Performance Discussions in business
By: Frank Olsson
President New Zealand Europe Business Council
Everyone knows that in the workplace there needs to be a discussion of direction, where we are heading and how we can get there. These discussions may have an aura of formality and are held annually or semi-annually. They are often focused on accountability, i.e., what has been done and what could have been done. Often, it is an exercise that needs to be done as a matter of course and something that must be ticked off as “completed.”
The process really is core to management and the purpose should be to discuss, challenge, guide and lift spirits. It should not be a one-way street, but be built on creating understanding, energy, and enthusiasm. The purpose is not to discuss if you are good enough to be retained, but how we can learn, improve and do things better. No matter how good we are there is still a way to improve. How can we discover what the “better way” looks like?
The often-used term “accountability” is perhaps too audit like in its meaning, but audit and accountability are backwards looking, and we need to look forward. How can we lift the game in terms of our own performance, but also of the group and the enterprise? It is not necessarily true or important that the manager is smarter or better, but rather that she/ he is able to entice others to find better ways through encouraging imagination, curiosity and engagement. It needs to be looked at as a fun game rather than the seriousness of judgment day.
In that context, ask the colleague and staff member what might be possible to achieve with novel thinking. The discussion should be so designed that the person addressed is made to feel of at least equal importance as the assessor. Any signalling of seniority or superiority is likely to receive a negative reaction, or worse, a feeling of inferiority. Pecking order and who is wiser and better is irrelevant. Relevant is how can we maximise our contribution and feel that we are learning, no matter what our starting point. People like to learn; people like to be appreciated and trusted.
Asking what you have learned and how that learning curve be maintained and nourished is the way to engage. It is fun to learn and it is required to combat obsolescence. We learn from each other, we learn from doing, we learn from reading, we learn from conversing and we learn from being challenged. It can be a bit scary and daunting, but sitting back without experimenting, trying and learning will lead to stagnation. The world moves forward, and so must we or we will fall behind. It is not a scare tactic but a matter of benefitting from opportunity and excitement. We should ask as part of our daily business; how can we improve both personally and organisationally as an ongoing endeavour to raise the game.
The dialogue of this process is crucial in trying to instil confidence such that the staff member feels that we can and must all partake and contribute to a learning culture which can make a big difference.
In big organisations, this performance discussion lives its own life, but better is to integrate it into everyday affairs. The right kind of questions is something we all need to ask ourselves and others to ensure there is debate, checks and balances. People don’t just need to know the answers, they need to formulate key questions. This learning is not hierarchical but should permeate the whole organisation. Learn from any and all. Thinking more highly of people makes them grow, and not only helps them perform better, but also feel better.
And finally, commit to, and role model all the things you think are important for staff health, commitment, enthusiasm, kindness, drive and finding time to help the next person.
Worry less about the scoreboard than the game.
“Thank you” and “please” go a long way.