I advocate a systemic approach to improving organizational agility. One system that is often created and implemented with little or no regard to how it impacts agility is performance management. How we establish goals, reinforce and evaluate performance, and define excellence is usually born from a combination of corporate goals and job descriptions.
But will that reinforce agility? Where does agility show up in your organizational systems?
- Common performance management elements that might inadvertently inhibit individual and team:
- Prescriptive goals (do this + do that= do it this way = get __ rating).
- Narrow goals (produce XX widgets).
- Predefined levels of performance for rating XX (see below for more on this one).
- Not including agility, flexibility, adaptability in goals or core competencies.
The bottom line is this - if your system rewards too much compliance or status quo, don't expect agility.
My list included a point that requires a bit more explanation. This might be controversial, but here goes: I do not think it is possible to pre-define (define at the beginning of the performance period) what "meets expectation" or "exceeds expectations" performance will be AND I don't think you should try. MANY of my clients try to do this, they want to do this (it gives them comfort), and I try to talk them out of attempting this. I assume I am not successful most of the time.
Here's the scenario. The manager defines a goal or performance standard. He (we will call the manager Jack) assumes that the standard as he has defined it corresponds to a "meets expectations" rating. This may seem reasonable to you, but I think of it as building error INTO your system.
My take: You CANNOT know what meets or exceed expectations performance will look like in January for the whole year. You do not know what challenges the performer will face (mitigating circumstances) and you cannot fully define the all important HOWs. You might say that you want Sally to manage project XYZ such that the team collaborates, but what does that look like in terms of meets expectations? You don't know and you don't want to define it. You want your performer to creatively lead the project. AND Sally deserves to be evaluated based on her efforts and results, which won't happen if you try to predefine everything.
And for those of you who are thinking, "well I only care about the deadline and financial aspects of the project," well, we need to talk. Think about what separates great performance and mediocre performance - this is almost never something you can define a year before it happens.
And one more thing - many of my clients who struggle with this idea say that their employees deserve to know what they need to do to get a meets or exceeds rating at the beginning of the year. BUNK! If you define it, you are being LESS fair and LESS accurate and LESS motivating. Let your employees know how you define excellence and that you will look at their contributions, consider a variety of information, and seek broad input abut their performance and then render an evaluation - this is your job as a manager and this is what great managers do. If you predefine things, you are basically telling your employee that you do not have a strength and capability to evaluate performance.
Thoughts? Want adaptable teams? Take a fresh look at your performance management systems and practices.