I am fascinated by the common notion that performance management is a setting goals, having periodic reviews and allocating recognition for successes process. It is not. Actually it is way more. The performance process described above is at best one of performance compliance (did we achieve our earlier agreed to commitments).
To me, performance management has always been about building our capacity to deliver more in the future. The closest element that I have observed in the typical performance compliance processes described above is to have a goal around skill development. Yet any appreciation about performance quickly uncovers that performance is primarily a contextual phenomenon.
There is a quick test of this proposition:
There have been numerous case studies and anecdotal reports about how consistently recruiting someone else’s performance stars results in disappointment for the recruiting organization. So we have learned that just acquiring the best person is often insufficient.
Another example is teams of “stars” who do not do as well as teams of “pretty good”.
I agree that the person in the role brings much to the performance system.
Today’s post will explore just one such performance system support: How we get better.
Getting better can mean at least three things:
- Being able to what we do better (faster, at a more advanced level, more accurately, more sophisticatedly, etc) in the future.
- Being able to do new things in the future.
- Being able to stop doing performance improvement impeding things in the future.
The third point will almost always be involved in performance building efforts. The reason is we often have to unlearn somethings if are to fully learn and incorporate the better or new.
The other aspect of building performance it is always a behavioural effort. To get/obtain we have to do/not do somethings. Hence, if we want to improve performance we have do/not some things too.
Clarification for me on the above came to me from a recent article by Christian McEwen titled “Don’t just do something; stand there” in the Vancouver Sun 18 august, 2011, page A11.
The core message in the article is that creative breakthroughs often happen when people are idle. I know this has been true for me. So performance improvement often comes through a contemplative process.
Contemplative activities do not have to be unstructured. In fact they often benefit from some structure. One way is to have a “post project” review. Anyone who is a practicing project manager knows about this activity. This is a major step by which project managers and others involved in a project can become better at doing similar work in the future.
However, I also know that many organizations short change this activity by putting people onto the next project or assignment.
If we want to honour this important opportunity to improve, we need to protect its occurring. Also, it needs to occur within a short time after the project is wrapped up, because much of what we can learn the most about is lodged in our short term memories (events). By discussing and contemplating the events when they are still relatively fresh enables us to discern insights that lead to ideas that fit into the three performance improvement categories above.
This notion of debriefing and examining what happened and what can we get out of it can be applied to virtually any human activity where there is a desire to improve. So organizations that overtask people so they don’t have the opportunity to reflect and learn cannot honestly say they are committed to improving performance.