11th February 2020 Written by Toby Lindsay

Performance and CoachingToby Lindsay, our Principal Consultant for Leadership Management and Organisation Development, shares insights into the second ‘Pop-Up’ day, hosted recently in his ‘Introduction to leadership and professional development’ event series, focusing on ‘Performance and Coaching’.

Very early on in our latest ‘Pop-Up’ development day we were wondering whether the term ‘performance management’ isn’t a key part of the problem, rather than the solution.

We know from research that there is no clear principle established that performance management approaches work and in a third of cases, in fact, rather lead to a clear decrease in performance. With representatives from Fire and Rescue, Policing and Health in the room, this came as no surprise to them and all pointed to the term usually being associated with a negative situation, rather than a positive. Our shared view was that ‘good’ performance management practice is about:

  • Genuinely saying ‘how are you’
  • Taking and making time
  • Regular contact
  • A coaching approach
  • Getting to depth
  • Honesty and addressing under performance
  • Being balanced and contextual
  • Confronting issues
  • Taking a suitable approach for the individual
  • Offering support

In looking at trends in performance management we see that more conversations more often, a coaching approach, and forgetting the middle (to focus on top and bottom ends only) are currently popular. There is some evidence that approaches that provide time and space for regular contact that is psychologically safe do have a positive impact. We all agreed during the day that good managers are recognised and make a difference. However, it was interesting to see that ‘feedback’ per se, often has a detrimental effect. Without time to process and make sense of ‘feedback’ we can spend our time fixated on the negative rather than improving performance, or if the same ‘feedback’ keeps coming in, we often learn to accept it as ‘fact’ rather than seek to act to change it.

Managing performance, we felt was a misnomer. There are so many variables that affect it and it suggests an ability to always increase performance in rather impersonal ways. Perhaps we should be seeking to look at performance culture as an ongoing process? And maybe focusing on significantly poor or high performance only for ‘management’ makes sense. There is very little evidence that the large amount of time spent on regular appraisal does anything at all. 

In my experience, the introduction of technically complex systems to track and rate performance can often lead to people working out the quickest way to get the process done. Which is a type of performance, however, not really what we are looking for!

In my next ‘Pop-Up’ I will be taking a look at staff survey data and how this can inform our OD practice and initiatives. We’re really interested in exploring further the difference between manager’s perceptions and staff experience.

In terms of your performance management systems and processes, I’m wondering:

  • How are your performance management practices experienced by your staff?
  • What stories do they tell, when they feel safe to do so?
  • And what stories would you want them to tell?

If there are discrepancies, then it may be that looking at developing culture and leadership that promotes performance in a way that is appreciated and helpful is something to look into!

Register for Toby’s upcoming event Using Staff Engagement Data to inform OD Practice on February 27, tailored for all senior leaders, change, OD and HR professionals and explore and enrich your practice, learn and network with colleagues and peers.

Get in touch today to find out more about Skills for Health’s ‘performance management’.