Many organizations are experimenting with different goal setting, appraisal, and reward mechanisms, but a fundamental issue is how the organization fully engages with its people; the performance conversation is one element of that engagement. Great managers understand that it means engaging with the whole person, not just their task assignments. Programmatic research by George Graen and his research partners has demonstrated that great leaders build holistic bonds with people, predicated on trust, competency, and aligned goals.
Research highlighted in Fulfilled! Critical Choices: Work, Home, Life also tells us that if we are to capture the head, heart, and hands of employees, we must reach beyond the corporate walls to engage people in different ways—through new and innovative employee experiences.
I find it helpful to go back to the basic performance ingredients—the protons, neutrons, and electrons of the organization world—to understand how or why a particular system is or is not working. Alignment, capabilities, and engagement are these essentials, leading to optimized performance.
Alignment is achieved when an employee’s personal goals, career goals, and values are in sync with the organization’s purpose, mission, and values. That is, it is a meaningful place to work to achieve fulfillment in one’s life.
A second ingredient is capabilities—learning and growth embodied in new skills or knowledge that enable an employee to not only stay relevant but to thrive in a specific environment. This is key to enabling employees’ desires to extend their abilities and providing a degree of career resilience in an environment of shifting job requirements. Lastly, finding ways to unleash passion is the highest form of engagement. Do I look forward to coming to work on Monday morning? Years of research have shown that engagement is connected to higher discretionary effort, more volunteerism (both at and outside work), stronger performance, and higher retention.
These three key elements are the fundamentals that are created (or destroyed) in the performance management process. Leaders who embrace new ways of engaging the employee in the performance management process will reap the rewards of better engaged, more highly focused, and more agile, resilient employees. To get started, take the performance management challenge in your organization:
Do your employees truly understand their role and purpose in the organization’s success? They often understand their personal goals and some of their department’s goals, but too often our surveys show that contributors only have vague notions about the bigger picture.
After performance discussions—whether they are annual, monthly, or weekly—are employees energized and more engaged? Or are they less engaged because the conversation did not help them emotionally or rationally feel they were on the road to success and fulfillment?
Are contributors continuously learning? If not, they and your organization may be falling behind. In our increasingly competitive and fast-paced world, new knowledge and skills are crucial at every level. The performance management system should be helping to identify individual learning goals, and aligning them with the needs of the organization. Win-win.
Do your managers truly understand their employees as individuals beyond the walls of the enterprise? Who is going to school part time, caring for elders, dealing with child care arrangements, wrestling with a family health challenge? In our study of retail managers, for example, we have found that the managers who understand and interact with the whole person are more successful in their business results—higher revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction.
When managers understand the employees as individuals, engaging them in different ways based on their uniqueness will be the key to effective performance management. In a variety of case studies at the Metrus Institute, managers who treated everyone the same in the interest of fairness often had the poorest results. One size fits all cannot work because employees are not cookie cutter replicas. Single parents, those going to school at night, introverts or extroverts, risk takers, and high achievers all have different needs and goals. Great managers find ways to work with these differences in complementary ways, leading to more innovation, balance, and performance—everyone wins!
It’s time to look at the entire employee experience—from your employer brand differentiators to your culture to the ways people are engaged in performance. When done well—with true empathy and understanding of individual differences, and not just part of a mechanical process—it can be the core of an exceptional employee experience.
To hear more, please join the upcoming ATD webcast Performance Management And The Employee Experience on Tuesday, September 26 at 2 PM EST.