The dreaded tick box exercise
At a certain point, most businesses need to find some way to measure and discuss their people’s performance. But the trouble is as soon as you start to consider the practicalities of this, it can quickly become a huge cumbersome form filling exercise. Result: employees and line managers hate it, refuse to do it and the meme that “performance reviews are pointless” or “it’s a tick box exercise” infiltrates your company culture.
But if performance is never measured and discussed, this has a myriad of negative consequences too, including low morale and productivity, poor communication and a lack of accountability.
Measuring performance is important
As one of the most debated points in management, we at Air have our own view on this topic!
We believe that it is important to measure performance. But the system you pick should be right for your business, your culture and your people. Don’t import something you’ve found online that’s the current flavour of the month. You’ll need to take the time to plan and consult with your employees before introducing something so critical to your bottom line.
But where to start? Here at Air we run our business using OKRs. Google are the best known business using this approach. We love it because its simple, intuitive and promotes clear alignment between individuals, teams and the overall goal of the business. It also enables open discussion about each person’s contribution. As one of our favourite management thought leaders, Sir David Varney, former head of the Inland Revenue and a veteran of huge successful organizational transformation likes to say, “only ever talk about performance”. Meaning, it’s so easy to talk about spurious factors in your performance discussions. Make the performance the starting point. From there, you can uncover any strengths or weaknesses in behaviour or capability and address those.
Making OKRs work
The key to making OKRs work for you is based on a couple of fundamental decisions. First, how you set the objectives and targets. For more on this see here. Second, the quality of the discussion that you have with your team. The OKR approach is based on full transparency. Even the CEO has her own OKRs shared publicly with the team. This might sound scary, until you consider how motivational it is for each and every person in the team to understand how their efforts fit together with their colleagues. In a small business, it might be obvious from casual chats. But as you grow, it gets much more tricky, especially once you are not all physically in the same space.
Learning from performance
As a leader, you’ll need to communicate to your people how important it is to learn from the performance process. There is absolutely no point in setting up an OKR system only to measure progress if you never discuss your employee’s development with them individually. Its your role to openly surface learning from failure, help them develop resilience to move out of their comfort zone and provide them with the resources they need to grow as a person.
We’ve often heard managers complain they “don’t have time” to manage people. To which we say, there is nothing else you should be doing, except managing people. Address what is blocking you. If it is that your team aren’t capable of doing the work so you are doing it yourself, you are not delivering as a manager and you need to invest in your own development. Often it masks a deeper problem which can be that a manager is afraid of giving meaningful feedback and prefers to fall back on platitudes. This helps no-one as poor performance can continue indefinitely if not addressed.
Whichever process you decide to use for managing performance, ensure you implement it fairly and inform your staff about it when they join. Find out more about onboarding here, as well as lots of other useful free HR advice here.