Three Reasons Driving The Performance Management Revolution

Last year on my lightly-viewed LinkedIn blog, I wrote a short post proclaiming 2015 as the year of performance management reform – this was after several years coaching in organizations that had an urgent need to evolve into an Agile environment, but continued to drive traditional (and conflicted) performance management & reward/punish appraisal programs through their respective HR departments.

Fast-forward over a year later. We are witnessing the growing momentum for a revolutionary overhaul – especially in knowledge-work organizations. The most recent treatment of this subject is in the October 2016 Harvard Business Review piece entitled The Performance Management Revolution. Consider setting aside some focused time to dig deep into this article, as I found it quite valuable — especially as it directly references the Agile Manifesto within the context of coaching & feedback, the need for frequent learning & growth, and other aspects that optimize for business outcomes in a complex world.

Why Drop Traditional Performance Appraisals?

Three explicit business reasons are shared in the article:

  • The return of people development – With talent now in short supply, optimizing hiring practices and attracting “growth mindset” oriented professionals is key. These are people who have a strong desire for continuous learning, candid feedback and mentorship. Companies must offer strong development opportunities to attract this type of talent.
  • The need for Agility – In today’s world, annual (or bi-annual) performance appraisal “reviews” are not frequent enough to adapt and optimize an organization based on changing business conditions.
  • The centrality of teamwork – Shifting away from appraisals and emphasizing accountability helps foster a team-based behaviors. The article shares experiences from Sears and Gap — two companies that are surprising innovators in performance management.

The case seems strong enough, but there are implications to an overhaul – including goal alignment, rewards, how to identify ‘poor performers’, and the potential for subjective and biased performance assessments. The article discusses these issues, the research, and how some companies are dealing with it.

In Closing

What is the performance management system like in your company? Do you need an overhaul to optimize for people growth, agility and teamwork? What experiences can you share?

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Are You a Manager or an Enabler?

Are you a Manager that believes in this whole Agile thing? There is a difference between thinking, believing and knowing. Don’t miss out on a huge opportunity to become the next market leader in your space. It’s time to understand your role and how it needs to change in order to survive in a creative economy, and it starts by transforming your mindset from Manager to Enabler.

________

At the turn of the century, I was a proud and young Manager. I had the job title, a ‘corner office’, people reported to me, and life was good. I was entrusted to manage a lot: people, projects, programs, customers, company strategies and the like. But I could tell that something wasn’t right with the world. What was it?

At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the signs were deceivingly clear and compelling. Experience a few pieces of painful evidence from my own 360 feedback around the Y2K period, which looked something like this:

  • Subordinate: He is a good Manager and very smart, but he doesn’t trust us.
  • Superior: He is an extremely hard-working Manager, but needs to improve his ability to “drive the teams and the results” to customers.
  • Peer: (blank)
  • Self: (???)

Clear as mud, or clear as crystal? Was I a Manager or an Enabler? What did the organization want me to be?

Transforming from Manager to Enabler

It took some time for me to fully process and understand this feedback, but I eventually had a breakthrough moment that launched my own professional transformation. If you are a Manager who lives in a bureaucratic and controlling company hierarchy, then you might be receiving similar feedback.

Are you ready for your own breakthrough moment? Is this YOUR time? If so, then consider embarking on a challenging and rewarding personal journey from Manager to Enabler. If you are able to transform from a Manager to an Enabler, then great Agile leadership ability will be attainable for you.

Welcome to the innovation economy – where Enablers allow their organizations to effectively compete and succeed in a turbulent and relentlessly-changing marketplace.

I offer a few introductory questions as a thought provoking tool to evaluate your professional frame of mind. These are just some questions – I invite you to think about the answers for yourself. Write them down on sticky notes and take some time to think about each one. Use situational awareness as you reflect on each of these questions and what they mean to you, your teams, your organization, your customers and your competitors.

This is not a formal assessment tool and you won’t receive a chart or graph that explicitly tells you whether you’re a Manager or an Enabler. But I assure you that if you invest some time to think about these questions, you’ll start to understand where you are now and if a journey from Manager to Enabler is right for you. If you’re already an Enabler, then you might be ready for an even more fulfilling journey into great Agile leadership.

Are you a Manager or an Enabler?

How does it feel to coordinate a large group of people and own the results of their work?

Do you enjoy being the go-to person for the answers? Do you pride yourself on being the source of business and technical knowledge in your company?

If you’re a people Manager, what does it feel like to invest in those people? Could their own professional growth and autonomy threaten your position in the company?

What does the concept of self-organization mean to you?

Are these 5 secrets of enablement new or foreign to you?

Does “work” feel like work to you and others in your organization? What would it mean for work to be fun?

Is money the motivator for you and others? If not, what is the motivator for you and others in your organization?

As you work through this on your own, read the beginning of this article again and try to answer these questions from the perspective of the young Manager. This will test your sense of empathy, which is a powerful component of great Agile leadership. What were my answers back in Y2K? What do you think my answers are now?

Are you a Manager or an Enabler? Share ‘your answer’ in the comments section below.

__________________

If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

Have you ever been in a situation where you were afraid to share a difficult, but truthful statement? Was “the obvious” in the room the whole time, but no one would speak up and talk about it? If so, then the time has come for your organization’s leadership to embrace the importance of workplace courage.

Organizations that appear Agile and responsive on the outside usually have inspiring leadership dynamics on the inside. One essential behavior is when senior leaders support the role of courageous communicators. These emerging workplace leaders bring a mastery of skills and emotions to bear when circumstances are difficult and will surface the “hard truth” that is necessary for the success (or perhaps survival) of the organization.

For a culture of courage to thrive, however, an organization’s senior leadership must be supportive of open and honest behavior in the workplace.

What do you think of this courageous situation?

What if a software company ships a broken feature to your smartphone prematurely and it causes you (the customer) a big headache. Application Developers might have known that the quality was suspect, but perhaps they felt management pressure to ship it because of a competitive threat or a customer obligation. Or even worse, maybe the Developers have a financial bonus that will only be awarded if they ship the feature immediately.

If you were a Team Member in this situation, consider the answers to these questions:

How would this management pressure make you feel?

How would your fellow Team members feel about all of this?

What is important to both the Team *and* Management in this situation?

How can you be truthful to management without getting in trouble, losing your bonus, or getting fired?

This situation can be avoided with Courageous Communication. Perhaps someone would respectfully and calmly step up to senior management and say something like:

I feel like the management approach is forcing us to do something that could be damaging to our customers and our company’s reputation. This feature doesn’t meet our mutually-agreed standards of quality and completeness. If it isn’t “done”, what will happen if we ship it now?

What is Courage?

Courage is a profound value of great leadership, but it requires skillful communication, emotional awareness and a degree of professional safety to be effective in the workplace. Let’s use an abbreviated definition from Wikipedia to dive a bit deeper:

Courage – the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, uncertainty or intimidation.

I’ve seen many great moments of courage unfold in the workplace, especially in organizations that experience a breakthrough moment in the pursuit of higher performance. Someone steps up and makes a truthful (and possibly painful) statement, but at the same time, this person fosters alignment from everyone and creates a better outcome for all. Have you ever seen this play out in your organization?

Try practicing with this situation

Okay — let’s try this one out:

Imagine you’re invited by a Team to observe a critical lessons-learned meeting at the end of a 3-week software delivery effort. This meeting, called a Retrospective, is part of The Scrum Framework – it’s where a Scrum Team inspects its own ‘ways of working’ and examines its performance for improvement opportunities. It can be a powerful learning event if the conditions are healthy, but sometimes, it becomes another wasteful meeting where nothing is accomplished. In a productive Retrospective, Courageous Communication is critical.

As you are observing as a fly-on-the-wall, the servant-leader of the group (called a Scrum Master) intentionally breaks (or bends?) an important rule of this event & invites senior technology managers to participate, so that the Team’s performance can be “evaluated”. You sense that the environment is uncomfortable for the Team, so when it’s time for the Team to examine its own challenges, the room becomes eerily silent – you could drop a pin on the floor. The managers break the silence with feedback: “We have evaluated each Developer’s performance and here’s where you all can improve ….”

<silence gripping the room>

Now what? Where’s the real leadership in the room?

Out of nowhere, a leadership moment emerges from one of the Team Members that sounds like:

I feel like we all understand the importance of this work and the impact it will have on our company’s success. However, I am afraid to admit that none of us understands how The Scrum Framework is really supposed to work. To be successful, we must acknowledge this and commit to a better understanding of Scrum and how we can all work together for a great outcome.

This person goes on to share the issues with an individual-driven performance evaluation process and how it is putting the Team on the defensive. Suddenly, the other Team members come out of their shells and nod their heads in agreement. This person even admitted a fear of being fired right on the spot for honesty, but felt that it was the right thing to do for the organization.

Wow … I mean … Whoa.

That incredible moment of courage shattered the current reality for the managers, but it opened the door for a shared understanding of the real problem (judging individuals), so they could move forward in the right way (empowering and trusting the Team). It changed everything for this Scrum Team’s performance and the relationship with senior management.

 

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

This type of communication isn’t easy, but with practice, you can elevate your own leadership ability and exemplify courage to benefit yourself and others around you. Here are a few tips to consider as you examine your own capacity for courage:

1 – Establish a mutual purpose with everyone.

When you’re presented with a fearful situation, first communicate the purpose or goal that’s driving your need for honesty. For example, if we all care about delivering an outstanding customer experience, then we should be willing to accept your thoughts and views (no matter how difficult the truth might be to accept). In addition, if you confirm mutual purpose with an open-ended question, then it encourages open dialogue from others. Silence can also be quite telling, because it could mean that someone does not share the same purpose that you do (e.g., someone’s upcoming job promotion might be more important to them than delivering quality Product to customers).

I’ll sometimes start a difficult conversation with something like: “Since the quality of the Product is of urgency to us and our customers, then I feel that I must share the <reality>. How do others see this?”.

2 – Be open and honest about your own fears.

Courage requires a leader to be vulnerable in front of others. If there is something about the situation that scares you, be honest and say it — respectfully. If you do this, you will help others feel safe to speak their own views in an honest and open manner.

3 – Do not judge.

Read through the example above (again). Notice that the person did not point fingers or verbally attack anyone. Rather, this individual took a non-judgmental stance and did not blame the stakeholders. Point a finger at an issue and not at a person. If it’s a sensitive conversation with your manager, point a finger at your fears and the behaviors that are making you feel that way. Then, seek a common purpose between both of you (see Tip #1), so you can open the door to a fruitful dialogue.

4 – Stay calm.

Don’t let emotions get the best of you. I have seen many situations where someone tried to show courage in the workplace, but emotions were out of control and everyone tuned out. A Courageous Communicator can state “the obvious” in a calm and seasoned manner that helps everyone accept the reality and move forward.

5 – Don’t wait.

The worst thing you can do is go silent and wait until later. If a situation has escalated and the “hard truth” needs to be understood by all, then a great leader will step in on the spot and communicate the truth and foster alignment. The time is now, not later. Just make sure your skills and emotions are in check first.

6 – Encourage and celebrate moments of courage from others.

Courageous Communicators are influential leaders that live in all levels of an organization. Be on the lookout for well-timed and skilled moments of courage, and if you witness courage in action, show some appreciation and praise it! This is a demonstration of your own leadership when you celebrate and encourage others to be courageous in the right way.

 

Are you a senior leader who just read this post?

If so, then Courageous Communication starts with your willingness to lead by example. If you embody this value within your organization, then you will encourage a healthy environment of professional safety where people are completely comfortable to be open and honest when it matters most. If you don’t, then you will hear what you want to hear, but it might not be the truth that you need to make effective business decisions. Agile leaders constantly reflect the mirror on themselves in an effort to continuously learn & improve. Are *you* a Courageous Communicator? Are you fostering a culture where courage is valued?

Have you witnessed Courageous Communication in action recently? What was it like? I invite you to share your experience in the comments section below.

__________________

If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

How To Turn Failure Into A Competitive Advantage

Have you ever worked for a manager who made these statements to your Teams?

Failure is not an option.

We cannot fail.

To deepen this scenario — have you ever worked in an organization that rated you as a poor performer for making responsible mistakes? Shockingly, this is still happening in many companies – even the ones that are trying to become more nimble and innovative. For a company to maximize its ability to innovate (which is one measure of an Organization’s Agility), it requires everyone to learn how to fail in a responsible way.

High performing Agile organizations embrace failure as a competitive advantage that leads to sustainable business success. For those of you who work within these remarkable workplaces, I celebrate your success and the courage it takes to embrace this attitude within your company’s culture.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. ~ Winston Churchill

An example of failure and how the company handled it

I once served within a company where a complex software Product was under constant pressure to deliver new features to a mission critical customer segment. As I got to know these Teams from the periphery, I could see how much they cared about their work and how passionate they were for delivering really cool stuff to their customers. To be honest, I was envious of their situation because people were having a lot of fun in that part of the organization. What’s not to love about that?

So, as these Teams prepared to ship a new set of features (on a weekend), I was off work — actually, I was nestled comfortably in a movie theater with my kids when the “buzzzzzzzz” of my pager kicked in (yes, we used to have pagers!). As I quietly scanned the dimly-lit pager screen, it didn’t take long to realize that something went terribly wrong with their latest Product update. As I started following the threads of communication, I could see some panic playing out in that Product organization – the latest update had failed and unfortunately, there was a major loss of customer data that the Teams were unable to recover.

After the shock & awe phase settled down, I had a chance to facilitate a root cause analysis session with the Teams and senior leadership. What they jointly discovered was a lapse in judgment by one (passionate, skillful and caring) Team Member who bypassed company red tape in an effort to ship the Product update quickly – but as a result, this individual made one small mistake that permanently deleted a large portion of customer data.

What happened in this situation? Would you characterize it as a failure? What would you have done to that Team Member?

Every failure is an opportunity to learn and improve.

As you might imagine, the customers were quite unhappy. This was a clear failure, and (as characterized by many) an irresponsible choice in the heat of delivery. Technology executives had to scramble to provide an explanation to customers, how they were going to fix the problem, and how they would avoid it in the future.

How did the senior leaders handle the situation?

1. They pointed the finger at the issue, not the Teams – Through a powerful root cause analysis session, the Teams (including leadership representatives) focused on the issue, not the people. This allowed for open dialogue which surfaced a deeper problem that went well beyond that one Team Member’s mistake. If they had played the blame game, then the underlying organizational root causes would have never emerged.

2. They never used the word FAILURE – In this Product organization’s culture, they called these situations “learning moments”. In this particular situation, it happened to be an enormous learning moment that had an obvious sense of urgency for immediate remediation. Within this culture, it allowed the Teams to analyze the situation swiftly, objectively, and without judgment. What did this teach us? What insights do we have? And … what experiments can we run to prevent this from ever happening again?

3. The person was not fired – Yes, it was a terrible lapse in judgment. Many companies might have fired the employee on the spot – and in some situations (e.g., where people’s lives are at stake), that might have been the best course of action. But in this particular situation, the organization leveraged an environment of professional safety to allow this person to speak freely about his actions and what he had learned from it. The person was not fired, his pay was not docked, and he continued forth as a thriving Team Member within the Product organization. In fact, he led the charge on a series of significant organizational improvements that strengthened the operational capabilities for the company as a whole.

How can your company transform failure into learning moments?

An organization’s attitude toward “failure” will directly influence the actions that it takes in response to these situations. In real Agile organizations, resilience to failure is an advantage that sets these inspiring companies apart from their lagging competitors. They do this by being:

  • Optimistic – “Learning Moments” keep a feeling of optimism in the face of these difficult situations. Failure can be perceived as a permanent state, but learning moments serve as the stepping stone for meaningful improvement within the organization. What happened? What did we learn from it? What do we need to do to prevent it in the future?
  • Compassionate – The senior leaders were able to empathize with the Teams by connecting to their passion for delivering exciting Product features to their customers. In addition, they capitalized on that passion by acting with positive intent (i.e., our goal is to improve how we ship new Product features, not to seek out and fire employees). Compassionate leadership allows the organization to tap into the energy and skills of the Teams to continuously out-improve their competitors.
  • Focused – An Agile organization operates with a high degree of focus. When learning moments emerge, the organization behaves with a “stop and fix” mentality. Agile organizations don’t waste time blaming people, and senior leaders don’t worry about protecting their power in a corporate hierarchy. The focus is on learning and swift improvement; all in the interest of serving the paying customer with high quality and innovative Product.

 

Your Call to Action

Does your organization treat failure as optimistic, compassionate and focused learning moments? If not, why? What can you do to influence a change in your organization to start thinking and acting this way?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

__________________

If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.