Why Engagement is the Solution for Performance Management

Performance management systems are broken. You cannot manage performance; however, you can manage people. Creating consistent action and increasing an employee’s performance over time is a result of investing in people. Understanding a person’s intrinsic motivations, their purpose and using that information to align their actions with the organization’s values and needs is what defines a clear path of performance.

Human Resources teams have had to systemize performance management to provide scalable solutions for businesses, however these systems often fail because they take a one-dimensional approach and lack the flexibility required within most organizations. How you motivate and sustain performance of an engineer is going to be different than how you should approach a member of the marketing team. Likewise, the needs of a new hire will be vastly different than an employee who has been with the company for 5+ years.

The key to successfully managing performance is rooted in embracing the unique qualities of people and their deeply-rooted desire to belong. Brené Brown, an acclaimed author and research professor at the University of Houston, completed a study around the topic and found that:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging does not require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

She explores this idea further in a Forbes interview that supports that people are most successful when they feel like they belong to something greater than themselves. People want to be recognized for their role in accomplishing a mission, that they are more than just a number or cog in a machine. Once you let this concept truly sink in, you quickly realize that performance is really about engagement on a human level. But, how do we translate this into the business world?

The first step is developing a feedback model where there is consistent communication between employee-manager, and manager-human resources. This is critical to creating total organizational accountability that enables teams to “feed-forward” and lean in to authentic moments of engagement. It starts with the employee understanding it is their responsibility to ask for this; to feel comfortable with coming to their manager for feedback around areas where they want to grow personally and professionally. It is then the manager’s responsibility to coach and not judge; encouraging employees to say what they want and need in order to continue to be the best version of themselves at work. There can be a perception in the workplace that managers behave like a jury or worse, an executioner, rather than a collective of professionals with valuable credentials that can be utilized to provide counsel. By acting more like a mentor, managers can empower the next generation of leaders within their company and be stewards of performance management.

A big component of this modern approach to performance management is to encourage managers to ask more questions. Yes, managers will experience uncomfortable conversations with employees, but through training and development we can help managers have productive conversations that become teachable moments rather than just solving employees’ problems for them.

Creating a culture of engagement begins at the new hire orientation. Managers shouldn’t be asking, “what are your goals?” The question should be, “what are your values? What guides you?” Goals will follow.

Another area that can be impacted by engagement is the belief system of pay as reward. Most companies show they value great performance by paying for it, however I would argue that performance isn’t always about winning. We’ve bred a culture that winning is the highest value. We are now trying to deconstruct this belief by letting people know it’s okay to fail as long as you show-up fully giving it your all and don’t do it at the expense of others. Effort toward goals needs to be rewarded too because business is a team sport and not every team comes out on top 100% of the time. We need to focus on coaching leaders that it’s not about employee successes and failures. It’s about the experiences shared. It’s about engagement.

So, how do we create and then cultivate meaningful experiences? We abandon the performance management system. We embrace performance engagement. We start treating employees as people, as adults who are in control of their own destiny, fully accountable. It is our responsibility as peers and as leaders to provide the support and encouragement. By ensuring the right tools exist and the culture embraces the whole person, we will help transform businesses while retaining top-performing employees.

I would love to hear your thoughts on performance engagement and if your organization could benefit from a new approach. Contact Us.