A question of performance management has been long inside of the field of organizational development. We don’t seem to get it right. Because, often, instead of inspiring and motivating us, feedback/performance management becomes something we dread. We get nervous just thinking about it, and often get crushed after having received it because it makes us feel insecure or treated unfairly.
What is wrong with traditional performance management?
The problem with performance management lies in this term itself. Can we really manage the performance of a complex human being? Performance management sounds like trying to manage a machine. As if we are talking about a production line. It de-humanizes the human being who is at the center of it.
Should we try to monitor, manage and improve individuals’ performance? Compare it with performance of others? In the false belief that everyone performs above average, having your performance rated as “average” is the worst insult to our professional life. So how, on earth, and mathematically speaking, should everyone be above average at the same time?
In reality, we cannot manage other people’s performance. People change their behaviors when they have the intrinsic motivation to do so. Nevertheless, when performance management is connected to comparisons and financials, it kills our intrinsic motivation. Research shows that financial rewards might negatively affect intrinsic task motivation, while recognition and social rewards have a positive influence.
Our managers are rarely trained to give truly helpful feedback, express their views from a place of kindness and honesty, and be emotionally mature to realize what is actually feedback, and what is a projection of own unresolved emotional baggage. These skills are incredibly important for anyone working with people.
Equally, we don’t always see feedback as an equal and inclusive process – it is more about the manager giving feedback and not always the other way around. This creates a culture of illusion where people become less and less self-aware, the more at the top of the organization they arrive. This is a very dangerous place to be as an organization, as it can eventually drive the whole business into a downward spiral creating a dysfunctional culture.
Focusing on Culture
More important than managing performance is to firstly focus on the working environment we create for people. Growing truly healthy, psychologically safe, and emotionally mature working cultures, in parallel with high-performance standards is key. From there, we don’t really need to manage someone’s performance anymore. Because people love to do it, and they can only do it themselves. What we can do, is create supportive and inspiring structures to facilitate people’s growth, and to make that as easily accessible as possible.
Brags and Growth
Brags and Growth is a format that we introduced in our own team. First, we had open and honest feedback sessions with all team members to exchange both, what we really appreciated and the growth opportunities we saw for each other. Based on what we received from others, we each defined our own Brags and goals for Growth. Brags are about owning our core strengths without any but or others think that I am. Apparently, it is not easy, as this does not come naturally to most of us. Partly because of the traditional ways of doing feedback which we are used to. Growth was about naming our Growth goals, and finding our own ways to do it: asking the group about their experience on this topic, finding a partner who can support us with it, or defining which small steps we will take towards our goal. We created a psychologically safe environment to share our concerns, listen and receive. Without comparing ourselves to others, we felt really inspired and motivated to grow, on things that we chose for ourselves, yet still respecting the perspectives of others. This worked very well for our team!