Performance Management Hurts

By Travis Kemp

Leaders have been persisting with Performance Management for a very long time now.

The result? Frustration at best and at worst; destruction, debilitation and destitution.

Aren’t you being a little emotive Trav? (I hear you say)

Absolutely. That’s the point. We humans are an emotional bunch.

But it’s the ground breaking work by Richard Boyatzis (Case Western University) and others that is illuminating the neurological, emotional and behavioural responses to performance feedback and is highlighting the fundamental flaw inherent in the performance management process; it hurts.

Any deficit-driven feedback, regardless of how “positively framed” or “improvement focussed” you make it, is received at a very deep and subtle level as an attack “me”.

When you attack me, it hurts and when I hurt, if I’m not in control of the hurt (which in performance management I’m not) I want the hurt to stop. (Remember, fear is inextricably linked to hurt).

To make it stop, I can either shy away from it and distance myself from it (avoidance, denial, justification, procrastination, absenteeism, disengagement) or attack it back (blame, anger, active and passive aggression).

The emergence and adoption of Applied Positive Psychology as a central tool for surfacing, nurturing and sustaining performance and engagement is a god send to leaders and their organisations.

There’s a resurgence of interest in Values-Based Leadership emerging right now and there’s a very good reason for this.  Humans are self-determining, self-managing and self-functioning organisms.

The majority of humans know roughly how they’re performing at any given point of time. When given the opportunity to reflect upon it and articulate it they do a pretty good job. The overwhelming majority don’t need to be told by you.  If anything, they know much more intimately than you as their leader could ever even hope to know.

Whether or not you are comfortable with that is, frankly, irrelevant.

The challenge therefore lies in aligning the individual’s deeply held (and defended) values and beliefs with theirstrengths, intentions, efforts and contributions.

Great Leaders know that humans do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.

Sure, in a redundant post-industrial hierarchy, people will comply with your directives and demands for a period, even a long period (many have mortgages to pay and kids in school so they genuinely need the pay cheque).  But will I see them grow, flourish and contribute what they are truly capable of creating? Don’t count on it.

Anxious leaders within these systems rely on compliance, conformity, harmony, solidarity, predictability, politeness and control to create an illusion of influence, accountability, impact and achieving results for those sitting higher in the hierarchy.

But with the emergence of the connection economy, organisations are becoming something very different.  The axiom of structure, consistency, certainty and solidity they provided in the past has been challenged and exposed as an elaborate hoax and a new operating structure for human enterprise is emerging.

Time for our courageous new leaders to flourish…