Tag Archives: Performance Management

Helping people change by changing the way they think

Although the blog has been quiet for a few days, I can assure you that there has been a lot of movement for me behind the scenes in my personal life and in the world of work.

I’ve spoken about change quite a bit before, but I’ve somewhat hit a wall in being able to influence personal change on others. Even when I write that down, I know it doesn’t make sense.

You can’t make someone else change, but what if you just want to help them out of a dark place they are in that doesn’t make any sense.

Do you persist or let them go?

homer-brain

We see this in our workplaces all the time. These are people who believe:

* It’s okay to behave badly because that’s the way their boss treated them
* That the environment/company makes them so stressed that their reaction (no matter how poor) is natural, and therefore ok
* That if someone else provokes them or attacks them first- this gives them the right to attack back. It’s all justified if someone else starts it.

We also see it in our personal lives.

With depression and other mental illnesses becoming more publicized, we all know someone who isn’t seeing things as they really are, or are seeing things in a much more negative light.

In thinking about all of this, I often try to remember some basic cognitive behavioural therapy in that there is the event, our thoughts and then our reaction.

There are some things we can control, and other things we can’t. We can’t control the event or the situation but we can control the way we think about it and that impacts on our behaviour and how we choose to respond or react.

What I’m really struggling with is how to convince people of this idea. Have you ever needed to convince people that they can change their behaviour by changing the way they think?

If you have I would love to hear your story- feel free to change individual or organizational names. I think these sorts of stories will be inspiring to others so please share your success story.

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Performance Appraisals- could you be biased?

Losyk’s (2002) ‘How to conduct a performance appraisal’ is a brief snapshot on what he considers to be key elements of delivering positive and productive performance appraisals. He argues that understanding our biases is the “biggest challenge that impedes an effective performance review”.

So what sort of biases are there?

‘Actor/observer bias’ is an attributional bias where a manager or supervisor for example consistently attributes all failures to the subordinate, discounts their successes and generally assesses their performance as insufficient (Cannon & Witherspoon. 2005).

‘Blind spot’ bias occurs when an employee mirrors the manager in terms of knowledge, skill, ability or even behavioural deficiencies. If the manager isn’t particularly aware of their own short-comings they are likely to be ‘blinded’ so to speak and not take these areas into consideration when conducting the employee’s performance appraisal. This then means that the employee does not become aware of these development areas, and is additionally blinded to areas of mediocre or even poor performance. This can be highly disadvantageous for the individual in the long term when they look for advancement and find out that they need to lift their performance significantly in order to take the next steps in their career.

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It is important to note that biases can also be positively skewed which again means that employees become less aware of the areas in which they need to develop. For instance, positive biases such as the “halo effect” where an employee’s one-off high performance masks mediocre performance over the entire appraisal period. This can significantly impact upon employee’s self-perception and how they receive future feedback about their performance. This is because unless they receive accurate feedback on their performance in real-time they will keep making inferences and assumptions about how they are performing and are often met with disappointment and frustration when they discover their perception is not aligned with their managers. This is why open communication and regular feedback and is so important in the workplace.

Additionally, many managers feel almost compelled to inflate their ratings and this results in what is coined the Lake Wobegon phenomena “where everyone is good looking and all the employees are above-average”. This is most likely to occur when managers feel as if they must rate their employees on their performance and also in relation to how other managers will rate similar staff. This of course is poor practice as it does not objectively rate the employee and sends mixed messages around the feedback provided.

It’s wise to help your managers to understand these biases and how they impact on people and the organization before the performance appraisal period comes around.

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Filed under Performance Management, Recommended Readings

Performance appraisals don’t work!

Recommended Reads:
Gray, G. (2002), ‘Performance appraisals don’t work’, Industrial Management, March/April.

Gray’s article ‘Performance appraisals don’t work’ (2002) is a paper which says that the process of conducting performance appraisals does not elicit the desired behaviours required from employees in the workplace. As a HR professional- you scream- but why not?!

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Gray argues that most managers are ill-equipped to carry out the task at hand and questions how a system can be objective, consistent and dependable if the manager executing it lacks the appropriate skills or training.

This is highlighted by a study undertaken by Coutts & Schneider (2004) which looks at the effectiveness of police officer performance appraisal systems in Canada. In this article, it was discovered that in terms of the perceived extent of performance appraisal training provided to supervisors who conducted performance feedback and appraisals, 21.6% of the participants indicated that there was no training provided, 67.3% indicated very little training was provided, and only 11.1 % indicated that substantial training is provided.

They argue that performance appraisal can only be as effective as the “task-relevant skills and knowledge” of those responsible for using it. Suggested skills that managers need to be trained in include their observational skills, how to reduce judgemental biases and how to provide meaningful and constructive feedback.

However, most interestingly Gray asserts that if performance feedback is used by organisations in the performance appraisal process this automatically means that a large proportion of the company’s employees are ‘average’ if they stick to a traditional bell curve or a forced ranking methodology. In this seemingly totem-pole process, each person gets a unique ranking against other employees in the business unit or function, whilst the bell curve system distributes employees into particular bands or categories (Loren. 2001). The inadequacy of this system is highlighted by the statement “only a few people can be best performers. Similarly, some people have to be slotted into the lowest rank, even if their performance, using a competency-based assessment, is satisfactory” (Loren. 2001).

Hence, a large proportion of employees under a bell curve or ranking method will be told they are ‘average’ and their development conversations will be based around this grading in the performance appraisal. Subsequently, this is neither accurate nor effective performance feedback, adeptly illustrating Gray’s (2002) main argument that performance appraisals don’t work.

Gray’s article is frank about the downfalls of many performance management systems and rightly so. These issues identified by Gray are ones that are currently being experienced by many organizations in contemporary society and it identifies areas for improvement and why current systems fall short.

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Designing and Implementing Impactful Performance Management Programs

Have a quick read of this article by Edie Goldberg which is featured on Human Resources iQ.

Not suprisingly, the research found that the most effective performance management initiatives:

Included goal setting as part of their annual planning process, thus making it a business process
Aligned and cascaded goals from the top of the organization
Were more likely to require development goals to be established
Were more likely to link pay to performance
Improved their capability to deliver results

Some of these you’ll find in every performance managment program, but I think that you’ll only see a few companies who cascade their goals throughout the organisation.

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On the one hand, cascading is great. It ensures that everyone’s goals are aligned to the business, everyone knows how they contribute to the bigger picture and we feel like we are all moving together in the same direction.

On the other hand, I’ve looked after an online performance management system for a previous organisation which cascaded its goals and it was near impossible to get a yearly cycle happening. Much of the problem in hindsight was that it relied on the Senior Managers to get the ball rolling and cascade their goals down (and we know that having Senior Leaders champion this process is important). Additionally, this was a global company which meant that we were waiting for the goals to hit Australia for things to get moving and that was hard to predict. It sort of ended up a tick in the box process because of the timing, which is not the aim at all.

Overall though I can’t speak highly enough of online performance management systems. They are fantastic for HR in terms of being able to view where people are at and sampling the quality of the data entered. Beware though- people resist giving up the traditional paper version!

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Paralanguage at work: are you sending conflicting messages?

We also communicate non-verbally using what is known as paralanguage. This includes features such as “speech rate and intensity; pitch, modulation and quality of voice; and articulation and rhythm control” (Hargie et al. 2004, p. 55). Paralanguage is an important form of non-verbal communication when you consider situations in the working environment such as speaking to influence during meetings, business presentations and performance management of staff. This is because studies have shown that the effects of voice tone for example (particularly negative voice tone) make a disproportionately stronger impact on decoders i.e. those who decode the non-verbally communication, than the actual verbal content (Graham et al (1991).

Consider this in the context in the working environment in a performance management meeting between an employee and their supervisor. For example, suppose a supervisor needs to deliver a message to an employee they really like and enjoy working with, or alternatively someone who actually infuriates and angers them. The supervisor may feel a range of emotions such as nervousness, anxiety, apprehension, anger, or distress. As such, many managers attempt to hide their true emotions from their subordinates and this in turn sends hugely conflicting non-verbal communication. Its confusing because the message they are verbalising is inconsistent with the messages they are communication through their body language.

The overall message? Be more cognizant about the situation and make real efforts to ensure that the verbal and non-verbal communications are consistent with one another, as discrepancies can lead to miscommunication, distrust and frustration.

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Upcoming appraisal? here’s how to ace it

I would recommend a read of this article by David Rolleston (Associate Director of Robert Walters Melbourne) by on performance appraisals. It might also be useful to send around to your clients as it sends a key message- preparation is the key!

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Performance Appraisals- is it cringe time at your work too?

If the thought of performance appraisal time at your workplace as a HR professional makes you break out in hives,  get some antihistamines and try not to stress- you aren’t alone.

Why is it so stressful? Like most HR pros (I hope!) I really believe in the performance agreement/development plan process mainly because it clarifies expectations between people at work.  It’s when everyone knows what they are meant to be doing, what the goals are, and how they are expected to behave that your company will succeed. The whole process is an imperative part of talent management,  and more specifically succession planning.

The problem is that your Managers would rather swallow razor blades than have to conduct performance appraisals.  Its frequently seen as a ‘tick in the box process’ or an administrative requirement that they begrudgingly complete. So how do you overcome the resistance and turn the whole thing into something that is actually going to add value to your organisation?

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Here’s a few things that I’ve found to be helpful in the past:

Explain why its important– Basic andragogy (how adults learn) tells us that “adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it” (Knowles, M. 1990. ‘An andragogical theory of adult learning’, The adult Learner: a neglected species, pp. 54-65).  Hence, explain why they need to go through the process and what the benefits are.

Engage employees- Place the onus on the individual to prepare early and complete a self-assessment which includes achievement against objectives, recognition, impact on the business etc. Afterall, it is them who will be reaping the reward of a promotion, pay increase or recognition. This facilitates a two way dialogue in the appraisal, and ensures a greater chance of the employee walking out feeling like they were heard and taken seriously. It also reminds them that they should be the ones who drive their career rather than waiting for Managers to do it for them.

Get Managers to prepare early– with a check list for each employee.  For example:

  • Have you booked a meeting with the employee (with at least 2 weeks notice so they have time to prepare)?
  • Have you got a copy of the person’s obejctives? (and last year’s assessment?)
  • Are you familiar with the employees job description? If not, review this.
  • Are there competencies expected for this person’s role? Review these and assess whether these are being met.
  • Are they living the organisation’s values/expected behaviours/adhering to code of conduct?  
  • Are there any internal/external clients that you need to gather feedback from in order to get increased visibility of the employee’s overall performance?

Prep your Managers on how to give good feedback– it might be worthwhile getting your managers together in a room before the appraisal period and discussing the finer points to giving good feedback.  This way they have the opportunity to enhance their feedback skills,  feel more prepared before the appraisal and share their experiences with other managers.

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