ROUNDTABLE PREP (approximately 15-20 minutes)
Performance enablement refers to all the things companies do to help employees achieve their full potential. Performance leadership refers to the manager's role in enabling performance.
Some of the best practices include -
- Reframing performance and setting higher performance standards
- Team-based performance reviews, individual performance roadmaps and course corrections
- The focus on fundamentals, process goals, contingency plans and feedback loops
- A positive approach, avoiding pressure tactics, promoting the growth mindset and positive reinforcement
Don't confuse management with enablement
There’s a big difference between "performance management" and "performance enablement".
Performance management includes communicating goals, documenting outcomes and rating performance. Your HR team lays out the process, you periodically execute prescribed steps, and it usually culminates with a performance review and a merit increase. Performance management tends to look backwards.
Performance enablement is a much more engaged leadership process. It's not periodic, it's focused day-to-day and on future performance. It's what you do to help others perform to their full potential. It's the difference you make in someone else's performance.
Performance management and enablement are two overlapping and important responsibilities, but they're not the same and shouldn't be confused.
The first step to performance enablement is reframing what "performance" means. Webster’s defines performance as “the execution of an action”, but most managers think of "performance" as an outcome.
Performance leaders focus on execution - not outcomes. Yes, outcomes are very important, but results are just another form of feedback.
Outcomes are lagging indicators of one’s actual performance, and when you focus on results, you’re taking a “wait and see” attitude. You’re not managing execution - you’re reacting to outcomes.
When you focus on execution, you’re enabling outcomes - you’re not reacting to feedback.
The way you define performance speaks volumes about your values. When it's defined as "outcomes", then people can be viewed as just a means to an end or that the end justifies the means.
When performance is reframed as "execution" - then you're emphasizing values like teamwork, effort and continuous improvement.
Raise your standards
If you want better results, you have to hold people to higher performance standards. But remember, “performance” isn’t an outcome. “Performance” refers to the execution that influence outcomes; and “standards” are how you measure and compare those behaviors.
Start with best practices, and focus on the habits, routines and processes that high-performers share. Then quantify and qualify the behavior so it can be compared with others. Now you have a performance standard.
Better results come from better behaviors, so hold people to higher behavioral standards. An actor that wants more work, may have to increase the number of auditions they go on or the time they spend preparing for each audition.
Every performance plan needs to specify these behavioral standards. Without this, you’re promoting the illusion of choice. But remember - you can’t hold people to higher standards if they don’t know what those standards are!
In most companies, "performance plans" are part of the performance management process. When someone is under-performing, they're put on a remedial plan for improvement. You may have heard your HR partner say, "we need to put them on a plan", and that's what they're referring to.
A "performance roadmap" is a plan the enables individual performance. It's proactive. It's not a remedial plan - it's an enablement plan. You’re doing people a disservice if you wait until there’s a problem.
A good roadmap specifies the daily habits, routines and processes that work. You take all the guess-work out. Now you have something to hold everyone accountable for. You’re not reacting to under-performance, you’re engineering high-performance behaviors into their daily routine.
Keep the roadmap simple
A good roadmap doesn’t need to be real complicated, so start small and keep it simple. The roadmap should focus on fundamentals, process goals and solutions. That’s it. Each fundamental will have a process goal, and each goal will have a solution for when it gets challenged.
A fundamental is any behavior that’s so necessary and predictive of success that you can use it as a goal. These are called “process goals”. Weight loss is a common goal, but the fundamentals of diet and exercise are so necessary to the weight loss process that they become a process goal.
But process goals like diet and exercise are often challenged by changing circumstances and factors outside your control. That’s why you need contingencies.
Think of contingencies as simple “if-then plans”. If this happens…then here’s what I’ll do.
All you need to start are 6 fundamentals, a goal for each and an if-then plan. Now you have a performance plan!
Implement Feedback Loops
To manage performance you must promote “feedback loops”. Feedback is often a 1-way dead end. That’s when a manager provides constructive criticism and focuses on the desired outcome, and it doesn’t work. The employee is told what they did wrong, and gets reminded that they’re falling short of expectations. It’s demotivating and counterproductive.
Feedback loops are collaborative, curious and open-minded; and they promote continuous learning and improvement.
A best practice is a form of feedback. When a high-performer shares an effective habit, that habit can be baked into the routines of co-workers. But don’t stop there. Feedback from the co-workers can be used to improve or modify the habit.
A positive feedback loop is multi-directional, it’s not 1-way or even 2-way. It’s the constant sharing of what’s working and what’s not working. That’s the highest value of feedback people can share, and when it’s ongoing, it’s running on a continuous loop. It becomes a part of your culture.
Weekly, team-based performance reviews
These meetings are a great way to codify feedback loops in a team setting. People aren’t asked to share their results. They’re sharing their process.
The agenda is simple - each person shares something that’s either working or not working. If it’s working, the team can ask questions to learn more. If it’s not working, the team can offer solutions.
With practice, each participant can explain what’s working or not working in a 1-minute monologue. This forces everyone to reflect on their performance before the meeting.
The discussion that follows should be time-boxed to between 5 and 8 minutes. If the solution takes more time, ask for volunteers to study the challenge more deeply and report back to the group.
Every meeting recap looks the same. It’s a simple list of things to start, stop or keep doing.
Effective meetings have simple take-aways.
As the facilitator, emphasize the choices people are making. Point these out during the discussions and summarize them after.
Use accountability discussions
You hold people accountable for their “choices”. Performance is just the sum of their choices.
A good performance roadmap eliminates the illusion of choice. If someone wants to be successful, the path is pretty clear. They either do what’s proven to be successful, or they don’t. It’s a choice they have each and every day. And the choices come down to this - there are things you want to do, but know that you shouldn’t. And there are things you don’t want to do, but know you should. It’s no more complicated than that.
And a good accountability discussion focuses like a light beam on the choices people make. A good performance plan takes away all the excuses. It gives people ownership and control, and with that comes accountability.
You want to focus on their “why”. Why did they choose to do something they shouldn’t? Or why did they choose not to do something they knew they should?
There’s no need to beat people up. You just want to understand their “why”, or their “why not”. They own their choices. They’re accountable. And a good accountability discussion reminds them of that simple fact.
A course correction is a structured 1-on-1 meeting with any employee that is not following their performance plan, so you can’t course correct without a performance plan!
The meeting begins with 2-way feedback, an accountability discussion and coaching, because feedback without coaching is just criticism.
The meeting needs to reemphasize the fundamentals, process goals and contingency plans reflected in their performance roadmap. Throughout the course correction you should emphasize the choices within their control.
Under-performers deserve to know where they stand, what’s at stake, and what’s expected. They also deserve your honesty, openness and consistency.
They deserve a written follow-up to the intervention and you should be the note taker.
Avoid pressure tactics
You should avoid “pressure tactics” because they don’t work.
A “pressure situation” is when there’s a consequence tied to the outcome.
Pressure tactics - like false deadlines, unrealistic expectations and ultimatums are attention grabbers, but they become needless and harmful distractions that will adversely impact performance.
Performance doesn’t improve with pressure. In fact, pressure encourages people to cut corners and make bad choices.
When you revert to pressure tactics, you’re signaling to the people that “the ends justify the means”.
Pressure tactics signal to the person that they have to be better than they actually are, when you’re not asking for anything more than what the person is capable of doing.
In a high-performance culture, people will naturally feel pressure. It’s unavoidable. There are times when outcomes DO have consequences, but outcomes are a function of behaviors.
High behavioral standards, feedback loops and accountability discussions aren’t pressure tactics - they enable results by focusing on performance and NOT the consequences of negative outcomes.
High-performance cultures are built on hope, confidence, resilience and optimism - not pressure tactics or negativity.
When setbacks happen - and they always will - trust the process! Outcome goals can feel overwhelming, but daily and weekly PROCESS goals feel more obtainable.
When you focus on outcome goals, they become daily reminders of what HASN’T happened yet. People begin to focus on the uncontrollable’s and worse-case scenarios. Setbacks can seem insurmountable and people lose hope, confidence and optimism.
But a good performance roadmap and feedback loops give people hope and confidence. And accountability discussions give people a sense of agency and control.
If you trust the process, so will your people. Process goals provide daily opportunities for people to feel accomplishments and your consistent, high-standards are a vote of confidence you give your team.
Your people are always watching you! And any negativity is perceived as your doubt or uncertainty. So stay positive and focused around the daily grind, and your people will to!
Coach the Growth Mindset
The growth mindset is the belief that high-performance comes from effort and continuous learning, not innate talent. With the growth mindset - setbacks are viewed as learning opportunities.
Encourage people to practice “ESP reflection”, a practice developed by Dr. Nate Zinsser, who for 31 years led the Performance Enhancement Program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
ESP is an acronym for “effort”, “success” and “progress”. Ask your team to spend 5-minutes at the end of each day reflecting on their effort, success and and the progress they experienced that day.
- Effort - one moment where they buckled down and honestly gave it their all.
- Success - one moment where they got something right. It doesn’t have to be a big success.
- Progress - one moment where they got better at something even if they didn’t get it completely right.
You can ask people to do this and share some of their weekly highlights with you in your 1-on-1’s.
Paraphrasing Dr. Zinsser, those 5-minutes ensure daily deposits in their psychological bank account (hope, confidence, resilience and optimism). It also promotes the growth mindset!
Praise the effort & process (not the accomplishment)
We tend to praise accomplishments more than behaviors, and that’s a mistake. A sales person that closes a big deal, or child that brings home a great report card deserves praise, but the OBJECT of the praise matters.
If you say, “That’s a great report card! I’m proud of you!” Here’s what happens -
- First off, the “report card” can’t hear you! You’re praising an inanimate object and you’re wasting your breath.
- Worse yet, the child hears this, “Mom is happy because my results are good.”
You didn’t mean to, but you used a pressure tactic because your praise was conditioned on the accomplishment. Now the child feels added pressure to perform.
Instead of celebrating good grades, what if the parent said, “You’ve made some great choices! You’re managing your time better and studying more. I know it’s not easy, but all those extra credit assignments really paid off! I know how hard you worked. Your plan is working!”
This is another good way to promote the growth mindset.
Avoid common performance traps
Complacency creates an illusion of choice where people think they can turn the high-performance switch on and off. When this happens, managers make things worse by offering incentives. It’s a common performance trap that doesn’t work.
An incentive rewards the employee who turned their performance switch off and demotivates those that kept their performance switch turned on. Incentives are well intended, but they actually promote this "on/off mentality".
Other common performance traps include
- Settling - choosing to “make do” with an under performer
- Mixed messages - the inconsistent application of performance standards
- Image - the fear of being perceived as a micro-manager
- Relationships - overly friendly personal relationships with staff
- Distractions - lost focus
- Recency bias - success leads to complacency
- Over medication - treating the performance pain instead of the problem
- Knee-jerk reactions - over reacting
The biggest performance trap of them all is “over-complication”, and performance traps add complexity. Every concession, short cut or quick-fix accrues as execution debt, that has to be accounted for at some point.
WHERE TO START
- Reframe performance with your team
- Create performance roadmaps
- Begin biweekly, team-based performance reviews
HOW TO USE LILA AS YOUR CO-PILOT
"Lila" is an acronym for Leadership Intelligence and Learning Assistant that can serve as your co-pilot. You can use it to get quick coaching advice or for administrative tasks like drafting email, designing meeting agendas or even creating weekly schedules.
Sample prompts (just copy and paste into Lila)
- What companies use these performance leadership practices?
- Is there evidence based research supporting performance leadership practices?
- How do I build intrinsic motivation in employees?
- How do I give effective feedback?
- How do I identify poor performance?
- How do I address poor performance?
- Create a 1-minute monologue script I can use to explain to young managers the difference between performance management and performance enablement and their role as performance leaders.
- Create a template performance roadmap template with 6 fundamentals, process goals and if/then contingency plans.
- Draft and email addressed to my team explaining the ESP reflection practice and my request to cover the highlights in our weekly 1-on-1's.
PERFORMANCE LEADERSHIP BEST PRACTICES
- Don't confuse "management" with "leadership"
- Reframe “performance”
- Raise your standards
- Put everyone on a performance roadmap
- Keep the plan simple
- Implement feedback loops
- Start bi-weekly, team-based performance reviews
- Use accountability discussions
- Hold course corrections
- Avoid pressure tactics
- Stay positive!
- Coach the Growth Mindset
- Praise the effort and process (not the accomplishment)
- Avoid common performance traps