What Comes First In Performance Management: The Practice or The Tool?

In this three-part blog series, Namely’s VP of Product, Brian Crofts, and Namely’s HR Advisor, Sneh Kadakia, are stepping back to look at both sides of the performance management spectrum. By uniting product expertise and HR experience, we hope to offer guidance for those tasked with driving a successful performance management strategy.


As HR professionals who closely follow performance management trends, one of the biggest questions is: “What comes first when deciding on the right performance management approach for my company? Is it the practice (i.e. what to do), or the tool (i.e. how to do it)?


Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Most of us are still in the process of determining the best solution for our company, with its particular culture and talent pool.
 

Today, in the first of our three-part series, we start with a look at why performance management matters—and the impact it can have on how your entire organization functions.

Performance Management is a Team Sport


Your employees are at the heart of performance management. As an HR leader, your goal is to enhance engagement and retain top talent. The practice you adopt impacts your feedback culture, leadership outlook, and the ROI your entire organization experiences. And there are so many decision points that go into figuring out the right “formula” for your company. So where to begin?


Consider a look back at Brian’s high school basketball days. This is the story of two teams and two coaches. Both teams shared the same players, so only the coaches diverged. Let’s think of the coaches as the people managers.


Coach 1 was very stern and demanded perfection on the court. As soon as a player made a mistake during the game, he was benched. The coach’s feedback was direct, but always negative. As a result, the players focused more on perfecting their individual performance than on teamwork. It was not about playing to win as a team; it was playing not to make a mistake.


Coach 2, on the other hand, emphasized teamwork. When mistakes were made, he let the team play on. Players weren’t benched, but were encouraged to learn from their mistakes. He only pulled players out of a game when he saw a pattern emerge, and then he delivered one-on-one constructive feedback. The players had the freedom to be more innovative and bold in their approach to basketball. And the coach held the entire team accountable for achieving collective goals. The approach brought out the best in each player and the team.
 

As in Basketball...


What happened with Coach 2 aligns directly with what we want to achieve in the workplace: individuals, teams, and departments working to deliver on company goals. Encouraging your people managers to create a positive culture of feedback sets the tone for the entire organization.


It is vital to establish trust with your employees, all while tailoring your “coaching style” to them. Ask each person on your team how they want to get feedback. Learning to better give and receive feedback allows for open and strong relationships with your team.


The last takeaway here is the value of the one-on-one performance conversation in driving the overall team goal. This is where the coach or people manager is vital. In Brian’s experience as a leader, this means asking each member of your team: 1) Did you personally achieve the desired outcome? Why or why not? 2) How would you work with your team on the desired outcome moving forward, given your experience and the feedback shared? Help employees see the impact their roles have not only on their day-to-day responsibilities, but on the team and company.


What’s Right for Your Company?


As we take a deeper dive in this series into the practice and tools of performance management, remember that it’s ultimately about what’s right for your company and employees. Every company is going to have a different approach, based on the readiness for change at your organization. Our biggest piece of advice here is that you focus on ways to ingrain giving, receiving, and acting upon feedback into the DNA of your company—and that you set the expectation for all employees to willingly participate in the practice.


Going back to Brian’s basketball experience, you have to gain an understanding of what type of feedback culture you want to create on your teams and at your company. Performance drives individual goals, team outcomes, and business strategy. And the relationship between people managers and employees is foundational. Think of it this way: the greatest way to improve employees’ performance is effective coaching from their managers.


Performance management can be executed in a variety of ways. In our next post, we’ll explore what happens when you operate practice-first. That is, when you start with your strategy and then look for tools to enable achievement.