Organizations’ realities are always in a transient state, so are the people working in these places. In each of these transient times, people emerge and perform differently. These differential performances by people have multiple reasons- personal drive, a favoring market, a support from family, a supportive manager or a psychological safety both on and off work. The key takeaway here is- employees perform differently at different times, yet organizations and managers find it difficult to say when an employee performs differently from the last year either positive or negative.
For our purpose of understanding we will use levels A, B and C denoting the performance levels (A-high to C-low). In a beautiful article published in 2002 by Harvard Business Publishing title- ‘A new game plan for C players’ by Beth Axelrod, Helen Handfield-Jones, and Ed Michaels; shares the roadmap and plan to manage your bottom of performance i.e. your C players. Now almost 2 decades since it was written I am extending the rational, that we need a game plan for all of our players, the A’s and B’s too and not just C’s.
Performance whether high or low, many times meets myopic objective and lacks the conviction when it needs to be managed. Organizations focus on few of the top employees, but to have a game plan for all set’s organization course very differently.
Here is a 10-point agenda to help you prepare your own game plan; 6 of the things which needs to be done more of in your game plan:
- Unleash potential, not just performance. No matter if it’s your top performer or a tail ender, every employee counts. Speak with your employees on what help they need to unleash their truest potential. Your A rater needs this as much as your C rater. Nothing is fixed, you would probably have your C’s moving to a B and B’s to A (vice versa is also true).
- Create a psychological safe environment. This has been highlighted in multiple forums and you need to have psychologically safety a top priority. A game plan for your organization will be limited if you don’t create the safety net for all your players to perform. This should be deep rooted in the culture of your organization. It takes time but the efforts need to start sooner than later.
- No space for a compromised value system. Even if the employee does a higher two digits CAGR growth in business but has a value and ethics system which is compromised, don’t entertain. Having a B player take up a business account is way better than your A player who has an unclean moral canvas.
- Talk straight not to prove a point but to convey clearly. Haven’t we seen a conversation where the manager is unable to call a spade a spade. If there is a dip in performance, call it out. If your ace player has not been on top of results, don’t sugar coat the key message, you will do better when you speak of development opportunities. While you do this, keep your conversation clear and be authentic.
- Authentic conversation, not just feedback. This is a difficult one, which should have been the easiest otherwise i.e. being ourselves. Be authentic and speak authentically. Don’t we get to know that manager who says something they never mean. Even when you want to pass on a difficult message, be your authentic self. A feedback is transactional, an authentic conversation is one which has a conviction in it.
- Have a Performance Improvement Plan for all who need it. No one likes the name of a PIP, but why has that got this impression? Have a performance improvement plan for your A and B players as much as you would want it for some of your C players too. There is nothing like having a sprint of performance where you own it up and organization supports your PIP sprint.
Here are the 4 points you may want to consider doing less of to have a robust game plan:
- Stop stereotyping performance. We more often do it ourselves or let our employees speak of their performance as an entitlement if it's good and use the same as an excuse mechanism if it’s not good. A performance rating is not final, and we need to not let it be used perpetually. This stereotyping a person with their performance rating has an impact on the person and equally to the culture of the organization.
- Following a process; missing out on people. In performance management, people come before the process, which unfortunately seems to be misplaced at times. Keep people at the center and while you try to find the A, B or C they fall into, write up a plan for them to either better, maintain or diverse their skill set.
- Speaking of the past, missing out on the future. Performance measurement systems look at the past and rate an employee’s performance, rather invest in the future of your employee’s performance. Incorporate a simple format which should speak of what it takes to maintain status quo or improve the performance ratings.
- Ownership, accountability and your own game plan. As manager and leaders your responsibility is just not to communicate, but to own the communication of your employee’s performance. Create your own game plan first on how you would get about supporting your employees and teams. Less often do we come prepared with our own plan for our teams, rather, we leave it to instinctive and chess board movement.
Based on your organizational need and sponsorship, prioritize the above 10-point agenda into your game plan. These points mentioned above are deep down interconnected to each of them. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so make your first step.