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Performance Management and a Growth Mindset

This post has been co-authored by Carlos Davidovich and Fran Sardone

Carlos Davidovich, Optimum Talent’s Neuromanagement Coach, and I have been discussing the upcoming event Reinventing Performance Management on June 21. We’ve been reading some of Deloitte’s publications and swapping performance review stories – misery loves company!

For Carlos, whose first career was as a medical doctor, this topic gives him a chuckle:

I studied medicine at a public university in Argentina, surrounded by scores of students in each class and almost no contact with the professors. The only chance to succeed and progress was passing the yearly exam. We were very curious about how other educational models were dealing with this situation (Harvard, etc.). As students we heard that Ivy League medical schools started with 100 students and finished with 100 students! Then we were told that in those schools, in those models, there were no exams. The professor/student contact was so high that a final yearly exam was not needed. When the learner was having difficulties, the issues were addressed immediately, so that learning could advance and the stu-dent could progress.

This ‘leave no learner behind’ philosophy reminded me of my past job at a university teaching and learning department.

Fran: Deloitte seems to be making the distinction between summative and formative feedback, concepts well known in education.

• Summative feedback is quantitative:
Your assignment is graded as B- or 73%. It’s a judgement about a past event fixed in time (like an exam), consequently the stakes are high.

• Formative feedback is qualitative:
Your assignment strengths and weaknesses are reviewed and discussed. It’s an appreciation of the ongoing situation by both parties. Since feedback gives the opportunity to improve perfor-mance, the stakes are low.

Josh Bersin of Deloitte does a great job of explaining the myth of the bell curve approach to performance management. Like the 100% final medical exam, force ranking doesn’t do anything to help people grow and perform better.

So here’s the question I have for Carlos:

Fran: In a higher education setting, I’m willing to receive feedback from a professor because she’s an expert in the subject I’m studying. Why am I willing to accept feed-back from a manager who might be senior to me in hierarchy, but not necessarily in professional or technical expertise?

Carlos: One of the key components of a performance feedback process is trust, in both directions. The manager needs to trust that the employee is right for the role. The employee needs to trust that the manager is competent and supportive. They have to believe in one another and cultivate a growth mind-set. Together they can work on the potential inherent in the employee to get the job done on behalf of the organization. The way to provoke this is by leaving the ball in the employee’s court – the work belongs to him. But the only way the employee succeeds organizationally is through regular, continuous, supportive dialogue so that he stays on course.

Can organizations actually change gears sufficiently to cultivate this type of environment? Time will tell.

Judges Or Auctioneer Gavel And Money On The Wooden Table

Reinventing Performance Management

When I was training leaders on the topic of feedback, we always joked about that day when you received the email, with many attachments from HR: Performance Assessment day is coming! It was universally viewed as a burden, one more thing to do. It was done quickly to get back to real work. The prevailing sentiment was, ‘Oh brother, I’ve got so many other important things to do right now’. This experience was consistent across 10-15 countries, different cultures and different sectors. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘what a great opportunity to work on my team’s development’.

One of the responsibilities of any leader is to support people in their performance and their development, and this activity is a continuous process. The good news is that when you get used to performance feedback as a continuous process, it becomes easier, quicker and definitely effective. You don’t wait until the next year for results, the results come daily.

Let’s call things by their real names.

In one of my classes, students were asked to role-play a performance review. The student playing the employee was arguing and debating every comment and point issued by his ‘manager’. I didn’t understand what was going on so I stopped the role-play and asked the ‘employee’ why he took this approach. The ‘employee’ explained that in his company, everyone knew how much money was assigned to a particular rating. So he was placed in the position of defending his salary. The performance review had transformed from a discussion to a negotiation.

What is a performance review?

There is a universally implicit belief that the performance review is an evaluation, and being evaluated results in negative psychological and emotional triggers. Traditionally these evaluations have been a judgement about past performance. The performance review process should really be about the future and about improvement. Consequently this means that the manager must transform from a judge to a mirror. In this way you create the right scenario, which is:

  • the employee is accountable for their ongoing performance
  • the manager is supportive of the employee in their role while keeping the employee performance aligned with organizational needs.

In short, the manager maintains the organizational context in which the employee performs and improves in their role.