How to get started with performance management

Making sure staff are operating at the top of their game is vital at a time when organisations are under intense pressure in competitive markets. Employers need their people to be agile, adaptable, productive and able to cope with constant change. Numerous surveys have shown a strong connection between regular, well-delivered feedback and high levels of performance and employee engagement. So if you don’t currently have a formal performance management process – or feel the one you do have is under par – what’s the best way to get started?

1. Define the objective

It’s important to be really clear about the overall objective of a new or revamped performance management programme. Is the programme being driven by the need to reach specific financial or sales targets? Do you want it to support improvements in customer service? Is it about making sure staff are as productive as they can possibly be – or ensuring that employees are making full use of their skill set or fulfilling their potential? Or perhaps your goal is to improve staff retention and achieve better engagement? You may have one core objective – or a combination of several. The picture will be different for every business – but the key to success is to be clear about what you want performance management to deliver, and how the programme you are developing links to the organisation’s wider strategic goals.

2. Communicate clearly

Employees won’t necessarily be jumping for joy at the news that you’re planning to introduce or overhaul performance management. It’s quite likely that staff will be apprehensive and may see it as the business putting pressure on them to achieve more with less. They might feel that managers will be hovering over their shoulder – and will be looking to penalise them for any mistakes or projects that don’t go according to plan. Managers themselves may also have concerns – and quite often see performance management as yet another administrative task to add to their already heavy workload. Clear and regular communication is key. Make sure that everyone understands why you are prioritising performance management, how it will work in practice and what it will mean for them personally. Be overt if you are planning to link appraisals to salary increases or possible promotions. If people are to play an enthusiastic part in the process, they need to feel that it is transparent, consistent and fair for all.

3. Train managers

Don’t assume that managers will automatically have the skills to deliver feedback and manage performance effectively. They will need training and in some cases possibly even individual coaching to help them develop both the competence and the confidence. An in house workshop is a great way to underline the message about the overall business case for managing performance – as well as the benefits that it will bring to them personally in terms of greater capability in the team. Make sure managers understand the timing and mechanics of the performance management process, but that they also appreciate the importance of making feedback an ongoing part of their relationship with their direct reports, rather than something that happens only at appraisal time. Giving managers a chance to ‘practice’ giving feedback and having sometimes difficult conversations is also a great way to help them hone their skills in a safe environment.

4. Use software to support the process

Performance management software can do much to streamline the performance review process, nudging managers when performance reviews are due, making it more likely they will actually happen. Any forms that need to be filled in beforehand can be distributed seamlessly, which also helps to ensure that both managers and employees prepare for the conversation, rather than rushing in without giving any thought about what they want to cover. Performance management systems also provide a central place where information about what’s been discussed and agreed can be stored and easily accessed by both parties. The technology can’t have the necessary conversations – but it will ensure that the process is consistent and that there is no room for confusion or dispute about objectives that have been set, timelines that have been agreed or training that has been promised.

If you’re setting up a performance management system for the first time, it’s worth considering running a pilot first to test the water. This will help to iron out any issues you may not have anticipated and will help you to assess what adjustments may be needed. It’s also a good chance to review whether the training you have provided has been sufficient – or whether there are still areas where managers need further support. It’s important to set aside time after each cycle to check on how the process is working, and share outcomes with key stakeholders. What are you learning from your reviews? How are they impacting motivation or productivity? Are they achieving the goals you originally set, and are those goals still current? Organisations change, and your performance management processes – and the software that supports them – needs to flex to fit.

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