When we talk about performance management, we’re often talking about the more traditional approaches to managing performance, such as annual appraisals.
But this is no longer the only approach, nor is it the most effective.
Organizations are now increasingly transforming the way they manage their people, by moving towards a culture of performance enablement.
But what exactly is this? And why’s it so important?
In this article, we’ll not only outline what performance enablement is, but we’ll also provide practical guidance on how you can support the managers across your organization in developing the skills and knowledge they need to develop as coaches, and get more from the people they manage.
- Performance enablement vs performance management
- How performance enablement influences organizational performance
- Evaluating performance
Performance enablement vs performance management
For many organizations, ‘performance management’ is still very much limited to formal reviews that take place at best, every six months.
But while there is still a place for these types of performance-related conversation, they can no longer be relied on in isolation.
Because employees need more. They need ongoing developmental support from their managers, and they need regular feedback.
They want to know what they’re doing well, and how they could do better. And they don’t want to find out months down the line. Ultimately, they want performance enablement.
Also referred to as performance development and continuous performance management, performance enablement is an ongoing process where managers effectively enable their team members to continually improve and develop.
So while this approach doesn’t necessarily replace the more formal reviews, it does mean that employees no longer have to wait six months or a year to receive performance-related feedback, as this feedback is instead delivered on a timely and far more regular basis. What’s more, it sees managers having regular check-ins with their direct reports, something that as many as 96% of employees actively seek.
But what approach is right for your business? The more traditional approach to performance management or performance enablement?
Well, there’s a reason why teams and individuals thrive in organizations built on a culture of feedback and coaching. There’s also a reason why an increasing number of employees are leaving companies that favor once-a-year performance appraisals that typically emphasize the negatives over the positives, and stifle development. And if they’ve not (yet) left them, they will tend to be distrusting of them and have lower levels of psychological safety. Which then of course leads to lower levels of productivity and engagement.
But let’s look at both in a bit more detail:
- Performance management (in the traditional sense) often refers to the static approach of managing employees solely through annual appraisals, In fact, some companies will even rate and rank employees against one another. Unsurprisingly, this approach does little in the way of inspiring or developing employees, because instead of looking forwards at how to develop employees, it looks backwards.
- Performance enablement on the other hand is a more fluid practice. Team leads hold continuous regular, honest, insightful discussions with individuals and teams, about their performance. These continuous discussions require the manager to be a coach in order to support ongoing employee performance development. It also enhances employee experience by enabling employees and teams to achieve their full potential, through feedback, coaching and development.
How performance enablement influences organizational performance
So, how can you move the needle on organizational performance?
In short, by enabling the individual elements that contribute to it—the individuals within a team, the teams as a whole, and those leading your teams.
Individual employee enablement
At the heart of any organization is its people, and these people need to be given the opportunities to grow and develop in their roles.
But that's not all they need.
For employees to be engaged, productive and performing at the top of their game, they also need to feel valued and appreciated. They need to believe that that their manager—and the wider organization—wants to see them succeed and is committed to helping them achieve their goals, both personally and professionally.
But what can managers do to help these individuals thrive? How can they support employee enablement?
Below, we have outlined five factors for enabling individual performance.
Only when an employee has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, can they understand the contribution they make to the team and the organization's success.
In fact, by having an understanding of what they're working towards, your managers will also be able to hold them accountable to their commitments, which is key to helping them reach their full potential.
Eva Taylor, Content Manager at WP Buffs says:
“Prioritize tasks and assign them with clear instructions. Ensure every employee at your workplace is well aware of their responsibilities and knows what their job is. When assigning tasks to teams, [give] employees assigned targets with clear responsibilities and instructions.”
Employees should understand their strengths and weaknesses, and should be effectively coached by their managers to improve on the latter. What's more, your managers should also be leveraging their individual strengths as part of the wider team composition.
But how can managers gain a better understanding of their team's capabilities?
Well, one way is through the use of a psychometric profiling tool, which can help them not only understand each team member's strengths and weaknesses, but also their values and motivations.
This information shouldn't just be documented and left though, it should form the basis of developmental conversations—such as one-to-ones—as well as the feedback they provide.
Shoaib Mughal, Founder at Marketix talked to us about the importance of having regular one-to-ones:
“Give time to have a one-on-one with your employees and check their progress and the challenges that they encounter with their work. What hinders them from providing quality outputs? Are there any grievances in the workplace? How are they doing in life generally? These types of questions are not included in the formal appraisals but significantly affect their work performance.”
Not all one-to-ones should be the same, and managers should ensure that their meeting cadence includes having occasional conversations around career development, in addition to the more regular—often weekly—check-ins.
According to Riley Beam, Managing Attorney at Douglas R. Beam, it's also important to be promoting learning and development.
“Provide training and promote learning. When every member of the team dedicates a portion of their day to learning something new about their work process or experiments with a new solution, that helps make their tasks easier, [plus] you know this kind of team is always moving forward… developing a workplace mentality that is always about improvement and growth.”
If you need agendas for career development conversations, you’ll find inspiration in our 10 essential one-to-one meeting agenda templates blog post.
Deepening relationships with peers is vital to improving not only individual performance, but perhaps even more importantly, team performance. But in order to build better connections, there needs to be a level of communication, trust and understanding.
This isn't always as easy as it sounds, particularly when team members work from different locations, or even have different cultures.
With a psychometric profiling tool, employees can better understand the people they work with, including their working styles and communication preferences. It can also help them understand the dynamics of the team—or teams—they belong to.
Conversations about compensation often have no place in performance development conversations. In fact, this type of conversation should happen in a more formal annual appraisal, and kept separate from the more frequent development conversations.
Because ultimately, people will often be hesitant to show vulnerability and talk about their weaknesses, if they think it could impact their salary.
Team performance enablement
While managers need to focus on enabling individual performance, they also need to be considering team enablement as well.
But what do we mean by that?
Too many performance management approaches—even some modern approaches—still focus too much on individual performance, and not enough on team performance, even though most of the work happens at the team level.
Managers need to adopt a team performance enablement approach that focuses on group coaching and feedback, removing obstacles, as well as developing the necessary skills to transform the team from mediocre to high performing.
Only when an organization adopts a performance management approach that focuses on both individuals and team development, can a team be successful.
But what enables high performance in teams?
Setting team goals is essential for team enablement.
Because by setting these goals, every team member will understand what the company is trying to achieve, how the team can support this, and what their contribution is.
That’s not all though.
Setting specific goals for teams will encourage team members to reach higher than they might otherwise do.
High performance teams hold themselves and each other individually accountable for the tasks and goals they’ve committed to achieving. Without accountability, teams won’t take ownership of tasks and work won’t get done.
In fact, high performing teams are built on a foundation of accountability and they practice it daily, not just when something goes wrong, but in every meeting and interaction.
A sense of purpose enables team performance by giving everyone a collective meaning to what they’re doing and why their role exists. In fact, it can also help guide their decision making, allowing for better prioritization, which in turn ensures that time is being wasted on tasks that don't fulfil the purpose.
Simon Slade, CEO at Double Dot Media says:
“One way we bolster team performance is by building pride in the company. For example, team outings build camaraderie—employees get to know one another personally and professionally, which promotes collaboration. By having fun together and enjoying the perks of company outings, staff members feel greater pride in the company, knowing we truly care about them and their happiness. Pride in one's company leads to greater pride in one's work, which leads to overall better job performance and therefore better overall company performance."
Another thing that high-performing teams have in common is an established set of agreed team norms.
In other words, they have agreed on a set of behaviors that outline what's expected of one another. This includes both in and out of meetings. In fact, you can take a look at some examples of meeting ground rules here.
These agreed upon behaviors ultimately enable the team to increase its performance by providing clear expectations around inclusivity and trust, for example, which in turn impacts psychological safety.
Leszek Dudkiewicz, Head of Marketing & SEO at Passport Photo Online says:
“Create a positive and enthusiastic work environment where it is safe to fail. Many people are terrified of making mistakes that block their potential and value—in contrast, building a well-being workplace where celebratory, instructive, and constructive feedback is the solution. If errors are hidden, there is no space for learning and improvement, neither the employee nor the team.”
Team composition also plays a vital role in team enablement. Why? Because by understanding the makeup of the team—the different abilities, personalities, roles, diversity and even size—managers can drive better outcomes by playing to each team member’s strengths.
Developing and maintaining good habits at work enables success across the board. At Saberr, we’ve established seven habits of highly effective teams: feedback, one-to-ones, culture crafting, meeting effectiveness, team goals, reflection and wellbeing.
Instilling these habits in not only the team members, but also the managers that lead the teams, enables both team performance and organizational performance.
Balanced feedback enables high performance in teams. How? By helping them grow and learn from both their successes and mistakes. As Ken Blanchard said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
The success of your teams is only as good as the managers that lead them.
Which means that if you want your people to thrive, then you need to also ensure that your managers are able to make this happen, and that you're effectively developing them as leaders.
Brian Hong, CEO at Infintech Designs sums it up nicely:
“If you want to increase the performance of your team, your leadership should also level up. Do not just rely on your subordinates, [managers need to do their] job as their leader.”
But how can you get more from your managers?
Develop managers as coaches
For managers to not only get the best from their team members—both collectively and individually—they need to be having continuous performance conversations.
But as part of this, they also need to be able to coach them. Which means that they need to be coached themselves. More specifically, they need to be given the opportunity to learn how to have coaching conversations, how to handle difficult conversations, and how to develop the skills that will let them do both—think empathy, resilience and even how to be more inclusive leaders.
But as important as it is for managers to act as coaches, there will also be times they need to manage. After all, teams often need their leaders to do both.
Not sure when managers should manage and when they should coach? We've covered it all in detail here.
Help leaders develop the right people management skills
For leaders to be successful, they need a certain skillset. In many instances, these particular people management skills will need to be developed, or worked on.
While we've listed them all here, it's often the role of HR to ensure that managers across the business are given the opportunities to learn them, and then put them into practice in a real world setting.
Train them to provide feedback
Ensure your leaders are trained to provide (and be open to receiving) constructive feedback. Then, give them the means to be able to provide this feedback on a regular basis, until it becomes a habit.
Creating a culture of performance enablement can offer huge benefits to the performance of your organization, but also the productivity, engagement and happiness of your employees.
But to fully understand what's working, what's not working, and what needs to be improved, you also need to be regularly evaluating the performance of your managers, your teams, and your individual employees.
But what does this look like?
Below, we have outlined some of the ways you can start measuring the effectiveness of your performance enablement efforts.
Monitor team performance
One of the most effective ways to assess team performance is by tracking team outputs and measuring performance metrics. In fact, this is another reason why it's so important to have team goals.
- What are the team outputs like compared to their goals?
- Are projects being finished?
- Is the team successful? Are they successfully contributing to organizational success?
Monitor other team outcomes
In addition to looking at performance metrics, you should also seek to understand the levels of psychological safety in your teams, as well as levels of employee engagement. This can provide invaluable insights into how happy your employees are, something that has been proven to improve productivity and performance.
You should therefore:
- Conduct regular pulse surveys. In fact, with a tool such as Saberr, you'll even be able to pinpoint the teams that require additional support in this area.
- Run employee engagement surveys.
- Request specific feedback from employees.
- Monitor employee retention.
Conduct periodic team health checks
One of the best ways to gauge what's working and what's not is by conducting team health checks. In fact, they're a great way to assess a team's performance and see how all of the team's across your organization stack up against one another.
But how exactly do these health checks work?
Well, with a tool such as Saberr, you can gather employee data by conducting a regular pulse survey, and use the results to understand:
- How good communication is within each team
- What relations are like between team members
- Whether or not the team has good levels of psychological safety
- Whether team members feel safe sharing ideas or raising concerns
Monitor habit formation
For many organizations, it can be difficult to track whether managers are adopting good management practices. In other words, whether they're tracking the habits proven to enable high performance in teams.
With Saberr's habit tracker, you can easily see the context of each team across your organization, understand what's working well, and where there are challenges that need addressing.
You'll also get a sense of the readiness to change in each team, and be able to compare the levels of motivation.
In addition to this, you'll be able to see:
- If they're adopting good habits
- Whether they're giving and receiving feedback on a regular basis
- Whether managers are holding regular, inclusive meetings
- Whether they're adhering to team norms
- What the levels of psychological safety are like within each team
- Whether they're holding regular team reflections to determine what is and isn't working
- Their wellbeing
How Saberr supports performance enablement
At Saberr, we can help you transform your approach to performance management, by working with you and your managers to change mindsets, introduce culture change, develop new skills, and reinforce these skills in a real-world setting.
We do this through a combination of both experiential and digital coaching.
While our bespoke masterclasses and coaching sessions will equip your managers with the specific knowledge they need to develop not only themselves, but also their teams, our digital platform reinforces this knowledge, helping them put their learning into practice, and encouraging them to develop the habits they need to lead high performing teams.