Getting Real About Performance & Development

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How well did Jane perform in 2017 or in Q1 of 2018? And what does that tell us about her capabilities and her potential for advancement or for taking the next step in her career?

How to Answer These Questions

I don’t need to tell today’s supervisors or managers that there seems to be precious little time to consider these questions. McKinsey surveys and my own experience as consultant to hundreds of organizations indicates that many managers would like to do more. But the practical imperatives of “getting things done” makes it very challenging.

HR departments can do their best to promote policies and practices to encourage or require attention to performance management and talent development. But all too often the response and execution look like perfunctory completion of an unwelcome task, just another thing to do. Okay, you might say, “No big surprise, but so what? Does it really make a difference?”

This “so what” question merits notice and discussion.

Two “So What’s” to Consider

The first “so what” is represented in a client I recently began working with. She is bright, well-educated, and highly motivated to learn and contribute. And she’s frustrated and disappointed on both counts. After two years, she’s learned the drill. There’s the perfunctory performance review, a bit of talk about what she’d look to do and learn, and then it’s back to the same old same old.

She would like to have better engagement at work. As we know, engagement, at its core, is founded on the quality of associate-supervisor relationship. Am I recognized and understood? Do I get feedback – not just the occasional “well done,” but also some well-informed constructive suggestions for how I can be more effective? Do I get included in things I really want to learn more about?

It’s been two years, and she’s concluded that it’s time for a change. Maybe it is or maybe it is not. She had the good sense to not lower her expectations. Rather, she decided, as an early-career professional, that she needed to take charge. And she’s not alone. A growing number of early-career and mid-career professionals and executives are taking this route.

Most who seek coaching independently are positive and solution-focused. They know their manager may want to be there as a mentor and coach. It just doesn’t happen. So, they’re taking charge. It’s even empowering for them. It’s their development, their coaching relationship.

The second “so what” concerns the fallibility the talent management “system” – the formal or informal efforts to identify and accelerate development of the “best and brightest.” Most organizations try to do something, often on an annual basis and as job openings arise. They may identify a “select” subset of the talent pool. But their judgments about who belongs in this group are flawed.

But there are two kinds of flawed judgment that can cause failures in their selection decisions: False positives are judgments that someone has the capabilities (skill, motivation, experience, potential), when they do not. False negatives conclude people do not have the capabilities when they do.

False positives can be the result of a “halo effect” – they did this well, so they’ll probably do that well. But they can also be the result of bias. Remember, research indicates that the old implicit assumption of “think manager, think male” (especially white male) still holds in many sectors and in many companies across industry sectors. Often, it’s such bias that accounts for false negatives. 

While I can’t address ways to correct for these failures in judgement in this brief article, I can suggest an alternative approach to development that can do more to empower and enable people to take charge of their own development.

A Practical Solution

First, organizations must be realistic about how likely it is that their managers will suddenly find more time for performance management and development. Even when they have the interest and will to play this role, they’ll need help and prompting. Who will provide the assessment data to inform a discussion of development, and how will it be translated into work-relevant action.

Second, even if a company concludes that its high-potential development program is great, what about the rest of their people? How can they mitigate the impact of imperfect judgment? How can they offer an option that gives everyone a chance to show their stuff and accelerate their learning and skill development?[i]

I’d like to make a simple suggestion that addresses the “so what” issues and answers the questions in the two above paragraphs: Provide a stipend for individuals that pays for all or part of the costs of engaging a coach independently. Perhaps it’s a virtual coaching relationship that they pursue after hours, as they prefer to schedule and structure it.

There could be expectations that this investment is intended to help associates to learn how to engage their manager and others in the organization proactively to get what they need. It’s their choice about whether and with whom they might wish to share their assessment-based insights into self, goals for development, and how it all relates to their role and performance at work.

This approach equips the individuals with support for learning more about themselves, their situation and challenges, and what they need to focus on to grow and increase their productive capacity.  Join me in a video-conference (2/27/2018, 2PM ET) to learn more.

[i] Beyond specialized technical skill development, much of what is needed are the so-called “soft skills” that enable people to navigate the organization, cultivate collaboration skills (communications, coordination of action, etc.), and get things done with and through others (making prudent use of relationships and company resources).