Putting the Employee at the Center of Performance

February 18, 2021 Lynne Levy

3-minute read

(This post is the latest in our continuing series, highlighting each chapter in the recently published book, “Making Work Human.”) 

Over the past few years, we have seen a significant shift from the annual performance review to a continuous performance management process. The continuous performance process is now ongoing, crowdsourced, and focused on learning and growth. In the third chapter of "Making Work Human," Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine contend that the ultimate learning technology to grow performance is actually the conversation between two people.

Flip the focus

Organizations need to flip the focus from past performance to future development when discussing growth and performance. Gary Hamel, thought leader and futurist states: "Make the discussion 20 percent about the past and 80 percent about the future. Since "the future" is always changing, the best performance development process is designed to help employees deal with that degree of change right at the time it happens."  

Feedback – From fear to growth

Humans crave feedback. Positive feedback reinforces behavior with positive feelings such as pride or a sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, traditional feedback styles often feel negative. They affirm the bureaucratic power imbalance between manager and employee.  

The only way feedback can become a more positive process is when developing and growing the individual becomes more important than preserving and growing control structures. Developmental feedback is centered around the employee, not the organization.  

Feedback – Make it agile 

On a continuous basis, giving and receiving feedback is where the tenets of the human enterprise converge with the need to be more agile and flexible. Feedback can come from one individual manager or a team of peers. If people are trying to improve performance in one area, they don't have to wait a year to get feedback. Instead, they can try a new technique, and if no improvement appears, the review can empower them to try something else.  

Everyone is a student 

One of the most effective ways to increase performance is to consider learning as an ongoing process, not just tied to formal training or an end of year review. Ongoing communication among all human enterprise members weaves learning into the flow of work: conversations between the manager and employee, conversations among peers, conversations with far-flung members of the company who might otherwise never meet or exchange ideas.  Continuous learning means feedback can come from anywhere.  

Picture a network of resources surrounding a single employee. The employee in the center of this network is responsible for reaching out and actively learning—self-management. That can only happen in a culture of trust. If you reach out, the resources will be there. Recognition and social connection helps build the trust that encourages this kind of initiative.  

In the human enterprise, everyone is a student, and everyone is potentially a coach. Employees are surrounded by an invisible network of skills, ideas, reactions, insights, and life experiences from others.  

Manager as a coach 

The next level of performance management feedback resides with the manager, who is more coach than commander. Workhuman®surveys show an overwhelming employee preference for continuous check-ins with managers, whether the conversation is purely positive feedback or constructive and developmental feedback. 

When managers and employees have mutual respect, mutual interest in each other's development, and a mutual desire to successfully move forward, development becomes an ongoing process. The development happens in the conversation between the manager and employee. The frequent, focused, and less-formal conversations are called check-ins, similar to project status meetings, but concentrating on continuous improvement for the employee.  

It's about the data

Imagine what the future holds with the data that comes from recognition, feedback, and check ins.  Stacia Sherman Garr of RedThread Research talks about artificial intelligence applications being on the verge of providing simple, real-time coaching to supplement manager or crowdsourced feedback. "It might come in the form of nudges and suggestions in the flow of work we're doing, helping us make better decisions."  

Organizational growth is dependent on every employee. Enabling employees to grow on a continuous basis builds trust, commitment, engagement, and productivity. Continuous performance management is not about being nice but empowering and growing people to drive success for both the organization and the employee. 

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About the Author

Lynne Levy

Lynne Levy is a Workhuman evangelist who lives and breathes helping organizations build cultures that bring out the best in the employees. Her mantra is “do what you love, love what you do.”

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