Since the dawn of time, or at least the dawn of Human Resources, organizations have wrestled with how to deal with Performance Management. It seems that like everything else, Performance Management Systems are susceptible to trends and fads, based on whatever a CEO or HR Executive may read in the in-flight business magazine or in the current HBR.
Recently, we have found clients going two completely different directions with Performance Appraisals: 1) Performance Reviews are done more than once a year, usually quarterly or semi-annually; or 2) Formal Performance Reviews are not done at all, the expectation being that feedback is given in a regular and consistent manner. Regardless of direction, what seems constant is that whatever an organization does now, will probably change in 3 years (a symptom of discontent with how well it works).
The reality is that there are two aspects to Performance Appraisals and they are: Administrative Decisions (e.g. promotion, raises, etc.) and Performance Improvement (e.g. developmental feedback, goal setting for the next year, etc.). I want to focus on the Performance Improvement aspect here, and identify another method to achieve this outside of formal Performance Appraisals. The best way to positively shape performance in a consistent manner, is to create a Coaching Culture within your organization and create a self-reinforcing, feedback-rich environment. Here are 4 tips to accomplishing that:
Train Managers to be Coaches
Some great coaches are born that way, but for most it is a learned art. If you want to create a Coaching Culture, it begins with leadership. You must cultivate managers who are good coaches and engage in coaching behaviors and activities. A little goes a long way, so begin by focusing in one area of the organization and hopefully you can watch these new coaching behaviors spread to other parts of the organization. Below are ideas for how to develop managers:
Create a coaching class that specifically identifies necessary behaviors
Provide a coach to managers- they can learn by doing
Create a coaching model: a step by step approach to providing coaching (see Apex Model)
Implement Team Coaching Projects
The best developmental opportunities come from on the job experiences. Team coaching projects maximize that benefit and create an environment where coaching is both learned and integrated into the fabric of the organization. Team coaching pulls together team members and focuses them on a real issue or objective facing the organization and leverages the collective wisdom to find a solution (see Apex Model). A by-product of this is that the team members learn from one another and hold each other accountable in new, powerful ways. This process can and will engender new coaching behaviors within the team and hopefully spread throughout the organization. Examples of Team Coaching Projects:
Perform a SWOT on a business unit and identify new market opportunities
Have each team member share a challenge they are currently facing and get ideas/suggestions on how to handle it from the other members
Have the team create a common goal with action plans and work together to reach the goal
Offer Peer to Peer Coaching
Peer to Peer Coaching often evolves from Team Coaching (see Apex Model), but it can also be implemented independently (see Peer Coaching Overview) . The idea is that employees can share best practices with one another and practice the art of giving feedback in a “safe” space. When a formal space is given to peer to peer coaching, an organization is developing the expectation that feedback is normal and expected of team members. This will usually transcend the formal program and permeate the organization as a whole. Some factors to consider when implementing are:
Try to put employees together from disparate parts of the organization (this prevents fear and promotes openness and honesty)
Employees can have multiple peer coaches for different skills they are working on. For example, someone with excellent presentation skills can coach them on that while a different employee can coach them on project management skills
Ensure that accountability for behavior/skill improvement is built into the process.
Use External Coaches when Appropriate
Internal coaches are invaluable but sometimes you need external resources. This is usually because there is a need for an impartial partner (with no fear of vulnerability) or there is some particular expertise necessary from the coach. An external coach is usually able to get an employee to open up more quickly and fully, since they not as invested in the issue(s) or potential outcomes. There is also something to be said for a “professional” coach who does that as their “day job,” and not as something on top of their regular responsibilities. External coaches provide a process and framework to the experience and are skilled at holding employees accountable to appropriate coaching milestones (see Apex Milestones). Some considerations when choosing to use an external coach are:
Give multiple coaches as options- coaching is about synergy and “fit” between the two parties
Behavioral change takes time so the length of engagement should start at 6 or 9 months with the option to extend.
See Apex Readiness Inventory
There are many ways to create a Culture of Coaching in your organization. A few of these include, 1) training managers to be coaches, 2) implementing Team Coaching, 3) promoting Peer to Peer Coaching, and 4) using external coaches. An organization with a strong Coaching Culture benefits by making continuous performance improvement a focus of every employee resulting in better organizational performance.