A part of the whole
If we assume (and I do) that a performance management cycle includes goal setting, periodic performance reviews, positive reinforcement, and course correction (as needed), then the smallest percent of time should be spent on the "tough conversations" of course correction.
Most often, "performance management" is interpreted as those conversations no one wants to have about under-performance. But - and stay with me here - building skill in goal setting and positive reinforcement makes that difficult conversation dramatically easier when it is needed.
Reading about performance management is like reading about bungee jumping.
Note that I said "building skill" just now. There are TONS of learning resources available for goal setting, positive reinforcement, and having difficult conversations. But reading about performance management conversations is like reading about bungee jumping. The way to get good at those conversations is to have those conversations. Thankfully practice in performance conversations is easier than practice in bungee jumping.
Aiming for an outcome
Like building any skill, get clear on your desired outcome for the conversation. Although it sees obvious, aim for the employee leaving the conversation motivated and engaged rather than immediately cruising the job boards. So think about the kind of conversation that will encourage the right prioritization or the best results.
Pigeons are people too.
Keep it positive
In the middle of the last century, B.F. Skinner defined a model of human motivation called operant conditioning. Yeah, Skinner did a lot of research with pigeons (not known for their business acumen) but stick with me.
The most commonly repeated portion of his theory is positive reinforcement, which is the addition of a positive stimulus to encourage repetition of positive behavior. Imagine leaving a meeting and your manager casually says "nice job in there". That's positive reinforcement. The behavior was your performance in the meeting, and her comment was the introduction of a positive stimulus. Skinner's theory, and what has played out in study after study, is that you're more likely to repeat that meeting performance because of that comment.
There are other parts of Skinner's operant conditioning model that I'll save for future posts. For now I'll say that even senior leaders benefit from feedback that they're on the right track and and that feedback doesn't need to be elaborate. And as a bonus, regular use of positive reinforcement starts to build a strength-based culture which is likely to lead to greater employee engagement.
What do you think?
I'd love hearing from you
Below is a brief poll about your most recent performance conversation. As I explore this hypothesis, I'd love your input. All responses are completely confidential as no names will be associated with the responses.