Performance Enabling

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Organizations love to measure things. Anything. Some organizations are obsessed with measurements, and for a good reason: organizations have to be managed and, as everyone knows, if you can’t measure something you can’t manage it.

Or can you?

Organizations are built by people. People are the most important asset an organization has. And assets… (you guessed it) have to be managed. Or more accurately: their performance has to be managed. Just like you monitor and manage the performance of your financial or real estate assets. And this is probably how the term Performance Management was coined.

The next step was obvious…

Soon, performance evaluation processes were routine. And with them came grading systems, tools to collect, analyze, and manage the data on your Human Capital. And while there is always some new trends, tools, or methods, the focus of many organizations remains to measure and manage the performance of their most valuable assets.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition of Performance Management:

Performance management (PM) includes activities which ensure that goals are consistently being met effectively and efficiently.

What word do you think stands out in this definition?

What caught my eye is the verb “to ensure.” Despite being associated with a set of activities in this definition, this verb sends a passive message, at least when read literally. It’s like the organization and its Management don’t play any role in the performance of their best assets except for ensuring predefined goals are being met effectively.

Organizations that take this definition literally are doomed to fail in the long run.

Imagine a basketball coach measuring the performance of her team, pushing them to meet their targets, and then measuring again. Is that what it takes to build a winning team? To outperform a coach cannot settle with just measuring her team. She needs to enable them to continually improve their performance. She needs to create the best conditions for that to happen. She needs to empower and inspire her team. She needs to lead.

Organizations that take the definition of Performance Management literally are doomed to fail in the long run.Click To Tweet

Let’s put aside for a moment Performance Management and think about Performance Enabling. Let’s try to create an organizational environment that gives people what they need to always strive to do things better and to create better things. Let’s understand what are the things holding our people back and try to remove these obstacles without giving it a second thought. Let’s not wait with a ruler to measure, but do the much harder work of building capabilities from the ground up.

If you would like to make a considerable leap forward, you cannot settle with managing performance. Performance Management will take you only that far. Only actively enabling the next big jump, supporting it, and motivating it, will take your organization toward your vision.

Know Where You Aim To

Do you know what your team members need to achieve their goals? Do they?

The first step in Performance Enabling is knowing what will enable the performance of your team. And the best way to know that is to think about it together with them.

Sounds trivial, doesn’t it? Yet many organizations and teams fail to do that simple step or act based on its outcome. When planning a project, or setting personal or team goals, it is easy to focus on concrete, tangible resources identified in the plan. Skills, knowledge, support, motivation, and communication are not such elements, but more often then not, they are even more essential to achieving your goals.

Identifying the key elements that will boost the performance of your team is not trivial. Even if you have a vague idea that something in such areas is lacking, it is often hard to articulate it and translate it into concrete needs and a specific action plan to address the gap. Identifying, for example, that with one particular skill your team is currently missing, they could do amazing stuff together is one thing. Coming up with a set of activities that will help the team master this skill might be far less trivial.

Invest in Core Skills

Identifying the elements that will boost the performance of a specific team or in the context of any particular project is essential. But some universal core skills make the infrastructure — the operation system — of every group and organization.

Let’s do a quick exercise. Say out loud the following statements:

  • My team is not creative.
  • My team cannot communicate.
  • We are bad at collaboration.

How did it feel to say that? Did it make you feel uneasy? We can’t imagine working with people who are not creative or can’t communicate, just like we don’t want to think that we are lacking in these core skills. But, many organizations don’t invest much in cultivating these skills.

Basic and essential as they are, these core skills are not trivial to obtain, improve, and maintain. Let me rephrase that: it can be quite simple to work on these core skills and achieve amazing results. But this cannot be done without awareness and concrete actions. And by concrete actions, I don’t mean saying we need to find creative solutions or hanging posters praising teamwork. To improve and maintain these core skills you will need ongoing practice — just like you do to keep your physical fitness.

Take Creativity for example. I’m willing to bet that Creativity is listed as something to aspire to in your team’s mission or your organizational values. Now, let’s be honest: what have you done this week to make your team more creative? What have you done in the past month to ignite their creativity? If you just happen to arrange a Creativity workshop, that’s great. Ask yourself the same questions a month from now. You see, a one-time workshop can be great, but its impact is not likely to last. The investment in core skills must be continuous.

Which brings us back to Performance Management, but with a twist.

Bring on Performance Management

The traditional view of Performance Management puts the organization as the consumer and the employee as the provider. Classic Performance Management means measuring the performance of employees and teams. In its radical form, it can result in getting rid of the people who don’t perform as expected.

With the new Performance Management it is the employee who is the consumer, while the organization is the providerClick To Tweet

As soon as we understand that it is up to managers to enable performance, the definition of Performance Management changes accordingly. Sure, we need to measure performance and do what it takes to improve it, but this time it is the employee who is the consumer, while the organization is the provider. And that changes everything.

The new Performance Management is focused on making sure you are effectively practicing Performance Enabling. First, you need to identify the precise needs of your team. Then, you should have a plan that will result in providing these needs and will also address the ongoing development of core skills. And once you have a plan in place, you will have to implement it, measure its impact, and refine it as needed.

Sounds familiar? This is just simple management. And in the context of Performance Enabling, this is how your Performance Management should look like. No more. No less.