Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

employee lead performance management

By Jan Hills on June 23, 2022

Hacking Team

Most managers hate the performance management process and their teams hated it more.We should completely change performance management. The end of year conversations should be no more than a confirmation of what everyone knows. No surprises. All the discussion, data collection and adjustment to objectives and performance should be happening on the job all year long not during one month of the year.

If we look at how the brain works most traditional performance management creates a threat response. It reduces creativity, rational thinking and narrows the individual’s view. Hardly conditions for someone to take on new information and turn it into new behaviour. To make matters worse feedback impacts the employee’s sense of certainty, ‘I thought I knew how to be successful’, their options, ‘you mean I have to do it the boss’s way?’ and their reputation. Most employees feel this is also unfair. 

Give employees’ options and control, coaching rather than judging and focusing on what is going right rather than what is going wrong is brain-savvy. 

HR process being hacked:Performance Management

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Hello Jan, How refreshing it is to see tags "neuroscience" and "PM" in the same line! Thank you for this hack. The best way I've come across to have the PM dialogue (ongoing, not just year-end) is Dr. Joseph Riggio's "Satisfaction Cycle".
Originally developed as a sales model, it is designed to keep the conversation in an open neurological state. Starting with what's working in the current situation, it goes on to focus on what we want to achieve ("Desired State") and the related Outcome Criteria. Only after this is crystal clear, we move on to discuss how to get there (including Operating Criteria). There are a number of important benefits to this approach, one being precisely what you point to: it opens both parties' views, allows for creativity and audacity, and it is highly motivating because it is teleological by design. The employee actually gets options as well as control - within the boundaries of what must happen for the organization, of course. It is an elegant model, simple, and easy to start working with (starting by designing open-state questions). Of course not necessarily easy to master, but that's "just" sensory acuity and practice.
I've found that in performance driven organizations, the difficult thing is to delve sufficiently at the "Desired State". KPI's usually are not motivating - desire is - and yet we assume KPI's are enough and then rush on to do action planning.
There is enormous benefit in painting a crystal clear "Desired State" (e.g., "So, one year from now, how is your team working, ideally?") both in terms of motivation (this is a pull strategy :) and in terms of clarity concerning what needs to happen in order to get there.
When the Outcome informs the action plan we get to focus on what really matters instead of trying to fix everything that can be fixed.
So, is this sense, it is also a "lean" model.
Actually, I find this approach is effective in almost any dialogue.

Could you say more about how you use neuroscience in relation to PM?

Thanks you Claudia. sounds very interesting and brain-savvy system !

we use neuroscience in Performance management in three ways
To guide policy and design of process or PM systems
To design, manage and lead the change associated with that. We use our CORE model
We design training for PM based on the neuroscience of how people learn and change
Finally we use the neuroscience in the content of PM especially to educate managers and also to understand how the brain works so their understanding can guide their approach to conversations, especially tough conversations

I'm incredibly passionate about performance management not being a process and love your thoughts Andy. We want to move to a world where leaders are 'enablers' of their teams rather than 'police' and to a world where 'how people are getting on' is an ongoing conversation. That means we in HR must also become enablers, not police, and we must also make 'how people are getting on' part of our ongoing conversation.

These changes require a cultural and leadership shift whereby leaders are recognised for growing their teams, for being authentic, for focussing on the whole team (not brown nosing upwards), for creating a culture of open and honest conversations, where the intent is all about helping people learn and succeed, and hopefully with a good few mistakes along the way too that everyone learns quickly from.

This is a world away from many leaders today who feel the need to control, micro manage and tell - or else it will be their reputation/job on the line. So they too must feel the same support and investment in them from their leader - a complete cultural shift. Not a quick fix leader development programme.

And not every leader today will be capable of being this 'new leader'. Some might just not have the capability to have an insightful, honest, coaching conversation with a person but as HR we can support with development and recruitment solutions that mean the organisation attracts and retains those who are capable.

So in practical terms what does this mean?
- Everyone from CEO down 'gets' this and knows how they need to be different - linked intrinsically with organisational values
- Performance is just an ongoing conversation - no forms, no submissions to HR, no checking people have done it - just open conversations
- Leaders frequently come together with peers to check-in with each other on how their people are doing. Does 'great' for me also mean 'great' to you? (Not a 9-box, just a conversation)
- If required for salary review / bonus - these conversations are what feed final results - no surprises to colleagues or to leader peers
- Talent is in everyone so no 9-box needed to decide who goes on the 'talent programme' - leaders develop their whole teams, give them exposure to challenging opportunities and know that everyone has potential to do something amazing.
- Those 'leaders with peers' conversations - that's also when they can talk succession and who could be great for the next role

michele-zanini_4's picture

Hi Jan, thanks for submitting such a thoughtful mini-hack. Curious to get your thoughts on how a performance management process that gives employees more control and is more focused on coaching and positive feedback can do all of that while at the same time instilling a strong sense of accountability for results. In other words, what specifically would have to change to achieve the goals of performance management without the toxic side effects of current practices?



andy-lippok's picture

Michele. It's really quite simple. If employees design the work that meets the purpose from the customer's point of view, and they derive the measures that deliver what and how the customer wants the product or service and what really matters, then surely that's all the accountability you need. The customer soon tells the organisation and the people who work the work, exactly how well they are doing, and what needs to improve. You do not need an individual performance management system to tell the employees or the customer what they need to know or what to do better. The role of the manager is simply to remove the obstacles that are getting in the way of employees delivering the service, and if the manager is not doing that then they themselves need to get out of the way!

The reason that employees have a poor sense of accountability for results is precisely because the very processes and mechanisms have been systematically removed from their control. In the days of the artisan or craftsman, she had total if not almost total control over their work and how they delivered it. We have removed that ability, that purpose, mastery and control, and the resulting joy of work from many people today. Let's not simply try to fix what's no longer working, but remove it and replace it what really matters.

Thanks for your question. It is a good one! In my view there would be some 'process' changes but the most important change would be about mindset. The mindset of leaders/managers must be that employees do the best they can, employees have a purpose and the best interests of the organisation in mind and they want to achieve their goals. I guess we shift the leader/manager role from policing work to trust. Once you have this the process side needs to: train people to set stretch goals, give them real time data on how they are doing against goals ( both hard data and behavioural) and train managers/leaders in coaching the best performance out of people as well as confronting slides in accountability.