Our school days are also a great laboratory to go back and ‘unwrap’ some foundational principles about performance management in the workplace. These principles are not complicated. But, they do take practice, discipline, and reinforcement to consistently do.
Consider in school:
- Performance management starts the first day. Easing into it later only creates confusion, frustration, and stress.
- Classroom expectations are consistent with school expectations.
- Two assumptions are avoided - ‘kids are smart, they should already know the rules’ and ‘kids resent the time spent on reinforcing the rules’. Kids like predictability (adults do too).
- Two sets of expectations are set – performance and behavior.
- Performance and behavior expectations must be communicated clearly. A teacher who says, ‘speak quietly’ is more likely to get the desired result than saying ‘act appropriately’.
- Everyone wants to know ‘how they will be graded’. This includes progress reports and final grades.
- Giving feedback is continuous. Creating new habits takes lots of reinforcement. Thank goodness for all those smiles, words of encouragement, little notes, smiley faces, and stickers.
- Measurement of performance must be meaningful, specific, and enforceable. For example, is it more important that black ink is used or that the hand writing is legible?
- There are natural consequences for a student’s performance and behavior – both positive and negative.
- Expectations can change depending on the teacher’s style. One teacher might be more project-based and another more focused on memorizing facts. So, it is critical students know the style.
Let’s take a quick quiz (assessment) from lessons learned going ‘back to school’. Rate each either 1 (consistently done) or 2 (inconsistently done).
In our organization, most leaders:
- Start performance management in a timely manner by setting clear expectations of goals, objectives, and behaviors at the start of an employee’s performance cycle – not weeks or months later.
- Follow the organization’s standards for key performance process steps (frequency, timeliness, quality of).
- Avoid making assumptions that employees are ‘smart and already know that stuff’ about performance management – without thoroughly checking.
- Discuss and document both what needs to be achieved (goals & objectives) and how it should be achieved (processes & values-based behaviors).
- Seek clear, concise employee understanding of what they should continue doing, start doing, or stop doing.
- Tell employees upfront ‘how performance will be graded’ and keep those rules throughout the performance year.
- Give continuous feedback through timely, dedicated reinforcement and coaching.
- Measure success with factors that are meaningful, specific, and enforceable.
- Allow the natural consequences of employees’ performance and behaviors to play out.
- Provide clarity as to what style of documentation and measurement they prefer when the performance cycle begins.
Performance management is so much more than an end of year appraisal. It’s a critical job responsibility of each leader to help plan, develop, monitor, grade, and reward employees for their contributions – not their activities.
It has been said, ‘No one rises to low expectations.’ When we tolerate taking short-cuts, skipping steps, and allowing countless exceptions to the rules in performance management, we lower the bar on potential higher performance. How ironic! Maybe it’s time we go ‘back to school’ and stop making things so complicated.