and flow of the conversation, is as important as the content and tone of the conversation. Being aware of one’s own body language and emotions, as well as that of the conversation partner is important. Next to this, comes the ability to steer the conversation towards the common purpose, and influence its outcome. Sometimes, managers as well as team members genuinely want to engage in a performance related conversation but lack of crucial communication skills, takes away from the outcome. Needless to say, despite the pure intentions, rarely do these conversations result in improved performance.
The Yard Stick
Often, managers themselves are confused about performance. They are not aware of the organizational or industry benchmark, or do not have data related to the department maintained with themselves. Simple documents like minutes of meeting or goal setting documents are not easily accessible. Sometimes, goals are talked about but not documented. The measurement system for measuring performance is not created and hence dialogues end up being ‘feeling based’ or have the ‘recency effect’. Internal customer feedback is not given the value it deserves due to ‘blame placing’ that has taken place in cross-functional meetings. This ambiguity and lack of data integrity severely affects the way in which these conversations are conducted. To avoid this dilemma, often, managers avoid initiating a performance related dialogue with their team members, or give an agreeable rating and repeat the blame game with HR.
Make it an important organizational activity
During our work with several clients, we have seen that sales reviews are given importance, in terms of time and budget. Similarly, performance reviews, if given organizational time and budget, shall be seen as an important organizational activity.
Consider taking external support
While HR business partners are the best for support for this activity, sometimes an external party’s involvement helps in terms of reducing bias and providing coaching feedback to managers.
Involving an external agency towards organization and documentation of performance dialogues can significantly improve the discipline of dialogue. The effectiveness of the dialogue can be improved if the external agency ‘coaches’ the managers and helps build accountability for high quality dialogue.
Build a System
The value of the performance dialogues is actually realized when done and documented over multiple cycles. Data of 2-3 years, can give meaningful outcomes. Even if it’s difficult to invest in an IT system, setting up some system for documentation via excel and word documents proves to be extremely useful. Once the discipline is established, it can then be entered into the IT system whenever affordable.
Element78 is currently supporting India’s leading exporter of sandstone, to instil a performance culture. While trust in Element78 was initially built with team bonding activities, the Element78 team first brought in the discipline of conducting performance conversations by setting up an initial system. Training and coaching the managers for performance conversations has improved the quality of the conversations and hence completion of important, vision related initiatives.
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