Blog series one and two discussed ‘individual’ and ‘team’ performance optimisation respectively. This blog, the third in this particular series, delves into how employers can execute strategy for performance optimisation, for both individual staff and teams.
Blog series one ended on the note that employers need to exploit the full potential the digital organisation offers to develop and use individual staff performance optimisation tools. Employers should desist from the blind application of the annual performance cycle and all its complexity. The traditional annual performance cycle can’t match the speed at which the value-chains of the digital organisation move at.
In a 24/7, fast moving organisation environment, after supervisors discuss and agree on the annual performance goals with their direct reports, there is likely to be one certainty: that at the end of the year, the goals will have mutated multiple times – the process and activities toward individual staff goal achievement, the anticipated vs. actual outcomes at year end shall at best become, a retrofitting exercise. Therefore, at year end, supervisors find themselves having first to reconstruct performance goals to fit current reality, before attempting to discuss year-end individual staff performance. In effect, retrofitting of the agreed goals is an acknowledgement by the supervisors that they gave their direct reports ’stupid’ performance goals.
The above is perfect ground for the escapists’ amongst employee ranks – it is a licence for escaping from performance reality, moreover, with the supervisor unable to do much to salvage the situation. I am sure that you have all conducted the so-called annual performance evaluation with your juniors and got away thinking – what was that about? For some strange reason, the goals the two of you agreed do not make sense at all.
On the other hand, blog series two ended on the note that ‘psychological safety’ as opposed to team skills diversity and intelligence, is the number one requirement for team performance optimisation. Of course, teams require a certain level of intelligence and skills diversity to function well; however, that is not the make or break of team productivity, it is ‘psychological safety’ – i.e. a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘’shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson wrote in a study published in 1999. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’
HR practitioners grappling with subtle, yet critical ‘people and culture’ matters at the modern organisation, are yet to understand fully the implications of ‘psychological safety’ on the productivity of teams. Similar to individual staff performance and the annual performance appraisal, team performance optimisation has been approached from the orthodox lens of the diversity of skills and intelligence of the team. While some of the skills we look for in teams, like ‘relating well to strangers’, allude to certain elements of ‘psychological safety’, it is not in itself enough to assume the existence of ‘psychological safety’ in teams. HR practitioners and other managers at organisations have paid lip service to the subject of ‘psychological safety’; yet it is fundamental to team performance optimisation. A quick litmus test for us all is asking ourselves the question:
‘How many of us would have, in the most direct terms, considered ‘psychological safety’ a key determinant of team productivity?
Now that we know some of the factors that influence performance optimisation for both individual staff and teams, let us turn our attention to exploring the strategy for executing such optimisation in this era of the digital organisation:
How do we define and execute effective performance optimisation strategies?
- Take stock of what your organisation is currently doing re.: staff performance optimisation – it is likely that your company still uses the dreaded and ineffective annual performance appraisal
- Ask your staff what they like or dislike about the annual appraisal process and whether it’s helping them on their individual growth journeys
- Link the annual performance appraisal process to the firm’s ‘value creation.’
- Ask what impact (specific tangibles) the appraisal process is having on your organisation’s bottom line
- Assess what would happen if you abolished the annual performance appraisal
- As you consider alternatives to the ‘boxed’ appraisal paradigm, ensure fit between individual staff short term goals and the company’s bottom line or equivalent (for charities) – for example: an FMCG’s company may ask a particular staff to lead a marketing campaign for a new product for a period of one month; an evaluation should be done at the end of the campaign, clearly linking the effort of the staff to the anticipated vs. actual impact to the organisation’s bottom line.
- Focus on SMART performance goals and outcomes and evaluate in real time – weekly, monthly, or quarterly reviews, against specific targets is a good approach
- Explore new tools to manage performance feedback and remember to keep it as simple as: 1. Agreed goal 2. Notes on the extent the goal has been achieved by the staff 3. Finally, if need be – areas for improvement
- Award team and not individual performance bonuses – team bonus is a self-checking mechanism for individual mediocrity. Team members, won’t allow mediocre’s to undermine total team performance
- Don’t encourage tokenism when it comes to team bonuses or else, the self-checking mechanism above fails
- Support staff on a journey of mindset change; many will be confused by the ‘process-litening’, but they will see sense after all
- The team, unlike individual performance optimisation, lends itself more to the ‘project’ management approach; traditionally, teams have been a reliable organising mechanism for project conceptualization and implementation.
- Project management processes automatically cater for multiple reviews during a project cyle – practically making the annual review absolute
- Yet, team performance is still mostly based on ‘hard’ project targets that are assigned to the teams when they are formed
- It is about time the focus shifted towards ’soft targets’ – this calls for a move away from measuring ‘hard’ project targets, to ‘soft’ variables that we know impact team productivity – one such variable for teams is ‘psychological safety.’
- ‘Psychological safety’ can be used as a performance goal proxy; especially since we know that ultimately, it shall influence the productivity of teams
- How do you convince HR teams to think ‘performance-goal’ proxy like ‘psychological safety’ and not ‘hard’ team deliverables? How do you shift HR teams from what is known to them, i.e. forms and fixed cycle, to something seamless and happening every day?
The new performance optimisation strategy narrative:
- Performance management should be real-time and focus on immediate or short-term performance goals
- Measurement of performance-goal proxies like ‘psychological safety’ for teams, can be used as predictors of longterm performance-goal success or failure
- Performance management then becomes a collation of snippets on immediate/short-term performance goal reviews, done anytime anywhere, via multiple dialogues between various stakeholders. In effect, performance management is no longer privy to the line manager and supervisee
- The collation of performance review snippets can be anything from: short messages via messaging tools like Whatsup, Slack, Trello, etc to minutes of project progress review meetings, newsprint and online articles, etc
- Structured performance management, with its long and complex forms, has no place in the modem firm
- Performance management optimisation has to be deliberately linked to organisation bottom line metrics
Takeaway: Effective performance management optimisation calls for a completely different type of skills set – perhaps the risk-junkie skill is what firms should be looking out for, in their HR professionals. The Z-generation kids won’t work for companies that haven’t re-engineered their performance management paradigm yet very soon, the majority of our employees shall be of the Z-generation
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