Let’s Talk: The New Reality of Performance Management


2020 has been a year like no other. In May and June of this year, we surveyed 688 people from organizations in different industries, different locations, and of different sizes about performance. About half of respondents reported having at least some difficulty focusing on routine tasks. It’s no surprise that when half your employees struggle to focus, an entire organization’s performance suffers.

So we’ve come to the conclusion that these trying times demand that we modify, if not completely rethink, our approach to performance management. Luckily, we have the science to show us how to do it.

In a recent post we outlined three big ideas to improve performance management in times of crisis. Here, we’ll dig deeper into ways leaders can apply our research to performance management in this new reality, namely by having more, and better, conversations.

Having crucial conversations 

To guide us through this time of disruption, we can look to a roadmap the NeuroLeadership institute developed about five years ago that is uniquely useful today: the 6 performance management conversations.

  1.       Goal setting conversations 

Today, goal-setting conversations have to make clear how an employee’s work matters to the organization. Understanding how you contribute to organizational goals can be a strong and lasting motivator.

But our research found that just 60% of employees have that understanding. Leaders should focus on the most important work, and review shorter-term goals more often.

  1.       Feedback conversations

We know that feedback can unlock performance in volatile times. But, our research has found that giving unsolicited feedback, even unsolicited positive feedback, is stressful for both parties, and this is no time to add to our collective stress level.

While conventional wisdom says to give feedback, science says to ask for feedback. And, our recent survey found more than 60% of employees actually wanted feedback much more frequently than they were getting it.

Conversations that ask for feedback can cut that stress in half, empowering the individual to own and improve their performance. Learn more about building a feedback culture here.

  1.         Check-in conversations 

Conventional wisdom is that managers check the status of current work and progress toward goals. The science says that check-in conversations should include outcomes, continued learning and growth, and employee well-being. This is more important now than ever before.

In 2020, the employee’s well-being has to be part of the regular check-in conversation, in addition to their learning and growth. “How are you really” fosters relatedness, which helps to mitigate anxiety. Because we’re more separated, we need to be more connected.

  1.         End of cycle conversations 

Whether it’s the end of the year, or the end of a project, the conventional wisdom is to focus on outcomes. The science says to have a conversation about outcomes and about learning that can be applied more broadly.

Look beyond the problems and drama to the employee’s process and actions to achieve their goals.

  1.         Compensation conversations 

Conventional wisdom is that the manager tells the employee the compensation package. The science says to have a compensation conversation explaining the process and recognizing their growth to engage the employee for the future.

The year 2020 has required unprecedented teamwork and innovation and creates unprecedented opportunities to reward those behaviors. Consider rewarding teams, rather than individuals.  Or consider an individual’s contributions to the team.

  1.         Career conversations 

Conventional wisdom is to have annual career conversations focused on promotion. The science says to create a coaching partnership focused on growth and development.

Even pre-pandemic, our surveys found that few career conversations were taking place. It’s reasonable to believe that hasn’t improved. Conversations centered on an employee’s growth and continued contribution can help them stay motivated and strive for growth during these times.

Each of these six conversations supports the others, in turn supporting your performance management needs in this volatile world. Look at your own organization’s performance management practices and philosophy in light of these 6 conversations. What does great look like?

Authors: Rob Ollander-Krane , Sherilyn George-Clinton

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