The ABC of performance management

There are so many businesses who create performance management processes that miss the mark. The intention is always to increase performance, the impact is often dread, paperwork, fear and unfulfilling conversations.

Here is my ABC of performance management that might help you create a positive impact.


A. Accountability - whose job is it to drive performance? You may set the target or goal, but it is the person who has the task who is accountable for delivering it. The Manager is accountable for giving the direction, support and resources (the tools for the job), but they are not accountable for the job being done. Create accountability by being clear on expectations.

B. Balance - when having a performance conversation, create balance. Balance business and personal objectives to tap into intrinsic motivators. Balance listening and talking. Balance feedback with coaching. Performance conversations should be two way.

C. Conversations - We over-complicate PM as it is often thought of as an annual process. Some elements may happen annually, but PM is a daily practice. It simply a conversation with another person where you discuss goals, expectations, progress, aspirations, learning and next steps. When you take the process away, you are left with two human beings conversing. It's easy.

D. Develop - You may look back on performance to see what has been achieved, but the focus should be on how to improve and move forward. Whether it's the person, system, process or procedure that you are discussing, your job is to move people and situations forward. As a developing manager your focus should be on helping others to move forward and to develop.

E. Emotional Intelligence - Your ability to self-manage is critical in creating a safe space to discuss performance. Often people fear PM conversations because no-one likes to be criticised or scrutinised. Their fears have probably come from past bad PM conversations. The EQ Manager has the ability to control ones emotions, thoughts and actions and to demonstrate respect and empathy. This builds trust and relationships and creates positive PM.

F. Feedback - this is where the learning comes from if done properly. Giving feedback is a skill and if done with good intentions and with humanity and EQ, you enable the other person to share their thoughts and experience. They take accountability and find solutions. Feedback is a gift and can be valuable if delivered well.

G. Goals - it doesn't matter whether you goal set in January, when the new project arises or set continual goals, setting goals is essential. This requires you as the Manager to have clarity over what needs to be done, who to delegate it to, what good looks like and when it needs to be completed. Your team member can be empowered to figure out the how based on their experience, working style and other priorities. It is a two way process but your job is to set clear goals.

H. Humility - Just because you are the boss doesn't mean you have all of the answers. When you set a goal or an objective, consult with your team ad individuals as to how they will deliver. Let them come up with the answers and solutions. Your humility will increase trust and create alignment and commitment.

I. Improve - The purpose of PM is to improve. Creating an environment of continual improvement in all that you do as a company sets the tone for PM. If something has gone well, celebrate it then ask "What's next?"

J. Judge - just don't do it. You may monitor performance and observe peoples behaviours, but until you have a conversation with the individual, you don't really know the full story. When you enter a conversation as judge and carrying assumptions, you become closed minded and miss out on the opportunity to really listen. Move from judge to discover.

K. Kudos - when someone does well, give them praise and recognise their achievements. They may not have achieved the goal, but perhaps they have learned a whole heap of knowledge, or discovered a new approach. Recognise effort as well as outcomes and don't take the credit for your teams performance. Give that to them.

L. Listen. Powerful conversations happen when you listen. When people feel heard and acknowledged, they feel like they matter, like they contribute. I can not emphasise the power of listening.

M. Motivate. If your people are leaving your PM conversations flat or uninspired then you are doing it wrong. Get to know your people. Find out what matters to them and what motivates them and speak to that. Try and focus on moving forward and creating ownership and belief.

N. Nurture - the world of work has changed. Talent is hard to find and people will leave a company without fear if they don't feel like there are opportunities. Your role is to nurture talents within people, even when they don't believe in themselves.

O. Opportunity. Be an optimist and believe that there is always an opportunity for people to perform. Create the environment where people feel engaged and create opportunities for them to do their best work and best thinking.

P. Praise - don't wait for the annual review. If your team have performed well, praise them. Celebrate successes. Feedback can be positive and do it as soon as you can. It will reinforce what good looks like and lets people know they are on track.

Q -Questions. When in a performance conversations, ask more questions than making statements. Adopting a coaching style rather than parent-child approach enables the employee to find solutions and embed key learnings for themselves. As they find solutions, they will be more inclined to take ownership and accountability.

R - Responsibility. Be clear on roles and responsibilities. How can you rate performance if people are unclear about what they should be doing and what their key responsibilities are. Roles and responsibilities may change over time, so keep having the conversation and update the role profiles when necessary.

S. Specific. You know the SMART objectives still work as they force you to be specific over what is being asked, when it needs to be completed by, how and why. Even if you aren't clear on how you will achieve your objective or you can be specific over the outcome. Most goals fail because they are not specific.

T. Time. Give your people time. Your job is to manage and that means giving your people adequate time to perform. Give them time to develop, time to talk, time to deliver. If you have a meeting set up, make sure you are fully prepared and present. Make time to make your people feel valued.

U. Unite. Everyone wants to feel like they belong. The only purpose for a team is to work together to achieve an outcome. If you can create a vision, unite your people around that vision and create a sense of belonging, you are well on your way to creating a high performance culture.

V. Vision - every team, objective or goal should have a vision. Vision what the world will look like if it is achieved. How will people feel? What will happen? What will be different? If you can't craft a vision, you will fail to inspire, motivate and ignite passion.

W. Walk-the-talk. If you want high performance, you need to set yourself high expectations and hold yourself accountable. How high performing are you as an individual? You are the role model, the leader. Get feedback on your own performance and continually develop.

Y. Year. Most businesses still operate on annual plans and objectives and create a process around that. The process may formalise conversations and paperwork around yearly deadlines, but that is only a tiny part of performance management. Performance management happens everyday. New tasks and projects occur throughout the year and great performance and mistakes happen any day of the week. Manage performance in real-time.

Z. Zero. At the end of a project, year or period, draw a line in the sand and start at zero. Assess performance based on what is here now, not what happened last year. The world moves on and you want your people to keep looking forward or back. Let go of the past and set the dial back to zero.

There were so many other words I wanted to use. Empower, engage, rating, paperwork, fear, process, competency, behaviours, vulnerability.... what words have I missed?

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