Performance management seems to be stuck. No surprise given the hideous survey results for lack of engagement in workplaces across the world. The context is complex, yet there seems to be an obvious mismatch between many workplace cultures. Those desperately hanging on to hierarchical and directive behaviours from fearful managers, and the real world of social connection in a world yearning for greater freedom.

Part of the problem is common workplace language being used as smoke and mirrors for actual intent. One way of reflecting the symptoms of inadequate performance management is to translate the weasel words of poor managers.

What managers say

What poor managers really mean

It’s a development opportunity for you You are a problem and need fixing
I’d like to give you some feedback I’m going tell you how I would do it and how I want you to make my life easier
You were very close to getting an ‘X’ marking and should be proud of what you have achieved this year I can’t give you any more money because our quota is full for your level
Let’s talk about it again at your next appraisal Thank goodness that’s over with for another year and I can get on with my real job
Is there anything you want to say? I’ve said my piece, please don’t argue
You always hit your targets and that’s what matters in the end I can’t face up to the truth and have the difficult conversation about your poor behaviours. I don’t have the skills.
I’m giving you responsibility for this issue Unless I don’t agree, then you’ll do it my way because I’m really a benign autocrat
Sorry, I had to cancel our review a couple of times,  I’ve been very busy You’re not a priority for me, my task is more important. I didn’t ask to be a manager
We have tough targets to meet and I’m counting on you It’s my head on the block so don’t cock it up for me
Part of my role is to manage your performance I have to get the paperwork done for ‘X’ many people by the end of the month and then I can get back to the day job

Twentieth Century management was about control. Accepting that control is an illusion today would fundamentally change managers’ relationships with employees. Yet, the song remains the same. Performance management remains a negative sound bite. Parental, remedial and forever associated with bureaucratic systems and processes.

As John Blakey and Ian Day argue in their excellent book, Challenging Coaching, we need performance conversations that reflect the right balance between positive support, motivational challenge and the intent associated with calling it as it is.  Liberating, inspiring, nurturing, stretching, enabling, and facilitating people.

Personal Accountability

We obsess with accountability to the next level up and it breeds a desire to control borne from fear. Accountability has become more about minimising risk. The missing piece is genuine accountability to ourselves and great coaching can engender that in people. Part of every people manager’s role is to create the conditions for each team member to step up willingly and take responsibility with skill in relationships with others of trust and mutual respect.

Why does performance need ‘managing’? Managers can free themselves by freeing their people. Step down to step up. Stop managing, start enabling.

We need to accelerate the shift in organisational cultures to remove that fear. Then, we can release the potential of people to innovate and to deliver for sustainable personal and business growth.

What do you think?