Performance management may seem like a simple process – set expectations, have regular conversations, undertake performance appraisals and manage underperformance. Sounds simple especially when your organisation has a well-designed performance management system. But what about the grey areas, the human element and the emotional toll it can sometimes take on both your employees and their leaders?
Recently I had a conversation with the chair of a business who had sought to engage us when having difficulties with their CEO, who was resistant to and refusing to support a change initiative in the organisation. This change included a more structured performance management process and greater accountability to the board than senior staff were accustomed to. The board were very willing to invest in support, coaching and mentorship to assist the CEO work through their resistance and to upskill them to meet the new expectations of their role. The only question that remained was whether the CEO was a willing participant?
They stepped through a process of:
- Ensuring the expectations of the CEO role were clear
- Provided a clear assessment of the current performance gaps
- Agreed on a way forward
- Provided coaching and support to bridge the identified gaps
- Provided regular feedback on progress and remaining roadblocks and areas for improvement.
Throughout this process, the resistance continued and the individual showed very little desire to change their approach, or indeed to support the new initiative. It became evident to the board that the CEO was either unwilling or unable to fully execute the role requirements and a decision about their future with the organisation needed to be made. They ultimately decided to terminate. We’re sure many of you reading this article will have come to this place with a team member during your career and most would agree it’s a more unpleasant side of leading others in the workplace.
Impact of Managing Poor Performance on Leaders
In our consultancy, we regularly work with leaders who truly care about being fair and reasonable, who understand the human aspect of performance management and the impact on the individual, especially if termination of employment is the final outcome. We also witness the emotional toll it takes on them personally as they grapple with the human element of the organisational process of performance management. Many experience sleeplessness, and ask questions of themselves such as – ‘have I done enough to support the skill development of the team member?’, ‘is there anything else I could or should have done?’, ‘What will the person do if we terminate them, how will they support their family, pay their mortgage, how will they cope personally?’. By the time they are nearing the end of a performance management process that has not reached the desired outcome –changed behaviour and a performance that now meets the expectations of the role – they are resolute in and sure of their decision. They know they have done everything they can and that there is nothing more they can do.
What about the Employee?
The employee, on the other hand, will never see the turmoil experienced by their manager who continues throughout the process to be firm and fair and to offer the appropriate support and feedback. Of course, they are more in touch with what the performance management experience is for them. They may not see why they should change, feeling that ‘we’ve always done things this way, so why should I change’ or even ‘ my boss is picking on me or bullying me’. Many do not believe the outcome might be termination of employment, even when it is tabled during discussions.
There is, of course, the alternate outcome where the employee engages willingly with the performance management process. They engage in the training and coaching, seek out support and feedback and enjoy the results. The aim of performance management should always be to engage the employee in the process with an outcome of behavioural change and a shift in performance to meet their role expectations. In fact, we have seen many underperforming employees become contributing team members and at times organisational top performers as a result of a robust performance management process executed by a committed leader. This, of course, is the desired outcome for both employee and employer.
Ultimately, performance is a personal thing. It speaks to our competence, and often our sense of self. Beyond that, work is the way we support our families and changes or perceived threat to this can be confronting. Managers often understand this and the gravity of their actions and decisions, and as such feel tremendous stress from the performance management process. However, by creating cultures of regular and fair feedback, consistently implementing policies, benchmarking performance standards and a myriad of other performance management tools you can help to reduce this stress. When managed appropriately performance management procedures can actually work to support a healthy and productive culture, and make your organisation a better place to work.