In my last three posts, I have been noodling the concept of setting goals within the performance management program. I am still thinking through it all, but at the very least I have come to the conclusion that a performance management program is simply a means of making sure that leaders do what they are supposed to do — provide coaching, feedback and leadership to their employees.
If leaders did that effectively, maybe we could even do away with performance management systems all together?
Well, let’s not go that far. We all know that some leaders will be better than others when it comes to coaching and honest feedback. We also know that consistency across an organization is important so that employees feel as if they are getting fair treatment. And as a leader, it is helpful to have a structured process to use, so long as it actually adds value and improves performance.
Process vs. Leader: Where’s the Value?
Okay back up again. The process doesn’t add value or improve performance — the leader does that. But the process provides (or should provide) guidance and structure in such a way that holds leaders accountable for actually improving performance.
If we accept that premise, I can see parts of traditional performance management that make sense and others that don’t. Having a core group of competencies that the organization believes, if demonstrated, will drive business success provides a great way to help leaders become developers of talent. Competencies can become messaging points for current and future roles.
Goal Setting and Performance Management
Where I am now finding disconnect is in the goal setting part of performance management. Conceptually, it is a great theory. Where it breaks down is the meaningfulness (or not) of writing and aligning goals up and down the organization. Don’t get me wrong, employees need to understand how their work drives the business’ performance. They need to know that they contribute and add value. But do individual performance goals do that? I wonder. Could a regular dialogue with the leader help the employee see the connection without trying to figure out how to write SMART goals that roll up from the employee to the organization or cascade down from the organization?
Let’s take John for example. John works for ABC Company and reports to Susie. John is a Compensation Analyst with responsibility for base pay administration, the merit review process and is a business partner to two business units. Susie is responsible for Compensation and Benefits and has additional analysts reporting to her.
ABC Company starts its annual planning process in August, but doesn’t finalize the goals until after the fiscal year close in December. Its closes the books in January and finalizes the goals in February. Meantime, John is already doing what he needs to do — merit worksheets, finalizing incentive plans for his business units, adjusting the range structure, and evaluating jobs as requested.
Will John do this any differently if he has goals? Will he be any more clear about how his work fits into the organization’s success? I’m not sure goals will have an impact.
Importance of Dialogue
What does have an impact on John is when Susie gathers her analysts together to share what the HR leadership team has determined are the key priorities for the coming year (or less), and engages her team in dialogue about how they will fulfill their responsibilities in the bigger HR plan and what the timing will be for new projects related to regular work. She leads her team through the process of business planning, which considers their products and services, the cost of providing those services, the obstacles they may face and how to maneuver around them, the partnerships they need to cultivate, and the results they will see at the end of the performance period. Susie then talks with each team member about his or her role and contribution, how their work fits into the organization’s business, and how they will, as a team, accomplish the plan.
John knows what he needs to do, but without the exercise of wrangling out SMART goals to break both the new project work and his regular duties into goal statements, often after 3-4 months of the performance year have already passed.
John and Susie talk regularly and Susie provides feedback and asks for feedback from John.
What’s different? Not a lot except the exercise is meaningful to both John and Susie, rather than an administrative exercise they do because they have to and don’t look at again until the year end.