Martin Pieterse, Ellipsys Consulting (Pty) Ltd
The challenges of managing performance have been highlighted during the remote working environment that resulted from social distancing measures implemented during lockdown.
In the pre-pandemic years (yes, there was a time like that), many remote workers were called back to their office by management due to a perceived reduction in performance. While the future of remote working is still a play unfolding on the stage in front of us, the need to accurately measure performance and improve it, is a timeless challenge.
Show me how you measure me and I will show you how I perform
When evaluating performance, it is critical that there is a shared understanding between the stakeholders on the activities and outputs being measured and the expectation of performance. The dreaded Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). The problem doesn’t lie with the need for KPI’s, surely there is the need to agree activities that will be measured and the associated performance metrics. What is important is that the KPI’s be relevant to the tasks performed by the staff member, and also aligned to the overall company objectives and vision.
You cannot, for example, expect to measure a claims technician for the number of claims registered, as that is obviously out of their control. You can however, agree
to measure the turn around time between a claim being registered and an assessor appointed. The KPI must be objectively measurable, ideally through a system that can log and report on the measurements. For some companies it will be more appropriate to agree on deliverables and priorities for measurement rather then a defined list of KPI’s.
If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it
Most companies have become very adept at defining, communicating the measurements and even calculating performance scores, yet they have not seen an overall increase in performance to support the significant effort that was put in place to manage these initiatives. In a study done by Deloitte in 2015, they found that they were spending close to 2 million hours a year analysing performance rating data across the circa 65,000 employees analysed.
For performance measurement to be meaningful it has to be transparent to the employee, and the employee must be able to measure their own performance against the agreed measurement so that no performance review is ever a surprise to either party. If the performance rating for an employee is a surprise for the employee, then both the employee and management have failed at some function of the performance management process. As important as accurately measuring an individual’s performance, is the importance of providing feedback on the performance to the staff member as early as possible to encourage the required behaviour, and to remedy any failings.
Annual appraisals do not provide feedback frequently enough to ensure that the feedback is still relevant and to minimise the impact of negative behaviour or to gain the benefits of positive behaviour. Feedback to staff members must be done on a continuous basis in line with their roles, so that employees know what they are doing well, and focus on improving it, as well as knowing what they are doing wrong, or below expectation, and need to remedy. Formal performance reviews should ideally be done quarterly by reviewing performance for the last quarter and setting goals for the next quarter, with an annual review aligned to the company’s normal increase cycle.
While I was consulting to one of the banks, they introduced 360-degree performance reviews. This required that not only does the manager complete a performance assessment on the staff member, but colleagues within the same and other connected departments were also required to complete performance assessments and the staff members also had to complete performance assessments on their managers. This practice of performing holistic reviews have been adopted by more organisations now and will soon become the norm for performance driven organisations.
It is critical that management receive feedback from their subordinates, so that they too can highlight areas of weakness and strength so that they can apply remedial action or reinforce their positive performance. But evaluating a superior can be a daunting task, especially if that manager is vindictive and unreasonable. If the manager is also the owner of the business and final decision maker, this task can seem impossible. It is the mark of a truly good leader, and human being, to constantly look for ways to improve and evolve, and managers should approach feedback and even criticism with an open mind to learning and growing.
It is important for each company to understand the purpose of performance management in their company structure and culture. One of the objectives of performance management for most companies is to recognise and reward performance. High performing individual get larger bonusses, higher increases and other perks to reward them for their contribution and effort.
Formal performance appraisals are recognised as being introduced by the U.S. military during World War 1 to identify soldiers performing poorly so that they could be discharged from service or transferred. The U.S. military also practiced forced-ranking where each person would be assigned a specific rank from best to worst based on performance. Many companies have echoed this approach, terminating employees at the lower end of the performance rank, however this approach has fallen away, partly due to legislation (the Labour Relations Act in South Africa), but also because forced ranking encouraged unhealthy competition between staff members and undermined collaboration.
If, however, companies choose to use performance management as a tool to improve underperforming staff members, it provides insight into the areas of weakness, allowing for training and coaching interventions to provide staff with the tools they need to improve. Identifying each individuals strengths and weaknesses can also be used to evaluate the employee’s role and determining the best fit for them in the organisation.
Employees will focus on achieving the goals and targets that they understand that they will be measured against. Ensure that the goals are clearly defined and understood and that the staff members can see how they are measuring against expectation.