Wright, N. & Marshall, R. (2006) ‘Day of Judgement’, Training & Learning, Institute of Training & Occupational Learning, Issue 2, Volume 9, September, pp12f.
In their fifth case study-based article on performance management and development, Nick Wright and Richard Marshall introduce performance review as a positive personal and cultural development tool.
Let’s face it, most people look forward to appraisal as much as they look forward to dental treatment. The process is frequently painful and strained and the ritual all too often appears designed to reinforce who’s boss – and who isn’t – in spite of its rational veneer. At deep psychological and emotional levels, appraisal can tap into negative experiences from the past (e.g. being sent to the head teacher’s office for bad behaviour, anxiously awaiting examination results) and evoke paralysing fear of humiliation and failure.
Imagine, by contrast, an organisational context where staff and managers alike look forward to performance review as an affirming, forward-looking developmental experience; part of an exciting journey rather than its abrupt and painful end. Sounds idealistic, but in World Vision UK we believe it’s a goal well worth working towards. We’ve designed and implemented a performance development system with personal development and organisational capacity building at its core ethos. The system is consciously aligned with other cultural drivers, e.g. our core capabilities framework which emphasises a commitment to learning for growth and development and our guiding principles which emphasise honest conversation in the context of becoming the best we can be both individually and organisationally.
We believe this type of cultural alignment is critical because the pervading spirit of an organisation’s aspirations and relationships have a profound impact on how performance review is focused, carried out and experienced. In turn, the review process itself can have profound impact on organisational culture, reinforcing core values (e.g. collaborative working) or, conversely, creating anger, suspicion and mistrust. In functional terms, appraisal is a cultural indicator and intervention, not simply a management/HR tool. Our own system and approach is designed to encourage and support personal ownership of learning, development and performance with the manager acting primarily as mentor and facilitator. This is consistent with our broader Christian tradition of self-examination with support from peers and leaders.
We frame appraisal organisationally as a positive and forward-looking review that seeks to enable on-going reflection, learning and achievement. In this sense, the process is aligned with other organisational learning processes such as learning reviews that follow significant projects or events. Feedback is an important part of the awareness-raising process and, although people often yearn for input, they may need reassurance that it will be delivered in a helpful manner. ‘I want to know how I’m doing but I need to hear it in terms that build me up, not tear me down.’ We have, therefore, trained managers in how to give and receive feedback using a simple 6-stage model, emphasising development as the pervasive underlying intention. The manager approaches the review in affirming conversational style, encouraging self-reflection, constructive criticism and learning:
· What went well? · What was tricky/challenging? · What would you do differently next time? · Would you like feedback from me? · What I thought was good? · What I thought you might do differently next time?
The performance development system as a whole incorporates goal setting at the start of the year, review at mid-year and formal review at the end of the year. It’s cultural characteristics are most clearly evident in how it was created and continues to be updated, what it proposes as ‘good performance’ and how the process works in practice. We have described aspects of this system (e.g. design, goal-setting, coaching) in earlier articles in this series but we would remind readers that we look for and support performance in three interlinked goal areas: task achievement, core capabilities and personal development (incorporating professional and spiritual development). Success indicators are discussed and co-defined at the start of the year and provide a basis for review.
The formal annual performance review starts with staff identifying two or three key stakeholders from whom to seek feedback, particularly on how well they have demonstrated the organisation’s core capabilities (e.g. how well they have communicated information) and priority areas for future development. We define stakeholders in this context as those whose work is most impacted by that of the staff member as this encourages awareness of linkages between roles throughout the organisation and moves outside a more traditional 360-degree hierarchical view. The individual then presents the list of stakeholders to their manager for discussion and agreement before approaching the stakeholders for feedback.
This is a point in the process at which certain cultural factors are particularly significant. Firstly, staff are encouraged to take the initiative on identifying stakeholders, not the manager. Secondly, staff and manager discuss and agree stakeholders to ensure a shared understanding of stakeholder maps, relationships and impacts. Thirdly, the staff member approaches stakeholders for feedback, not the manager. The manager’s role at this stage is to coach staff on how best to obtain honest feedback from stakeholders who may be reluctant to offer criticism or struggle to be specific. A systemic incentive for staff to obtain honest feedback is that awareness of strengths and development priorities and a positive commitment to address them is regarded organisationally as a sign of ‘good performance’.
Once staff have obtained feedback, they meet with their manager for a formal review which starts with the manager helping them reflect on and evaluate their own performance overall over the previous 12-month period. This includes achievements, setbacks, influencing factors and how they dealt with them, growth areas and quality of relationships with colleagues and other parties. Staff are also encouraged to reflect on and analyse stakeholder feedback before the manager offers his or her own summary feedback. We believe the summary should include no surprises for either party if coaching and on-going review throughout the year has been consistent and well-managed.
We provide briefings on the system as part of our induction process and periodic briefings/refreshers for any managers or staff who would like to attend. The briefings focus on the cultural values the system seeks to represent and reinforce as well as its core procedures. We also provide guidance notes and interactive seminars on topics ranging from coaching skills to handing difficult performance conversations. The emphasis throughout is on forward-looking dialogue leading to enhanced, collaborative performance and relationships.
Learning and development priorities identified during the annual review process feed forward into the subsequent personal goal-setting process. The OD Team meets with leaders at the end of the review process to scan results for organisational learning themes and our mid-year staff survey tests how far and well themes have been addressed. In light of our experience in this area, we would pose the following questions for those seeking to develop a similar system or approach:
· Which organisational values that you would like your performance development system to reflect and reinforce?
· What attitudes or behaviours may need to be addressed in order to ensure that performance review is experienced as positive and developmental?
· What training and other support may be needed for managers and staff to embed and sustain the system’s ethos and processes?
· How will you monitor and evaluate the system’s effectiveness for personal and organisational development?