“May you live in interesting times” as the saying (or curse depending on your perspective) goes.
With level headed folks like Bill Gates calling this moment in AI development “as revolutionary as mobile phones and the internet,” it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there are still several other “once in a lifetime” shifts happening that haven’t relented in their impact just because headlines are drawn elsewhere.
Bill Gates notwithstanding, the CEOs and executives that I talk with on a regular basis are still grappling with the shift to hybrid work, and in many cases, still navigating the basics of digital transformation. In fact, as recently as Q4 2022, Gartner found that only 35% of Boards of Directors have achieved or are on track to achieving digital transformation goals.
If many companies are still struggling with the fundamentals of the shift to hybrid work, then why are we hanging on to the old ways of managing the effectiveness of our teams… Performance Management.
For companies to succeed in the digital/cloud/hybrid/AI era, they’ll need to leave behind the idea of Performance Management where people need to be managed like cogs in a static machine, and move to a mindset of Performance Enablement where the focus is on continuous coaching that adapts to the dynamic nature of people, markets, and organizations.
It’s the water we’ve all swam in and complained about. The traditional model of Performance Management is characterized by infrequent, heavy-weight performance reviews and rigid goal-setting cycles.
Performance reviews are commonly on a bi-annual cycle and grind the normal course of business to a halt for weeks between calibrations, writing reviews, delivering them, then grappling with the inevitable fallout that’s to be expected when people only get feedback once or twice a year.
OKRs and other goal setting methodologies can be helpful to align teams across a broader organization, but it’s an all too common pitfall to mistake the process for the purpose. People spend precious weeks out of every quarter meticulously creating OKRs that connect and cascade perfectly with specific metrics, and spend hours entering them into a complex system that ensures that they’re all tagged and visualized perfectly.
Then what happens?
No one checks in on the goals until the next quarter’s goal setting cycle when dozens of things have changed and the goals or OKRs set months ago aren’t even relevant anymore.
Treating individuals as mere components of a machine stifles their unique talents, hampers engagement, and inhibits innovation, ultimately impeding organizational progress.
Even if priorities haven’t changed, setting goals in a system far removed from day to day work doesn’t help to drive focus or prioritization. The real decisions in an organization are made in meetings that the goal setting systems of yester-year aren’t invited to.
Performance Enablement requires both a shift in mindset and a shift in process.
Performance Enablement starts with a view that the pace of change in the real world is too fast to rely on a “command and control” management style that postpones key decisions and conversations to rigid quarterly cycles.
Instead, it recognizes that the only way to keep up with the pace of the real world is to empower people to make decisions, and utilizes a more continuous cadence of feedback and course correction to ensure focus and accountability.
Performance Enablement is a progressive approach that emphasizes continuous feedback, dynamic goal setting, and coaching conversations. It’s critical for leadership to establish a clear vision and priorities, but then rely on more decentralized decision making and execution.
With this approach, it’s critical to have a culture that prioritizes a weekly cadence of one-on-one’s. Coaching and feedback can of course happen more frequently, but one-on-one’s create a forcing function to calibrate and course correct.
This is especially important with hybrid work where serendipitous encounters in the hallway aren’t happening, so one-on-one’s create a backstop against people spinning off in the wrong direction either in their work or their well-being.
Some may criticize these frequent check-ins as micromanagement. However, the purpose of these one-on-ones isn’t to nitpick an employee’s work, it’s for the employee to bring up blockers, and for the manager to give feedback and guidance. Unlike micromanagement, Performance Enablement unlocks the potential of individuals by cultivating a culture of growth and development.
Performance Enablement and Performance Management differ in a few key ways.
Performance management traditionally involves the evaluation and assessment of employee performance based on predetermined goals and objectives. It emphasizes monitoring and rating individual performance, often for the purpose of making administrative decisions such as promotions, compensation, and terminations.
Performance enablement, on the other hand, shifts the focus from evaluating past performance to empowering and developing employees to reach their full potential. It aims to enable employees to succeed by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support to enhance their skills, achieve their goals, and contribute to the overall success of the organization.
Performance management typically follows a formal, periodic evaluation process, often conducted annually or biannually. It involves setting specific performance objectives, tracking progress, and providing feedback during performance reviews. It can be more hierarchical and top-down in nature, with managers primarily responsible for assessing and rating employee performance.
Performance enablement takes a more continuous and ongoing approach to performance improvement. It focuses on fostering a culture of ongoing feedback, coaching, and development. It encourages regular conversations between managers and employees to identify strengths, address weaknesses, and collaboratively set goals. It emphasizes employee growth, learning, and skill development through various means such as training, mentoring, and personalized development plans.
Traditional performance management may sometimes create a sense of anxiety and pressure for employees due to its focus on rating and ranking. It can be demotivating and hinder employee engagement and growth.
Performance enablement promotes a more positive and empowering employee experience. It fosters a growth mindset and encourages employees to take ownership of their development. By providing support, guidance, and opportunities for learning and advancement, it enhances employee engagement, satisfaction, and overall performance.
While performance management serves important administrative purposes, it may not always contribute to significant organizational improvement. Its primary focus is often on individual performance rather than broader organizational goals and outcomes.
Performance enablement aligns individual performance with organizational objectives. By empowering employees to maximize their potential, it can drive overall organizational effectiveness, innovation, and success. It recognizes the value of employee contributions and seeks to optimize talent to achieve collective goals.
Shifting to a culture of Performance Enablement is an organization-wide effort. Let’s take a quick look at the mindset and habits key constituents should adopt to make the transition successful.
Perhaps the best way to think of the role of an executive is as chief communicator. As the ambiguously attributed quote goes, “just when you get sick of repeating yourself is when people start to retain your message.”
Since decision making is pushed out more to the edges, it’s critical for leadership to set a clear mission and vision, and continually reinforce top priorities. This provides the north star for people to refer back to when making key decisions.
“The foundation of performance enablement is setting the context—providing the guidance and direction on what is most important for the company and why it is important. The why part is especially important as it sets the context for purpose. With this information, individuals and teams can set challenging, yet attainable, goals.”
Repetition often won’t be enough. You need to continuously adapt your message to different audiences and formats. If you just say the same thing over and over again, the people who already get it will get bored, and the people who aren’t tracking will never get on board.
Obviously, the ideal solution will include a combination of channels and the most adept executives will adapt their communication style for the audience.
Managers play a critical role in Performance Enablement as coaches and mentors. They must transition from a command and control mindset to one of guidance and support, focusing on helping employees overcome barriers and reach their full potential.
HR and People Teams play a crucial role in the transition to Performance Enablement. They are responsible for driving cultural change, implementing new processes and tools, and providing support and resources to enable the success of the organization and its employees.
One of the key tasks for HR and People Teams is to educate and train managers and employees on the principles and practices of Performance Enablement. This includes helping them understand the shift in mindset from traditional performance management to continuous coaching and feedback. HR can provide training sessions, workshops, and resources that empower managers to become effective coaches and mentors.
HR can also play a role in redesigning performance evaluation processes. Instead of relying solely on annual or bi-annual performance reviews, HR can introduce more frequent and lightweight feedback mechanisms, such as real-time feedback platforms or peer recognition programs.
You may be wary of shifting to another “doctrine” when you likely already know and dread Performance Management rituals. But there are extensive tangible benefits in transitioning to Performance Enablement and making it part of your organization’s culture.
By embracing Performance Enablement, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees, foster a culture of continuous improvement, and achieve sustainable success in the hybrid work era and beyond. It's time to leave behind the outdated practices of Performance Management and embrace a new approach that empowers individuals and drives organizational excellence.
Transitioning to Performance Enablement is a strategic imperative for organizations in the digital age. It requires a shift in mindset and the adoption of new processes that prioritize continuous coaching, feedback, and dynamic goal setting. By empowering employees and fostering a culture of growth and development, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and drive innovation and success.
While the transition to Performance Enablement may require changes at all levels of the organization, including the CEO, executives, managers, and HR teams, the benefits are worth the effort. Companies that embrace Performance Enablement are better equipped to adapt to the rapid pace of change, attract and retain top talent, and achieve their digital transformation goals.
In the end, it's about recognizing that people are not static components of a machine but dynamic individuals with unique talents and potential. By enabling their performance and providing the necessary support and guidance, organizations can create an environment where success thrives in the era of hybrid work and beyond.
Make one-on-one's add up to more.
Easily give valuable feedback.
Keep goals clear and top of mind.