Is there a single other management tool that has as poor a reputation or that is executed as shoddily as the hapless position description?  I don't think so.

So I am starting a campaign.  It's time to move the position description out from the depths of your work desk’s bottom drawer.  

You know what I am talking about. Most position descriptions are buried beneath a pile of files and papers and your surplus mouse pads, rarely to see daylight.  If you even have one.

For some, feedback may seem a lot like going to the dentist.  It happens once a year and we dread it or avoid it as long as possible (despite espousing its benefits to others!).  

But then, there's others who embrace feedback, seek it out and seemingly thrive on it.  

The big difference between these two types of attitudes to feedback is in their mindset. Let's look at some prevalent mindsets around feedback that are holding people back from being the best they can be in the workplace (and beyond).

Despite so much talk about how ineffective and counter-productive performance management is in its current form, there's few organisations who seem to have nailed getting it right.  But why?

Organisations are tinkering around the edges of performance management (e.g. changing the forms, modifying a rating scale etc.) without really addressing the root cause of its lack of impact on performance and productivity.  But as we all know, doing the same thing over and over again will generally yield exactly the same results.  

Or, companies are abolishing their performance review process but without a clear plan on what or how they will do differently in its absence.

So what can you do now to make your performance management approach awesome?  

The word ‘agility’ is used frequently in discussions these days to describe desired characteristics of leaders, team members and organisations.  And that’s appropriate, as the environment in which organisations and their people now operate is increasingly dynamic, complex and volatile. 

Yet despite this acknowledged imperative for individual and organisational agility, so many HR processes are the antithesis of agile.

 Let’s focus on employee performance management.

Is there a more maligned piece of paperwork in the workplace than the performance management/appraisal form?

"The forms are too long and too complicated".  

"It takes too much time to complete the forms".

"The rating scale has too many/too few options". 

The list goes on and on.

Anecdotal evidence about the current state of performance management in Australia suggests that there is a significant proportion of employees without the fundamentals of good performance in place.  

So why then is it that managers in organisations don't treat the expenditure on salaries of employees with the same level of scrutiny that they do contractor or consultant fees?

HR needs to be at the forefront of driving productivity in organisations. Anyone disagree with that? Not likely, especially in this post global financial crisis era where HR more than ever needs to demonstrate its bottom line contribution to business performance. Yet despite general acknowledgement of the importance of increasing organisational productivity, I wonder how many HR professionals can articulate what it means and how HR can help? And if we don't really understand productivity how can we truly influence organisational performance?

Most people in HR haven't studied much in the way of economics and accounting and the concept of productivity, and its practical application in the workplace can be complex and nebulous.

In fact the vast majority of HR related articles about productivity focus almost exclusively on individual efficiency at work - better time management, how to manage your email more effectively, saying no to pointless meetings etc.

Clear performance expectations are the foundation for setting team members up to succeed.  It also often seems to be the case that when an employee is perceived to be underperforming there is a lack of shared understanding of what good or bad performance looks like.  This post provides a set of five questions for managers to work through with their people to assess just how clear and shared the performance expectations are and to resolve any ambiguity before it leads to problems. 

Both the manager and team member should come to the discussion prepared with a few brief notes for each question (leave behind position descriptions etc and focus on the conversation).  To be most effective, for each question the team member should first provide their views about their role and then the manager should respond by comparing and contrasting their expectations for the role.  Areas of alignment and differences will quickly become apparent and can be discussed and resolved as the conversation progresses.

Below we use a fast food restaurant scenario to illustrate use of the questions.

Q1.  The top three focus areas of our organisation at the moment are ... This should be kept high level and should help bring some context to the discussion, as every role should be contributing to executing the organisation’s strategy. 

Example:  1. Reducing operating expenses.  2. Increasing sales of high margin items.  3. Expanding aggressively in to emerging markets.

Ask a group of managers for their tips on providing effective feedback, and the ‘sandwich’ method is often put forward as a winning approach. The premise of this technique is that if a person needs to deliver some "negative" feedback to somebody else they should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback, to cushion the impact.

I asked several groups of managers why they advocate the use of the feedback sandwich.  The most common responses included:

“Some people won’t be able to handle the negative feedback so it is easier for them if you start and end with the positives”.

“If you are delivering negative feedback you want to finish on a positive note so that the person leaves the conversation feeling motivated”.

The intention behind people’s use of the sandwich feedback method is admirable – maintaining the esteem of team members is important.  Very few people perform at their best when demoralised or anxious.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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As the end of the year fast approaches many organisations are abuzz with a flurry of activity as managers conduct performance reviews with each of their people. Now I acknowledge that many people dispute the value of a performance review, but as argued in a previous post, if performance management is done well by a manager across a whole cycle and if it is linked to business strategy, then a performance review should be a valuable tool for the manager, team member and organisation alike (see http://tinyurl.com/3el7nya).

In the midst of all this work a golden opportunity is often lost by organisations - the chance to turn performance review data into strategic information.

For the purposes of this discussion let's assume that an organisation's performance management process uses a combination of performance objectives and competencies against which a person's performance is assessed and that some type of overall performance rating is determined (numeric or otherwise).

I have noticed a trend in recent years of articles being published which declare the death of the performance review or which deride them as a waste of time. In this latest post, I offer the counter view that the performance review is not the problem, but that it has had its reputation sullied by the following common contributors to ineffective performance reviews:

1. Performance appraisals rather than performance management cycles. A performance appraisal is a one-off event with little link to business strategy.  A genuine performance review should be the final phase of a performance management cycle (annual or six monthly) which commences with setting performance objectives linked to business goals. This distinction is the critical factor which determines whether performance reviews are perceived as just another bureaucratic HR process or a valuable business tool.

2. A dearth of SMART objectives. Despite all the talk about and training in setting SMART objectives they are still all too rarely seen. This renders the performance evaluation too subjective and people lose trust in the fairness of the process. Setting SMART objectives requires a commitment of time and energy and a ruthless approach to making them SMARTer.