Friday, November 14, 2008

In Hindsight: Barriers to Renewal

"Set your limits early and high, because hitchhikers have the uncanny ability to detect just how much they can get away with."
- Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter. 12: The Elements of Great Managing. 2006.

In January 2008 I was asked to deliver a talk to a group of 250 employees from a federal department. I developed a presentation entitled “Bottom-Up Change: It Starts With An Individual”, which was largely based on the concepts I discuss in Part 3 of “An Inconvenient Renewal” (i.e. the barriers and levers). By far, what resonated the most with people was the notion of unmanaged poor performance. In the presentation, I tell a story inspired by two real-life situations that took place in the federal public service. It is truly amazing how much this segment of the presentation gets the attention of everyone in the room. I could only conclude one thing: everyone has had the misfortune of witnessing a case of unmanaged poor performance… and people resent it deeply.

Managing poor performers may very well be the single most difficult thing a supervisor has to do. I would argue that adequately addressing poor performance issues requires to blend all the top interpersonal and communication skills at once.

In my organization, we wanted to improve the quality of people management, and we figured that if we could get our supervisors to be skilled in the single most difficult aspect of their job, the rest should follow naturally and we should notice a major improvement in the quality of supervision. So we did a number of things:
  • We signed-up all our supervisors to a supervisory skills course which focused largely on dealing with poor performers and holding difficult conversations with employees (the course received very positive reviews, thanks to the high calibre of the facilitator).
  • The Director set clear expectations about how he wanted supervisors to do their job, and made that known to all the staff so that everyone in the organization knew that: 1) supervisors had the permission to deal with poor performers; 2) supervisors would be held accountable for managing performance of staff; 3) managing performance is not simply something you do once a year in the annual performance appraisal – it’s a daily thing.
  • With that in mind, we gave every supervisor a book on how to give accurate feedback to employees.
  • Along with the book, we attached a letter in which the Director reiterated his expectations but also acknowledged that managing performance of staff is not always an easy thing to do (see sample letter).
  • The Director included a personal hand-written inscription inside each copy of the book we gave to our 70 supervisors, therefore signalling to individual supervisors that indeed he knows them and would hold them personally accountable for managing the performance of their staff.
  • Each time we hold a staff or conference call, the Director makes a point of reinforcing the message that performance management is one of his top priorities, that poor performance will be addressed, and that unmanaged performance will be not tolerated.
Some of these things may appear mundane, but combined together over a sustained period of time, they form a coherent strategy which suggests that performance management is not just a fad or the new "priority of the day", but rather something we want to build into the organization's culture so that it becomes part of the way we do things. And it looks like we are off to a good start...

Last year our Directorate had a 98% completion rate for the annual performance appraisals - probably the highest in the Department given the fairly large size of the unit. Furthermore, all the annual performance appraisals were done using the "long form" (i.e. no check box, all narrative), which means all employees were also given an opportunity to develop an individual learning plan. Many supervisors have also incorporated the Key Leadership Competencies in the performance appraisals as a means to set clear performance expectations with employees (see posting on the Bottom-Up Renewal site for details).

Please feel free to take a closer look at Bottom-Up Renewal and contribute some of your own organizational practices.

Also please take a moment to take the poll on the top right-hand corner of this page!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.