Manage Performance without Authority

In a recent blog, I defined collaboration as mutual responsibility. A key element of this definition is the idea of being responsible for results without the “illusion of control.” I cannot compel others to commit or perform, but I can ask directly for their commitments, reinforce effective performance, and engage and manage any performance that is off-track.

This idea may seem self-evident, but you couldn’t tell by observing the everyday conversations in most organizations. From direct observations, data collection I’ve done, and anecdotes I’ve heard, such conversations are avoided more frequently than engaged. And, if people ever do engage, it’s typically when they can no longer avoid it, so the conversation happens under stress, at speed, and with uncertain skill. These factors often lead to poor results (which perpetuates continued avoidance).

If you want to improve results, you must improve the frequency and quality of performance management conversations, throughout the organization. To accomplish this goal, you must address the two major roadblocks – commitment and capability.

Commitment Roadblocks
Following are some common reasons why many people choose to avoid these critical conversations.

• “it’s not my job” – Common leadership models reinforce the notion that only managers should manage performance. This notion enables people to avoid a conversation they might not want to have anyway.

• “it’s messy” – Most people I train report that they see this conversation as uncomfortable, that it leads to conflicts that aren’t easily resolved.

• “it’s dangerous” – Finally, if this critical conversation must be conducted with someone seen as an authority figure, then it’s not only seen as potentially messy but possibly career limiting as well.

Capability Roadblocks
Following are common skills gaps that can limit effectiveness with performance management conversations.

confuse performance management with appraisal – Effective performance management is about keeping performance on-track, so you can achieve results. Appraisal is about judging performance after the fact. These tasks are often confused, to the detriment of individual and organization success.

lack the skills to diagnose the causes of off-track performance – Effective performance management requires the ability to identify a gap in performance and then accurately determine its cause. If you can’t describe the gap or identify its cause or accurately identify the related skill, then it’s very difficult to determine why performance is off-track.

lack the perspective or skills to identify an effective remedy – Finally, even if you can correctly identify the correct causes of a performance gap, you must then be capable of offering some new approach that can close the gap and achieve the expected result.

So, what steps can you take to improve your performance management?

1. Improve your skills to describe expected performance.
-never talk in code (avoid words like ownership, accountability, etc.)
-focus first on results (conditions that will exist when performance is complete)
-talk about the actions and style needed to create the expected results

2. Negotiate expectations using a collaborative style.

3. Confront off-track performance as soon as possible.
-confront results, actions, and/or style
-use a direct, descriptive, non-judgmental style

4. Focus first on diagnosis, not problem solving.

5. Understand the thinking that drives actions and style.

6. Ask for options before offering remedies.

7. Unpack and address your own commitment roadblocks to having this conversation.

If you have questions about how to build performance management skills and to improve performance please contact me directly.